Welcome to the School of Rock! – Rocksmith Review

Our Rating
out of 5.0

This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.

When I was a teenager, I wanted to learn how to play guitar.  My father, being a musician himself, began to teach me the basics.  He started me on finger positioning, basic chords, and simple progressions.  Admittedly, the first two weeks of learning the guitar were hell.  Beyond the monotony of playing the same basic group of chords over and over again was the lack of instant gratification that every teenager wants to have.  It’s very easy to get discouraged from learning the guitar, as it takes a bountiful amount of patience and determination to make it through the basics before you learn your first song.

That is, until now.

Ubisoft’s freshman entry into the musical gaming genre isn’t an entirely new approach; rather, there have been games before it that had you use a real guitar instead of those plastic guitar shaped controllers.  However, Ubisoft’s Rocksmith is far more refined and comprehensive than the rest.  Most importantly, they’ve found a method of teaching guitar that gives you the instant gratification that the gamer generation typically seeks nowadays.  So, how does Rocksmith set itself apart from the rest of the pack?  Let’s take a look.

Rocksmith comes in two different retail packages.  For those who don’t already own a guitar, you can purchase the game in a bundle that includes an Epiphone Les Paul Junior guitar, as well as the Real Tone adapter cable.  However, if you already own a guitar that has a pickup (such as an electric guitar or an acoustic with a pickup built in) you can purchase the bundle that just has the game and the Real Tone cable included.  Right off the bat, there is an additional consideration that you have to take into account, and it might be a frustrating one:  if your console is connected to the TV with an HDMI cable and you’re using the TV’s built-in speakers, you may have an issue with delay between the time you strike a string and the time you hear the sound from the speakers.  More so, this delay is also noted in the game and can count as a miss against you.  Although you can adjust the game to compensate for this delay in the options menu, the adjustment process is a bit cumbersome.  Instead, I found that the issue could easily be eliminated by plugging in my Turtle Beach X41 Wireless Headset into the optical port on my Xbox 360.  Using an external home theatre sound system via RCA or optical lines also resolves this problem.  However you decide to make the adjustment, it’ll set you on your way to shredding like a pro!

The first thing that Rocksmith will have you do is tune your guitar.  It will ask you what type of headstock you have (either a 3+3 which is the traditional rectangular shape, or an inline which has all of the tuning keys on the same side), and then have you strike each string one at a time, making adjustments as necessary.  Once completed, it will walk you through a basic tutorial about how the game works, familiarizing you with the fret board on the screen and referencing it to the physical guitar in your hands.  From there, it begins to take you on your journey towards becoming a guitar aficionado by starting you out with the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”.

The method that Rocksmith uses to teach a song is so very simple, yet amazingly effective.  It starts the player with a very basic note line and progressively adds notes to it as you master what it teaches you.  Eventually, you will have a complete framework to the song by the time you’re done.  The song is played while you’re strumming along, with the sound from your own guitar played over the top of it.  This adds to the immersion factor of the game and, at the same time, rewards you personally with the feeling of quickly mastering a song.  You have the option to keep playing the song over and over to try to reach the maximum score, or if you have met the minimum requirement, you can move on to the next song in the list.

Eventually, once you have learned the songs listed in the set, you will move on to the gig.  Much like the Guitar Hero and Rock Band games, you will be put in front of a virtual crowd who will grade your performance based on how well you play the song.  The more accurately you play, the more energetic the crowd becomes and the higher score you achieve.  If you do exceptionally well, the audience will bring you back for an encore.  This will be a song that you haven’t yet had a chance to play, so you’d better be on top of your game!

Once the gig is over, other venues and new songs will be unlocked.  Furthermore, other features are made available, such as Technique Challenges, Guitarcade games, Instructional Videos, and the Amp Mode.

Technique Challenges are exactly what the name implies.  As you progress through Rocksmith and your playing improves, it will begin to add techniques to the songs to use such as slides, harmonics, hammer-ons, pull-offs, and more.  In order to make sure that you don’t get blindsided with these techniques in the songs, the Technique Challenges are there to walk you through performing the specific move.  A short tutorial is presented to you with a video on how to perform the move, and then a basic challenge is presented to make sure that you understand what you need to do.  Once that is completed, Rocksmith will give you a rudimentary song that is geared towards honing your proficiency.

The Guitarcade houses a series of guitar-based games that help to further improve your skill set.  Games range from having you play a series of single notes to kill ducks, to having you racing a little guy down the line as you play scale notes.  Also, for those of you who aren’t yet completely sick of seeing zombies in a game, there’s Dawn of the Chordead, a game that has you play the correct chord in order to gun down the incoming zombie hoards.  Each mini-game is designed to improve your dexterity and skill while putting a fun spin on it.  Admittedly, if my dad had set up a couple of chain guns in the backyard that responded to my playing a correct chord, I probably would have been much more interested in learning my basics.

The instructional videos allow you to go back and see an example of a given technique and have exercises for you to practice.  While most of these videos are available the first time you encounter something new anyway, it is a nice feature to be able to go back in case you need clarification on something.  There are also videos on how to care for your guitar, tune it, and even do some basic maintenance.  All of these things are as important to playing a guitar as it is to learn the rudiments, so Ubisoft scores some extra brownie points here for including it.

The Amp Mode is an exciting feature that they’ve built in as well.  Amp Mode is essentially a guitar emulator that is designed to allow you to select certain makes and models of guitars, pair them up with different effects pedals, and even choose between solid-state and tube-style amps to get a unique sound more to your liking.  While it doesn’t do much for the functionality of the game, it does provide the player with the opportunity to expand their knowledge of the equipment that accompanies a guitar, familiarize themselves with different tones, and allow for some individuality.  I only wish that they had managed to pair up with more manufacturers other than just Ernie Ball and Epiphone, because it eventually begins to feel a bit like a gigantic product placement ad.

Each Technique Challenge or Guitarcade game, like the songs you learn, have experience points that you can earn based on performance.  The better you perform and the further you go into a song or challenge, the more points you earn and the more venues, games, or pieces of equipment you can unlock.  Rocksmith also gives you a graphical reference of your progress to give you an idea of how quickly you’re learning and mastering techniques and songs.

Rocksmith is a game that accomplishes something that many other music-based video games don’t.  It provides the player with skills that they can take outside of the living room.  While mastering a song on Guitar Hero or Rock Band can provide you with a sense of satisfaction, it takes some true savvy to learn a guitar and master it.  Moreover, you can take your guitar outside of the house, jump into a real garage band, and expand the boundaries in which you can “waste your time”.  It would be nice to see Ubisoft come out with an expansion or DLC that would allow bass players to join in the fun as well; and, personally, I can see it being expanded even further to include other instruments.  However, the guitar and bass are far less cost prohibitive over the average $500-$1000 you need to shell out for a drum kit, so I think it’s a good place to start.

Rocksmith receives a 4.5/5.0

Our Rating
out of 5.0

About This Post

October 29, 2011 - 10:30 am