October 18, 2011

The Real Deal

Lasting First Impressions of Rocksmith from Ubisoft

Rocksmith boxart It was quite a while ago that I learned of Ubisoft’s plan to introduce their own entry into the music game genre.  It was right around the time that Activistion put their Guitar Hero franchise on hiatus and I wondered at the timing of Ubisoft’s decision.  Afterall, this was the time that a great deal of people felt that the music genre of games (including Guitar Hero and Rock Band) was at an end or at least waning.  Ubisoft, however, felt that it was time that this genre simply grew up.  Enter Rocksmith. No more plastic. No more custom made toy guitar controllers. This game is the real deal and uses a real, live, wooden, and stringed guitar.  That is awesome and I couldn’t wait for it to release.

Rocksmith, at its core, is a music game just like Rock Band and Guitar Hero before it with one very distinct difference: Rocksmith will teach you to actually play a guitar. It strives to teach you the real notes, chords and techniques of each of the songs presented so that you can then play those very songs outside of the game.

Rocksmith Screen 1

After loading up the game, and going through the fairly lengthy but informative tutorial, including a tuning of my guitar, I was ready to begin my journey to stardom.  Understand, however, that I have never played a guitar before. I have wanted, for a very long time, to learn to play but the opportunity never presented itself.  Rocksmith is the perfect home instructor.  Before I knew it, I was learning how to play “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones. What I absolutely love about Rocksmith is its dynamic difficulty leveling.  This is a feature that I have long said was sorely needed in the aforementioned Rock Band.  In short, if the game feels you are doing really well, it will increase the difficulty for you to keep you from getting bored with too easy a selection. Conversely, if it finds you are missing a substantial number of notes, it will decrease the difficulty so you can get back into on track. This mode is employed during the main Journey of the game as it takes you from one song to another like any standard Career mode.

During your Journey, Rocksmith will present you with your “Rocksmith Recommends” sections in addition to songs. These come in the form of Technique Challenges that will teach several advanced guitar playing skills such as Hammer-On and Pull-offs, Slides, Chords, as well as a multitude of others. As you progress through these challenges, you are granted one of three metals depending on how well you performed. Obtaining a gold metal means you mastered the technique and could confidently perform it in the course of a song.

Want to have more fun while learning a new technique? You can with the built-in Guitarcade, a collection of mini-game designed to help you improve your guitar playing capabilities.  The first of these is called Ducks which enforces proper fret positions. This is accomplished through a Galaga style game in which you must shoot ducks before they escape by playing the correct fret but utilizing only one string. Super Ducks takes this game to the next level by using all six strings. There are eight mini-games in all, each designed to help you perfect a specific skill such as scales, slides, and chords.

Rocksmith Screen 2

In addition to the Journey and the Guitarcade sections, Rocksmith also allows you to practice and learn each song in bite size parts in several ways.  One way is called the Leveler which gives you five chances to complete all the notes in a section before it levels you up and presents more notes. Continue through this until you’ve mastered each section and can successfully play it in its entirety.  Yes, even outside the game, you’ve just learned an actual song!  My only complaint with these learning components is the fact that they’re limited to only five attempts.  I really want to just keep going until I’ve got it right.  Forcing me to jump out of the training and back to the menu, just to select “Play Again” gets a little tiring and annoying and just increases the time it takes to learn the section.  I understand this was probably implemented to create a sort of ‘gaming challenge’ but when I’m learning something new, I’d much rather keep trying as long as I want to until I’ve achieved it.  One other thing that feels like it just gets in the way, is the constant need to pick up the controller after every song, practice session, mini-game or whatever else you’re doing. I know there probably wasn’t any way of implementing some kind of ‘guitar’ controls into the game so this isn’t the fault of the game, it just seems intrusive of the experience. Rocksmith for XBOX360 would have been a perfect candidate to incorporate Kinect controls into the menuing system. That way, you would never need to touch the controller for anything.

While Rocksmith has proven to be a wonderful guitar teacher, and one which has taught me so much in so little time, I can’t say that it could ever replace any proper teacher by any means.  There are times when I’m playing a new technique, like Palm Muting, and I’m just not getting it right. In this way the game can only tell me I didn’t do it properly, where as a flesh and blood teacher could tell me why I’m not doing it right.

Regardless of these small issues, I am loving this game thoroughly. I have wanted for a long time to learn to play the guitar and this game makes it feel like it’s definitely possible.  As the challenge of each song increased, there were times when I found myself yelling at the screen with a “You want me to do what??” but that only increased my determination to actually complete it successfully. I find myself each day excited to get home and pick up the guitar to learn some more.  I’ve even found myself picking up the guitar without turning on Rocksmith to practice something I’ve learned.

For those who really love music and want to take their love of Guitar Hero or Rock Band to the next level, this is it.  This is truly the music game for the serious music lovers.  Rocksmith will ignite your passion for guitar playing and never let it go.

Ubisoft I gave you an hour and I am not only IMPRESSED, I’m hooked.  You’ve brought what many have wanted for years, and you’ve done it wonderfully.  We’ve finally graduated from plastic to the real deal!

About the Author

Sean is an avid gamer and lover of all thing tech. He is a dedicated husband and the father to three beautiful daughters. In addition to taking his love of gaming to a new level with this site, Sean is also host of our podcasts: The OMG! Hour, Lost Treasures of Gaming, and Primetime as well as the bi-weekly podcast mashup show, Gamers Unscripted. Follow Sean on Twitter as @Xiantayne and this blog as @OMGnexus.



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  1. I really can’t wait to try this! I think it’s going to help my 12 year old too. He loves guitar .

    • Sean

      Sydney is having a great time with this one too. She has wanted to learn guitar for years and she’s in her glory now that she actually has the opportunity to play a real one. I still can’t wait each day to get home and learn more. It’s a wonderful game/teacher.

  2. Tarquin

    Looks great, and I recognize that ‘D’ chord! Can you flip the display to play as a lefty? Where’d you get the guitar? And when are you going to post an mp3 of your ‘Satisfaction’?

    • Sean

      Yes, you can certainly flip the guitar orientation to play as a lefty as well as flip the string layout to represent traditional tablature if you’re accustomed to reading guitar music. As for my guitar, I’m borrowing one from a friend with the option to buy. It’s a Yamaha Pacifica 112J and I’m really enjoying it.

  3. Tarquin

    Game hesitantly purchased on your recommendation. And it is EXCELLENT! My score with chords is triple that of single notes. More practice will be had.

    • Sean

      Glad to hear it! I have yet to cross over into chords. I can’t seem to wrap my head around them yet when the game throws them at me in the middle of a single note song.

  4. Tarquin

    There is a video for each chord, and the barre chords are a separate technique. Really good instruction, it got me to play a B5!

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