Music games were a big phenomenon a few years ago, with the “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band” franchises taking the world by storm. While these were fun, you never really had the feeling that you were playing music.
Enter “Rocksmith,” a new game that does away with the fake guitar controllers and asks you to play a game with a real guitar or bass.
What it is
An extension of the music game genre, Rocksmith is more than just another button mashing accessory purchase job. There are no special guitar shaped game controllers that you have to buy, as the title arrives with the cable you need to play.
You will need to bring your own controller, mind you, as either an electric guitar or bass is needed to use the game. This is the only way to play Rocksmith, and yes, it can be the same electric instrument you got for your birthday five years ago that you swore black and blue you’d play and gave up on ten minutes later.
While Gibson has the sponsorship of Ubisoft’s Rocksmith, you can bring your own Fender Mustang, Strat, or Tele electric guitar, or even a Fender Jazz or Precision bass to play.
You can carry a Gretsch, an Ashton, Yamaha, MusicMan, Spector, Schecter, Ibanez, LTD, Warwick, Maton, and yes, even a Gibson, with Rocksmith allowing you to use any guitar or electric bass that’s out there, though we’d suggest a six string guitar and a four string bass, from what we played.
It’s still a music game, only this time you’re not just mashing coloured buttons on a plastic guitar, but strumming the strings of a real instrument instead.
And while you’re playing, you’re not just gaining in-game points, but are also learning the part of a song, potentially giving you something to play at a party, or impress a girl, or inspire you to take up the guitar or bass full-time, either as hobby or profession.
Switch on the game and you’re drawn into a world that’s a little different from your regular guitar game, as a narrator will begin to teach you the basics of how to play.
This isn’t just a lesson in video gaming, but rather a proper way to hold a guitar or bass, to make a note, to play an instrument and therefore play the game.
You’ll get into the game quite quickly, and then see that while it’s educational, the developers of Rocksmith have tried to make the experience an interesting blend of the Guitar Hero style of game and a proper tutorial for how to play music.
Before each song, you’ll tune your instrument, with an on-screen chromatic tuner telling you when a string needs to be tightened or loosened, getting with your coloured animated fretboard lighting up to tell you just how you’re going. If a song requires a slightly different tuning, the game remembers the last song you played and tells you to down or up-tune, checking the strings before each play.
Then, it’s to playing the song, with the colourful fretboard moving up and down the scale, zooming in and out to show you more as required and telling you where on your fingerboard you should be placing your fingers.
Rocksmith even comes with a set of stickers to obviously point out each fret on your instrument’s neck, just in case you don’t know, so you can follow the numbers in the game.
It’s exactly like Guitar Hero or Rock Band: when you’re supposed to play the right note, the game points you to a bar and string – denoted by colour and position – and you just follow along, playing with the real recording of the song in the game.
Like in the music games before it, you’ll play an event with a set of songs, rehearsing them and then “performing” these songs in front of an audience, made out of a lovely bunch of people rocking out to your song. If you do well – and here’s hoping – you’ll get to play an encore, and possibly a double encore for more points.
With an included track listing of over fifty songs, including big names like The Rolling Stones, The Pixies, Muse, Radiohead, The Black Keys, Tom Petty, Eric Clapton, Cream (yes, two different Claptons), Kings of Leon, Incubus, The White Stripes, and more, you’re likely to find a good ten or twenty tracks you love, if you don’t fall in love with the entire soundtrack altogether.
There’s more stuff coming downloadable through the Xbox Live and PSN stores, too, provided you don’t mind spending a few bucks on new songs to learn and play.
Interestingly, you can actually replace the songs listed that you’re “supposed” to play at each event, switching them out for music that you may like more. We found ourselves doing that more and more, because while repetitive, it allowed us to get better and better at the songs we really liked, and we weren’t subjected to playing songs we neither understood nor really liked the sound of.
If you don’t mind playing all the songs and want to work your way through every piece, you can separate the sections into riffs, working on each part until you’re happy with how it all sounds.
When it’s all good, it’s time to rock out, nailing the notes on the right timing and avoiding wrong notes for a better score. The more points you get, the more of the game you unlock, with bonuses including extra basses, different pedal and amp sounds, and of course, more events.
Or you can just ditch the events and hit up the menu, where you can simply select the songs you want to learn, playing them until your heart’s content.
In fact, depending on the sort of gamer you are, this is where you’ll probably stay, as it’s sort of like your very own rock and roll fantasy camp, where the jukebox is as your fingers and you can just follow along with an animated instructor at your leisure.
While this writer is a bassist, we actually found it easier to just go ahead and play in performing mode. Rehearsal mode, strangely, didn’t offer the same line for you to follow as we found in the performing mode, which surprised us. In essence, it means you can learn a lighter version of your parts in the rehearsal, with the real test coming in performance, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense to us.
Since the points don’t really matter, and you can keep playing the same song whenever you want, rehearsing only became useful when we wanted to break a song up into individual parts for easier learning.
When you’re playing, the game even seems to adapt, working out if you’re nailing the right parts, and adding extra strums when it seems like you’re nailing it, or pulling them away and making the track easier if you’re missing parts.
What it isn’t
While Rocksmith is an awesome little way to learn songs, it’s probably not the replacement for a dedicated teacher or instructor for learning how to play the electric guitar or bass.
There are quite a few tips and methods on offer here, with videos and on-screen instructions to help you understand just what exactly you’re supposed to be doing, but it won’t replace the aide and help you can get from someone you’re paying to teach you.
Further, you’re only learning riffs and lines to some songs, but not really understanding music as a whole.
For many, this won’t be a problem, as it’s already one of the better – and more fun – guides to getting your head around the basics of guitar and bass playing, and you could easily move from playing Rocksmith to tackling chords and tabs by yourself, finding them to your favourite songs on the Internet and playing them whenever you choose.
Whereas Rock Band and Guitar Hero were both fun, you were only ever emulating what it was like to be a guitarist, singer, bassist, or drummer. In Rocksmith, you’re actually playing guitar or bass, and that’s not only more interesting, but more useful too.
On the whole, Rocksmith is a better and more enjoyable experience because it genuinely feels like you’re accomplishing something, which is something neither of those games ever gave you.
It’s not without its flaws, mind you, and once you’ve played the included songs to death, just like in the button-based music mashers, you’ll be left purchasing extra downloadable content (DLC) to fulfill your music gaming needs. After that, you’re on your own, and you may have to go back to playing the good ‘ol fashioned way: without a video game at your side.
But before that happens, Rocksmith offers a fun experience that potentially offers you a new skill or hobby, or at the very least, an extension on what you already know, and that’s more awesome than what most video games offer when you’re done.