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Rocksmith Hands-On Preview | Guitar Heroism

Author:
Jonathan Lester
Category:
Features
Tags:
E3 2012, Music games, PC games, PS3 games, Rocksmith, Ubisoft

Rocksmith Hands-On Preview | Guitar Heroism

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.

Rocksmith Hands-On Preview | Guitar Heroism

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.

Rocksmith Hands-On Preview | Guitar Heroism

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.

Rocksmith Hands-On Preview | Guitar Heroism

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.

Add a comment8 comments
Late  Jul. 25, 2012 at 13:07

...mainly used to convince gullible freshers that I wrote Fleetwood Mac's Go Your Own Way, don't judge me

Wahahaha! =))

As you say, this is a fantastic step up from the (already great) Guitar Hero type games, but cost will be an issue for many.

MattGardner  Jul. 25, 2012 at 14:43

which I mainly used to convince gullible freshers that I wrote Fleetwood Mac's Go Your Own Way, don't judge me


Judgement is necessary...in between Wingman Harmonising.

" *insert name here*, baby I'd give you my world..."

Sigh.

JonLester  Jul. 25, 2012 at 15:01

For the record, it was "If I could, [fresher] I'd give you my world." Followed by abject shame, regardless of the outcome.

Can we talk about Rocksmith please? :p

Last edited by JonLester, Jul. 25, 2012 at 15:03
stevenjameshyde  Jul. 25, 2012 at 16:18

How does it compare to Rock Band 3's pro modes? The ability to use my SG instead of the finger-shredding RB3 Squier definitely appeals, but is the game as good/better?

JonLester  Jul. 25, 2012 at 20:17

How does it compare to Rock Band 3's pro modes? The ability to use my SG instead of the finger-shredding RB3 Squier definitely appeals, but is the game as good/better?


Ah, that's a great question. Rocksmith certainly feels solid and responsive from a gameplay standpoint, and the fact that you can play/properly learn a real instrument is absolutely intoxicating. It is definitely superior in terms of authenticity compared to RB3's pro modes - you're genuinely playing a song, the right chords, the right strings - and you'll hear your own real-time sounds rather than the pre-recorded guitar track.

But whether Rocksmith is also going to be a fun game in its own right, especially after many hours of play, remains to be seen.

Last edited by JonLester, Jul. 26, 2012 at 09:16
AfxTwn  Jul. 27, 2012 at 13:18

I'd be interested to know how hard it is not to look at your fretting/strumming/picking hands and instead look at the screen all the time?

When I was learning guitar you naturally stare at your hands, in particular your fretting hand while you attempt to make the right shapes for each chord.

I would imagine it is quite difficult not to do this as you have to know exactly which fret you're on and which string your hitting.

JonLester  Jul. 27, 2012 at 13:55

@AfxTwn: Hmm, that's a tough one. Since I have a basic grounding in guitar, I didn't need to look at the strings much, but total newcomers probably will probably need to from time to time. Luckily there are some tutorials, and you can't 'fail' a song, so I guess it will just come with practice. There's a fair amount of visual feedback too - the neck of your guitar and chord shapes are directly represented on-screen - so the learning curve seems to be pretty shallow.

It's also worth pointing out (maybe I should have mentioned this) that Rocksmith will include a selection of fret stickers in the box that you can put on the neck of your guitar - allowing you to see which fret you need with a quick glance. This may sound unbelievably lame, but many players have found them incredibly useful judging by the forums.

Last edited by JonLester, Jul. 27, 2012 at 13:59
AfxTwn  Jul. 27, 2012 at 18:28

@AfxTwn: Hmm, that's a tough one. Since I have a basic grounding in guitar, I didn't need to look at the strings much, but total newcomers probably will probably need to from time to time. Luckily there are some tutorials, and you can't 'fail' a song, so I guess it will just come with practice. There's a fair amount of visual feedback too - the neck of your guitar and chord shapes are directly represented on-screen - so the learning curve seems to be pretty shallow.

It's also worth pointing out (maybe I should have mentioned this) that Rocksmith will include a selection of fret stickers in the box that you can put on the neck of your guitar - allowing you to see which fret you need with a quick glance. This may sound unbelievably lame, but many players have found them incredibly useful judging by the forums.


Well I think I'll definitely be buying the game as I'd like to brush up on my guitar playing and I'm a fan of GH/RB, plus I can get this on PC so I can play in the same room as the majority of my music equipment.

I'm not too sure about using stickers on a real guitar though. I can imagine they'd be a right pain to get off as well as making your guitar look bad. I'll keep my eye on this one.

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