I suck at playing guitar. I can admit that now. Though I owned an acoustic six-string at university (which I mainly used to convince gullible freshers that I wrote Fleetwood Mac's Go Your Own Way, don't judge me), my Guitar Hero-honed fingers feel clumsy and useless on an actual fretboard, a far cry from the consummate virtual virtuoso I become when clutching a plastic Gibson Explorer. What I need, therefore, is a game that can seamlessly combine the addictive gameplay of a traditional music title with real instruments, something that provides a fun experience while letting genuine musical theory and tabulature bleed into my subconscious.
Rocksmith does exactly that. By allowing players to plug a genuine electric guitar (or bass) into a PC or home console, Ubisoft's music game actively teaches us how to play an instrument - everything from tuning to barre chords and even pinch harmonics. After suffering numerous delays and lawsuits, Rocksmith is finally headed to European shores this Autumn, and I was keen to hunker down in Ubisoft's soundproofed E3 booth to try it out for myself.
Before we start in earnest, it's probably worth noting that Rocksmith released Stateside several months ago. But since us Brits will soon be allowed nice things, allow me to talk you through what makes this musical masterpiece a seriously exciting proposition.
Once you've tuned your guitar in a simple interactive minigame (Rocksmith can recognise the tones of each string and will instruct you accordingly) players are presented with a familiar Guitar Hero-esque GUI featuring trigger notes on scrolling trackways. Notes march down the screen towards the virtual fretboard of your guitar - viewed from behind - each numbered block corresponding to note in the song. You'll need to match the correct string with the right fret and play in rhythm to progress, much like a traditional music game.
Instead of a preset melody playing when you hit an arbitrary selection of buttons, however, you're actually playing the song itself, with the real-time sounds of your guitar appropriately overdriven and blasted back out of the speakers. A sprawling list of interactive 'ask and answer' tutorials, challenges and videos are on hand to teach a number of more advanced techniques, ready for more advanced players to hone their skills.
Progression is akin to an RPG. Each song starts out incredibly simple: a few notes here, a small cluster of twangs there. As you learn the basics, however, Rocksmith dynamically alters the complexity of the scrolling triggers, essentially levelling up the song like an RPG character. One moment you'll be fumbling along to a simple rhythm part, and a few minutes later, you'll realise that you're playing an entire chord sequence. Then some tasty riffs. Then a solo. Should you falter, Rocksmith will notice and take the difficulty down a notch, allowing us to get the fundamentals down before bringing out the big guns. A few fun arcade-style microgames (such as a Space Invaders clone played by plucking the right frets) are on offer for some lighthearted distractions, but the meat of the game is to be found in the adaptive tracklists.
The inherent beauty of Rocksmith's mechanics won't become apparent until after you've turned the console off and plugged your guitar into an amplifier. If you decide to play a Guitar Hero song on a disconnected peripheral, you'll only succeed in creating a clacky plastic rhythm and look like a bit of a twat in the attempt. But by playing Rocksmith, you've literally learned how to play a selection of songs, and can directly translate your muscle memory into actual music. When I got back from E3, I picked up my six string and realised that I could actually play the chorus of I Got Mine by the Black Keys, just from memory alone. What's more, by subconciously teaching you genuine theory, Ubisoft's musical opus empowers you with the ability to experiment, using your newfound knowledge to create new songs or jam around existing ones.
Rocksmith is infinitely more than just a game: it's a tool, a teacher even, and an exciting precedent that demonstrates that edutainment can doesn't have to be boring. Less confident students can now practice and hone their skills in a safe space, while advanced musicians can brush up on their technique or simply keep their hand in.
And if that isn't exciting enough, Rocksmith is also compatible with bass guitars. If your band needs a bassist, simply grab a copy of Rocksmith, borrow a four-string and let yourself loose. Or better yet, let a mate do it - let's face it, being a bassist isn't exactly the rock god fantasy.
Should you already have a loose grounding in guitar basics, Rocksmith is instantly accessible, but newcomers may have a harder time of it. Not only is the interface slightly terrifying if you've never played an instrument or encountered tab before, but buying an electric guitar may be prohibitively expensive even if purchased as part of a bundle deal. As such, Rocksmith may be a more useful tool for elementary guitar players rather than a way of learning from scratch, and it remains to be seen whether a videogame can really be a substitute for an experienced teacher.
Either way, I can't wait to find out.
Rocksmith is set to release this September on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.