rocksmith-review

In May, I wrote a piece on a whim about Ubisoft‘s upcoming entry into rhythm gaming and my outlook was not good. After E3, I was definitely feeling more optimistic about the title. Now, if Rocksmith were a lady, you could consider me a believer, because I definitely saw her face.

After several hours of hands-on time, playing song after song after song, learning the ins and outs of the final build that will be available in homes, and generally trying to know everything there is to know about Rocksmith, I can say with the entirety of my being that people should and will love this game upon its release on October 18th of this year.

Nobody was more skeptical about this game than I was when I first stumbled upon it during the $25 Guitar Center gift card promotion. The testimonial trailers with the “Beginner,” “Gamer,” and “Musician” weren’t swaying me in the least. Incredibly unconvinced, I posted up what turned out to be the article that changed my mind…and life.

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Scott Fry at Ubisoft emailed me and what ensued was a rollercoaster of events that took me to E3 to try outRocksmith, and eventually, I found myself in San Francisco at Ubisoft’s US headquarters, doing my best hermit impression—behind closed doors in a small room with nothing but the game and myself.

So, I played. I played my little heart out. Near seven or eight hours that day, I played. Barely drank anything aside from a can of Sprite and some water, because I was too focused on getting my fill of Rocksmith. And in all that time, it still wasn’t enough. I had merely chipped away at the tip of a proverbial iceberg and there was much, much more.

From the beginning, you and Rocksmith are introduced through a video displaying an increasingly difficult performance from RapScallions guitarist Dario Forzato. At the start, he plucks a few simple notes only to have it turn into a flurry of fretting as the video goes on. This is representative of how the game itself progresses, having you go from carefully fretting those sparse notes to eventually being that seasoned shredder who knows their way around the fretboard.

Well, provided you put the time into the game. Rocksmith, like anything worth being good at, requires dedication, patience, and—above all—time. You can’t expect to pop the disc into your console of choice, plug your guitar in and instantly be playing songs like the pros—you have to learn to crawl before you can walk, and you need to learn to fret before you can shred.

One really great part about Rocksmith is the game doesn’t hold your hand as you’re playing, but it does point you in the right direction and walk alongside you the entire time, taking the role of a friend rather than a parent.

As you progress through the main game mode, you’ll not only play songs that get harder as you go, you’ll be given lessons to build upon both fundamentals to playing, as well as techniques used to improve on both currently available songs and songs you will unlock in the near future. Some of the tutorials include slides, hammer-ons and pull-offs, bends and other essential playing techniques.

This style of slowly introducing new techniques is excellent, because players are welcome to learn at their own pace rather than have the game set the standard for them. Rocksmith is more about having fun on your time, and not anybody else’s for any reason. That’s the reason thatUbisoft have implemented a dynamic system that adjusts to your playing style.

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This “dynamic difficulty” is where Rocksmith truly shines, with the game never being more difficult than it “thinks” you are. Notes are introduced in trickles so that you don’t feel overwhelmed and learn your hand positions and apply the techniques you learn from the lessons. As you constantly improve in your playing, you will “level up” phrases within the song and Rocksmith will toss more notes your way. Eventually, after you have leveled up enough, you will be playing the song. But again, that doesn’t happen quickly unless you are doing REALLY well.

Unlike its rhythm cousins, Rocksmith does not feature difficulty levels, so there’s no option to choose between Easy, Medium, Hard or Expert. Instead, with the player-adjusting dynamic difficulty, your progression will be an easily climbable slope. For example, with Rock Band 3‘s PRO Mode, if Medium was too easy for you, but Hard was more than you could chew, you were screwed without heading into the game’s practice mode. Instead, withRocksmith, the game will intuitively scale itself back to give you just enough challenge to help you get better without overwhelming you.

The game’s interface is recognizable enough, but you’ll have to readjust yourself to looking at this UI if you’re an avid Guitar Hero or Rock Band player. Instead of color-coding the frets, each string has an assigned color (6th = Red, 5th = Yellow, and so on). When the gem scrolls down towards the bottom of the screen, there will be a number next to it corresponding to the fret you should push down. For those familiar with tablature, there is an option to switch the interface.

