After the death of Guitar Hero, in that no one seems to care about it anymore, it was believed the idea of guitar-gaming died along with it. With the birth of Rocksmith, however, guitar-gaming seems to not only be revived, but very much improved.
Ubisoft must have heard the lament of the many guitar players in the world who'd complained Guitar Hero is "not real, " for their upcoming game not only uses a real guitar, but requires the player to properly play it. Goodbye coloured keys, you're now using genuine strings on the fret (neck) of a real electric guitar. Played on an Epiphone, a decent guitar included as an optional add-on when you buy the game, I watched as the player strummed the proper strings to the tune of a variety of great songs available to you.
The song list looks impressive, with over 50 songs ranging from Muse, The White Stripes, Rolling Stones, Nirvana, and Tom Petty. There are even some newer songs available from groups including White Denim and Red Fang.
Before you play, you have the option to customize your tone via 'pedals', with over 60 in-game effects available. You can combine pedals, or use just the one, to enhance your experience.
The interface consists of you looking at the back of the guitar, facing the audience in first-person. The fret is shown on-screen, and has a similar look and feel to Guitar Hero, complete with coloured boxes coming at you, except with your playing actual strings instead of Fisher-Price-style keypads. If you play the wrong note, the screen will indicate where you're playing versus where you should be playing on the fret, guiding you on the path to playing a real guitar.
At the beginning of each song you're asked to strum the guitar to ensure it's in-tune. Since guitar strings get stretched out, or simply get old and unusable, this feature makes perfect sense to ensure you're always in-tune. The tuning feature works very well, in that the game senses which strings are out of tune, and shows you how to tune it in an easy-to-understand way. Once you've adjusted your strings to the right points, the game will read the now-correct string outputs and will send you to the stage.
There is no set difficulty setting in the game, rather, you guide where the game should be. As the demo was shown to us, it was pointed out that you only learn and get better when you are challenged, and that is what the game does. It starts off slow, with you merely plucking one note here or there. When the game 'senses' you have no problems with the current 'level', using the skater ruling of 'get it 3 times and you own it' it will automatically make it a bit more difficult, either by adding the same note more often, or maybe switching the notes you're playing. If it progresses too fast for you, the game will recognize you're having difficulty and will pull back a level. A great feature with this recognition is if you're consistent with how you play 'poorly', and, let's say you're always one half-beat behind the game, it will reward you bonus points; in that case the game recognizes that you may simply have a different 'style' of playing the guitar, as opposed to not being very good.
You can, however, choose whether chords will be included, other techniques such as solo's, or you simply play the notes one string at a time.
Freestyling is possible as you play, as there are no consequences or lost points for doing so. So long as you land the primary notes on-screen you can wail on your guitar to your neighbour's discontent.
While this is obviously a great teaching-tool for guitar enthusiasts like yours truly, it is still a video game and maintains some aspects of gaming within it. You can have up to 2 guitar players, with each player being able to play at their own level. There is also a singing option, where you can plug in a mic and have a friend join in and sing the lyrics shown on-screen; you can also try to sing yourself as you play the guitar in preparation for future campfire singalongs. High scores are calculated and kept, and there are mini-games which will teach you different techniques such as how to perform a 'bend', or even how to re-string a guitar.
Overall, Rocksmith seems to have gotten it right. You really can plug in any electric guitar to play, using your surround sound as your own personal amp, and learning guitar will be a fun and relatively painless experience for those who take the Rocksmith route. Starting October 2011, you'll be able to take it home for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and the PC. Just the game and cable for the guitar, of which you use whatever electric guitar you'd like in that case, will cost you $79.99US, or, you can get the two, along with a classic style Epiphone electric guitar and guitar picks, for $199.99US.