Rocksmith Review

By J.P. Shub - Posted Oct 24, 2011

Rocksmith is not for everyone, but for those looking to begin the lifelong journey of learning to play guitar, I highly recommend this game. Despite my problems with the interface, Rocksmith does of a solid job of teaching the basics and will quickly have you playing along with some of the world's greatest artists.

The Pros
  • Works with ANY 6-string electric guitar.
  • Tuner, Amp and Effects are included in the game.
  • Challenging minigames that help develop real skills.
  • Automatic difficulty works with your skill level.
  • Fun Songs to learn.
The Cons
  • Learning guitar takes a lot time, patience and practice.
  • Interface can be challenging to follow.
  • Audio lag on digital systems.
  • Should come with chord books and lessons to work on outside the game.

Rocksmith Review:

I’ve been a passionate fan of guitar based rhythm games since they first hit consoles in 2005, but as a longtime guitarist, I’ve always felt guilty about spending insane amounts of time mock rocking on a plastic axe instead of putting those hours into my real guitars. After all, if I’m going to spend days on end virtually shredding, I might as well get something out of it. Fortunately, with the introduction of Ubisoft's Rocksmith, that’s all about to change.
 
Earlier this year, Rock Band 3’s Fender Squier Pro Stratocaster introduced the idea of playing a real guitar with a rhythm game. However, it had its limitations and required a very specialized instrument. Rocksmith takes this concept much further by allowing the use of ANY electric six-string to play the game. This opens Rocksmith up to anyone who happens to have an electric guitar that’s been gathering dust in a closet. And unlike Rock Band’s guitar, you don’t need a midi converter to make it work.
 

 

Included with every copy of Rocksmith is a heavy duty ¼" to USB cable that magically converts an analog guitar signal into a digital one that can be read by the game. That’s all you need to get started on your quest to become the next Guitar World cover boy or girl. The game even comes with a slew of classic amplifiers and effects built in so you can turn your television into a full fledged guitar rig.
 
In my opinion, calling Rocksmith a game is misleading. Yes, it has achievements and awards you points, but it actually has much more in common with an exercise game than it does Guitar Hero. There are no avatars to customize, no gods of rock to conquer and no quest for greatness to complete. This is a niche product with one purpose: teach you to play guitar. If you’re looking for a quick jaunt through rock ‘n’ roll history filled with flash and fury and finger cramps on the way to the top of the leaderboards, you can stop reading now, because Rocksmith is not for you.

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Real Steel
 
Rocksmith is designed from the ground up as a learning tool. When firing up the game for the first time, it walks you through the basics of holding a guitar and eliciting musical sounds from it. The first thing you’ll do is tune your axe with the in game chromatic tuner. Right away you’ll notice how quickly and accurately it tracks the pitch of the notes you play. Next, it will slowly guide you through the basics of how to fret notes and how to follow Rocksmith’s own unique brand of the “note highway” you’ve seen in other rhythm games. Within moments you’ll start playing the notes to the main riff of The Rolling Stones classic, "(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction." While this slow build to actually jumping into the game will be tedious for a seasoned guitarist, this is the perfect way to get a newcomer excited about playing. When it comes to learning an instrument, nothing is more satisfying than teaching yourself how to play something you’ve heard on the radio for the first time and Rocksmith makes sure you know that feeling right away.
 
Once you begin your journey in the game’s career mode you’ll see that the focus here is on substance over style. Nothing about the menus or concert venues is flashy. Instead, the game is focused on guiding you through the process of learning to play as you quickly tackle new songs and techniques. And thanks to the automatic difficulty adjustment, you’ll never be in over your head. As you play, Rocksmith constantly scales the difficulty to your level. This is fantastic training for a budding guitarist since it gives you a constant challenge without pushing you over the edge. And unlike other rhythm games, it doesn’t ever discourage you with booing crowds or broken notes when you fall behind in a song. For seasoned guitarists, this slow climb to the top will feel like a grind, but Rocksmith isn’t a shred simulator, it’s a guitar teacher and should be viewed as such.

Rocksmith
 
I highly encourage those learning as they play to take the time to go through the technique training sequences as they are recommended to you. Each of them features short, clear videos that explain the concepts they are teaching in an easy to understand manner. In addition to basic chords, Rocksmith will show you essential tricks of the trade like string bending, palm muting, tremolo picking, harmonics and slides. In addition, there a variety of fun mini games in the Guitarcade that you’ll unlock along the way that will help you really work on perfecting these skills in a very fun and unique way. For example, you can increase your chord vocabulary while shooting zombies, hit homeruns with string bends, and diffuse bombs with harmonics.