I had the great opportunity to speak with Paul Cross, the Creative Director behind Rocksmith. Unfortunately, while I was recording the interview, my phone decided to only record five minutes of our hour-long talk, so anything that he “says” is not necessarily verbatim, but the general idea is there.

To answer some questions from the community that I asked during the interview, I will put them in relatively quick succession.

No, there will be no bass guitar support on-disc, and there’s actually a very good reason behind this. The developers didn’t want anyone being introduced to guitar to get confused, and that makes a lot of sense. You can say, “Yes, you need a guitar to play this game,” but if there was bass on-disc, one could say “You need a guitar or a bass guitar to play,” and then beginners or those without instrumental knowledge would wonder why they can’t play the guitar parts with a bass guitar or vice versa.

The majority of the setlist has already been revealed, and there’s been a severe outcry of “Y U NO HAVE METAL?!?!” Paul said that the setlist was meant to be more of a compilation album than a mishmash of random songs to attempt to appeal to fans of ever genre. In Rock Band 3, consider that one could transition from Dio’s powerful vocals and Vivian Campbell’s head-ripping solos in “Rainbow in the Dark” to the ridiculous styles of Les Claypool with “Jerry was a Racecar Driver” to the blues-y notations in Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab.” Well, that doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it?

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Instead, Rocksmith‘s setlist features more songs that fit together in tone and style. The tracks that don’t quite fit will be added as DLC, and yes, there will be a good variety of DLC—including the much sought after metal genre. The first bit of confirmed DLC pieces (if you’ve been keeping track) are Radiohead’s “Bodysnatchers,” Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird,” and the bass compatibility DLC.

Lag is not an issue for the game, coming with a standard 30ms of delay from input from your instrument to output through speakers. The big problem is that lower priced TVs will have serious delay unless rectified through the TV’s and game’s menu. Applying the “Game Mode” for certain TVs will usually eliminate the problem and using an external sound emitter, like speakers or headphones, will further help make it unnoticeable.

On a related note, one thing I noticed had me raising an eyebrow. If the game is not adjusted properly, minor lag won’t be anything to worry about during play, but the replay after you finish a song will make it seem like you are the slowest and sloppiest guitarist ever, being completely out of sync. It was kind of funny and wasn’t detrimental, but it certainly wasn’t representative of how on-time you were during play.

I touched on the subject of Power Gig: Rise of the Six String, and Paul buried his head in his hands in one of those laughable “Oh God” moments. Ultimately, what Power Gig did to Rocksmith was hurt it. Reaching out to artists who had been on board for the failed “Rock Band killer” was met with a look of disdain, as if the people at Ubisoft had personally betrayed them. Note that Seven45 Studios don’t even recognize Power Gig as a thing.

Upon hearing this, I asked Paul what some of the hopefuls for the game were, but he refused to answer me. Confused and persistent, I asked why he wouldn’t answer me and he told me reassuringly, “We’ll get them.” And that? I respect that. I respect the Hell out of that and did not press further.

From my understanding, Rocksmith is a really sophisticated tuner, being based on the technology from GameTank’s Guitar Rising and similar to iOS’ Rock Prodigy. The game benefits from the 1/4″ jack/USB hybrid cable that allows you to plug directly into your console of choice, but deprives you of the freedom of wireless playing. Though, if you’re like me, you will sit there, hunched over your instrument, being the unmoving statue of musicianship.

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Being such a refined tuner, though, Rocksmith will be able to distinguish between similar notes. For example, if you strike the 6th string at the 12th fret, you’ll produce an E note. Alternatively, if you strike the 5th string at the 7th fret, you will produce the same E note. The game recognizes the slight difference between thickness of the strings whereas the human ear would have much more difficulty. That’s some good technology right there.

