Full disclosure: I'm not a very good guitarist. I spent my high school days clumsily banging around a Fender Strat snagged for 100 bucks at a pawn shop, looking up tabs online and learning simple chords, Incubus songs and the occasional Zepp riff, but for me, guitar playing never elevated from a light hobby to a skill. Therefore, I'm the prime market for Rocksmith; someone who has never had the wherewithal to stick with playing the guitar, but has always had that lingering fire inside, wanting to eventually learn to play and become more than a daydreaming would-be rock star.
In a noted departure from preexisting guitar-driven rhythm games, Rocksmith has you using an actual guitar, and not just in that "actual guitar with some Xbox 360 guts thrown in" way, but any electric guitar with a 1/4" jack will work. Connecting your guitar is a snap, simply plug the USB end of the included cable to your Xbox and the audio jack end of it to your guitar. Following this, the game will enter a tuning mode that will ensure that all six of your strings are in tune, and then you're all set to embark on your journey to rock stardom.
Or so it would seem. The game works on a dynamic difficulty curve, which grows with you as you play. Starting out is a pretty slow process, and the game will start you out with only a couple of single string notes and gradually increase the difficulty, throwing in more advanced moves, like hammer-ons, pull-offs, chords, bends, and barre chords as you play songs and become more comfortable.
As you progress through the game's "Journey" mode (which, it should be noted, is sorely lacking in any actual Journey, namely "Don't Stop Believin'"), you'll come across a variety of unlocks, netting you new amps, tones and guitars for the game's built-in Amp mode (more on that later). It also opens up Technique Challenges. Technique Challenges are dynamically generated based on how you play and what the game sees as trouble areas for your playstyle. These mini-tutorials will teach you specific elements of guitar technique, and are good for training your fingers for the game's songlist.
Rocksmith's intuitive difficulty shifting system does come with a caveat though; you cannot change the difficulty yourself for each song. It's possible to complete a song one moment, hop back in it to practice, only to have a whole new set of notes thrown your way. The game's options allow for a blanket sweep that either sets every song to the highest achieved phrase level or the lowest achieved phrase level, but there's no in between. This all-or-nothing approach can be trying at times, especially if you just want to find footing in the game's setlist.
For those looking for something a little more "game-like" than the rank-and-file note charts, Rocksmith presents the Guitarcade. The Guitarcade is a collection of mini-games meant to teach you the basics like scales, chords, and harmonics through a few standard gaming conventions. By doing things like taking out pixelated ducks in a Space Invaders-themed shooter and fighting off a zombie horde by playing the right chord, the Guitarcade teaches you muscle memory and trains your hands to better understand where they are on the guitar's fretboard. This mode is pretty fun and gets challenging, and is especially handy when combined with the Technique Challenges, prepping you pretty well for what's to come.
As fun as Rocksmith was and as well as the experience worked, the one thing that stuck out at me when playing Rocksmith was how lonely it felt. Sure, the game does have a cooperative mode that lets you face off with a guitar-strapped friend and battle it out for points (local only), but most of the experience boils down to you, the guitar, and the game, with no outside intervention.
I didn't expect Rocksmith to recreate the "party vibe" present in other rhythm games, and I came into it aware that Rocksmith was a guitar learning tool first and a rhythm game second. But there is something to be said on both a gaming level and a musical level about being able to play, riff, and feed off of other gamers (or musicians) during the learning process, and that was something I found lacking in Rocksmith.
Also, it should be noted that if you're an advanced guitarist looking to push yourself over the edge and gain an even better understanding of guitar theory, then Rocksmith probably won't teach you anything you don't already know. Most of what's here is pretty basic stuff, and the game's setlist, which offers a blend of familiar standbys from artists like the Rolling Stones, Cream, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers and indie tracks from the likes of Jarvis $#@!er, The Black Keys, and Red Fang won't test the mettle of players looking to become a pro-guitarist. The Rocksmith model for teaching guitar bridges from Beginner to Intermediate, but stops short of advanced.
For the expert guitarist still looking to get something out of the Rocksmith experience, the game does throw you a bone with the great Amp mode. The Amp mode gives you the means to customize your tone and take a variety of different tweakable distortion, clean, post and pre-effects and create something wholly unique, something that Rock Band 3 didn't offer. These effects turn your system and TV into a high-end, fully customizable amplifier/pedal combo, which might be worth the price of admission for some guitarists out there.
Rocksmith is not perfect, and comes with a few design foibles and caveats that keep it from excellence. However, as a new IP and a ballsy take on the floundering music genre, Rocksmith is an awesome first step. The technology is fantastic, and while the gameplay could use some tweaks, the dynamic charting system is a great sign of things to come.
IGN RATINGS FOR ROCKSMITH (X360)
out of 10 Click here for ratings guide
The game’s menu and interface pushes substance over style, and the combination of tutorials and songs takes a little while to get used to.
Rocksmith’s aesthetic is pretty barebones, and doesn’t feature dazzling venues or crazy character models, but the overall look is sleek and subdued.
The Amp mode is the star of the show, providing a variety of different settings and tones that guitar techies will love to mess around with. The setlist isn't anything to get excited about.
The tech works surprisingly well and the game does a fine job of easing you into the guitar learning experience, but it's not without balance issues.
8.5 Lasting Appeal
You’ll get what you put in with Rocksmith, so your overall time with it will vary depending on how much stick-to-itiveness you have in learning the guitar. If you're down, there is plenty of content.