There are 8 mini games in all for you to unlock and each of them provide a useful and engaging way to practice and hone your technique in a way totally unique to Rocksmith. One piece of advice for beginners, remember to take it easy for the first couple of days as you begin to build calluses on your fingertips. The small pain will quickly lead to pleasure once you toughen up those dainty digits.

Rocksmith
 
Of course, learning techniques isn’t as fun as learning songs. Fortunately, Rocksmith is filled to the brim with a wide variety of genres and styles. Right away you can choose to play classics from A-list artists like Nirvana, Cream, Lynyrd Skynyrd, David Bowie and Muse. No song is locked at the start, but I recommend sticking to the career path suggestions if you are learning as you go since some songs are a lot easier to play than others. Remember, even Hendrix had to crawl before he could walk and play with his teeth. Some might complain about the lack of certain bands or genres, specifically metal, but there’s an in game store with the promise of future DLC to round out the repertoire.
 
Rocksmith also features a multiplayer mode. This requires an additional electric guitar and ¼” to USB cable in order to make it work, but offers a fun way to rock out with a friend. The game splits the screen horizontally and amazingly has no problem tracking two guitars. It also scales the difficulty to both player’s individual skill levels which means that no one will get left behind. If you’re able to, I recommend trying this mode out because jamming with friends is not only fun, but is a great way to learn and push yourself to get better.  

Rocksmith
 
I've Got Blisters On Me Fingers
 
There is a lot that Rocksmith does right, but it isn’t perfect. First, there is a slight lag in the audio when playing, especially if you’re using an HDMI hookup. The game recommends using an analog audio output and after testing both options, I agree. However, my personal home system is not set up for this and I am sure many other users will run into the same problem. The good news is the lag didn’t affect my ability to play the game, but the slight delay between hitting a note and hearing it come out of your TV will be a distraction for some.
 
Another problem I have with the game is the interface. While it is clean and easy to follow what is going on, I wish they varied the colors of the note blocks a little more. I often found myself confusing the orange and yellow blocks in the heat of the moment. Also, I think that having an option to embed the fret numbers into the note blocks so that it looks more like standard guitar tablature would be extremely helpful. Rock Band’s pro modes have this as an option called “Chord Numbering” and I found it to make playing that game much easier. I really feel that Rocksmith would benefit from this greatly as well. Learning guitar is tough and the more “play by numbers” action you can give someone, the better.

Rocksmith

In addition, having spent so much of my life reading guitar tabs, I had to play with the “invert” mode turned on. In the standard mode all the chord shapes looked upside down to me and I believe that any other guitarist who is used to reading standard tab notation is going to run into the same problem. Finally, the interface would benefit from clearer and easier to read feedback. The angled and transparent white text that lets you know when you’ve nailed or failed a phrase is hard to read when you’re busy trying to pay attention to the notes coming at you. Feedback in a game like this is very valuable and I wish that I could more easily see when I am on a hot streak or need to find the beat.
 
My last complaint about the game is that I wish it came with some supplemental material to help bolster learning when you aren’t plugged in. A chord book and tabs for the songs in the game would really help new players get on their feet. When playing Rocksmith, it is very hard to take a peek at where your hands are on the guitar neck and keep up with the game at the same time. It is much easier to play this way if you already know the song and it will be very hard to memorize the riffs if you are only learning them from the game. I believe that Rocksmith would be a more complete training program if Ubisoft included a book where you could learn the songs and concepts outside the game and then test your knowledge and skill when you are playing. 

Rocksmith

For Those About To Rocksmith. . .
 
Rocksmith is not for everyone, but for those looking to begin the lifelong journey of learning to play guitar, I highly recommend this game. Despite my problems with the interface, Rocksmith does of a solid job of teaching the basics and will quickly have you playing along with some of the world’s greatest artists. Seasoned guitarists might get frustrated at the process of working their way to the most challenging levels for songs, but they will benefit from the mini games which will help strengthen their skills. Just remember the old adage - practice makes perfect. This game is not a fast pass to guitar hero status, but it will put you on the right track and show you a good time along the way.