Rocksmith is familiar territory to fans of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, but touts the fact of having a really, really low entry cost for such a well-featured game. $79.99 will net you the game as well as the space wizard-created hybrid cable. Of course, this is the option to shoot for if you already have an electric guitar to play with.

For those looking for a more introductory experience, there’s a bundle that will include the game and the cable, but will also be packaged with a pretty sharp-looking Epiphone Les Paul Junior. I played this guitar for my preview and it’s definitely a nice piece of work—solid construction, good weight and great tone for a beginner’s guitar. And all that for $199.99. That’s right—you’re getting a pretty good guitar for $120. This absolutely blows Fender’s Squier for Rock Band 3 away at its near-$300 price point.

Whoa, and did I mention the mini-games? THERE’S MINI-GAMES, DUDES. The Rocksmith Guitarcade comes packed with games that are not only fun, but help improve your playing. One mini-game takes you to outer space with a cybernetic ostrich where each string is tied to a specific lane and you have to tremolo pick (read: pick really fast) to make your ostrich run as fast as possible to hit checkpoints before time expires.

I made mention of the duck shooting game in my E3 bit from July, but there are actually two versions of this one. The first one has you “shooting” ducks that are flying away from you by picking on a single string (the 6th string) and helps you build muscle memory in fret positions. The second version will have the ducks attacking you and include all strings to keep you on your toes, having to hit multicolored ducks with the corresponding string AND fret.

Still other minigames will help you exercise other techniques, like sliding and natural harmonics. Super Slider, a game that hails to Tetris tactics, will have you picking a note on a specific string and then sliding that block to others of the same color to destroy rows and reconfigure your playing field. Natural harmonics come into play when the game prompts you to imitate the harmonic on a specific fret to defuse a bomb. There are quite a few, and they all have their benefits.

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Oh, and STILL MORE, the sandbox mode to mess around with different pedals and effects is MONSTROUS. I mentioned in the last article that you’d be able to use your guitar in whatever way pleased you and you ABSOLUTELY will. There are mountains of effects to play with here, and you’ll be able to save them for use in the actual game mode so that you may make each song your own with different effects. And then, of course, there’s the “Free Play” mode where the game becomes your pedals and your speakers/headphones your amp and you’ll be able to play whatever you wish. I unfortunately didn’t spend too much time with this mode, but I can tell you that you can lose many, many hours to it.

I think the only thing “wrong” with this mode and the transition to the main game is that you’ll have to assign tones and effects to buttons on your controller. However, I believe that a peripheral that looks and feels like a legitimate guitar pedal will be available after launch to make the game a touch more real. The controller just takes you out of the situation where you’re actually playing guitar, feeling like that rock star you strive to be.

To touch on another important question from the community, multiplayer will be up to three players, with horizontal split-screen for two of the same guitar track, two different guitar tracks or guitar and bass. A third person may join as a vocalist, but their contributions will not necessarily be scored. Online multiplayer is not a thing that will be in Rocksmith. Individual song scores will not be collected and posted on leaderboards, but mini-game scores will be tracked.

Holy cow, that’s a lot of words about this game. But let me say this—I am tremendously excited about this game. And you should be, too. If you have ever had any interest in rhythm games, playing guitar or are already a guitarist looking to build up your playing or challenge yourself, you need to own Rocksmith. This is the kind of game I could play every day on the sole basis that I will actually be learning something without having to pay an additional outrageous amount for certain peripherals.

Literally for the price of two 1-hour guitar lessons from an actual person, Rocksmith can be your tutor forever. And you don’t even have to tip them. As a bonus, here’s a video of me playing “Outshined” by Soundgarden. Until I played Rocksmith, I never even knew how to play this song. But now I do. Badly, but it’s a work in progress.

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iu8YM0tWxK0

Questions about Rocksmith? Comments? Leave them below or find me on Twitter and I’ll do my best to answer as best as I can!

Tagged in: Featured, PC/Mac, PlayStation, PlayStation 3, Reviews, Xbox, Xbox 360

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