Having already previewed Ubisoft's Rocksmith, I had an idea of what to expect. Yet when I began playing at home, I still couldn't believe just how well put-together this game is.
Because, you see, you're playing an actual, electric guitar. And it works. Amazingly well.
From the get-go, Rocksmith takes your hand and leads you down the guitarist's path. A gentle voice explains, along with visuals, the basics of a guitar, right down to what a fret is and how to strum. You can choose left- or right-handed play, along with the type of electric guitar you're playing with. After you become acquainted, you are led to your first song, where the auto-difficulty is set to the lowest point and you build your way up in the game.
Unlike other video games, difficulty is gradually increased/decreased automatically by the game, and is based on how you do. The better you play, the more difficult it gets, yet if it gets to be too much the game will step back a bit and let you catch up. This ensures you never get bored, and you can't help but improve as you're constantly challenged to do just that one per cent better than the last time. It's guaranteed you'll be plucking basic songs out within your first hour without too much difficulty.
The scoring is based on how well you do, along with the level of difficulty you're playing. The better you get, the higher your difficulty level becomes, and more Rocksmith Points (RSP) are earned as a result. It's a happy moment when you see your point level increase each time you play, especially when you realize it's a reflection of your improvements as a guitar player. A line graphing your RSP is always in the background of the menu screens alongside your current score count. As you earn RSP, you unlock many extras, including challenges, virtual guitars, and various "pedals" used to alter the sound of your guitar.
If you want to work on a particular riff (a segment of the song), you can practice any part utilizing three different methods of practice. One will freeze the song if you miss a note, holding it until you get it right before moving on. The next will start the song slow, then gradually increase the speed to 100 per cent so you can get used to playing that riff. The third one enables you to level-up, going from plucking the odd note here-and-there to strumming full chords alongside those single notes. Once you level-up in practice, the game will save it as your base difficulty, continuing to challenge you with that level in practice, and during an actual "performance," so you can continue to increase your skill.
Learning techniques is easy and fun. Mini-games and technique challenges are unlocked and recommended to you as you play, enabling you to learn how to "bend" and "slide," among other things. The mini-games teach you things like how to move your hand along the fret (the neck of the guitar) by shooting ducks and plucking a note to shoot, and they can utilize some of the techniques you've learned, including bending a string. It's a great break from the challenge of playing through an entire song, and they really do help you get a grasp of how to do many cool things on a guitar.
The game itself takes you on a journey through your in-game "career." You practice songs for song sets, and when you're ready, you perform to a very well-portrayed audience in a back-to-back set. If you do well, you'll even get an encore. Should you like to play different songs, you can change the set-list through an Event Manager to do as you wish.
The song selection isn't your "standard" set-list you'd expect to find as they aren't all "overplayed wonders," yet it works quite well. You'll find many familiar names including Muse and Nirvana, and you'll enjoy playing them all. Over 50 songs are available to you from the get-go, however, if you want to level-up at the right rate, it's best to follow the game's suggestions through your career-path for the best songs to approach; some of them are hard to start out with if you're just beginning, which is why they're introduced to you much later in your career.
The game includes a USB cord to hook up your guitar to your console, using a Break-A-Way design in case you rock out a bit too enthusiastically. Friends who want to play can use a second chord sold separately for the game, so you can rock out as a duo at your own skill levels. The ability to hook up a microphone for karaoke is available as well.
As someone who's played basic guitar before, I was impressed to see how well this game engages a player while educating them. After only a few hours, my own skill level increased to the point where I now move more freely along the fret, and chords are no longer a frightening concept. Watching someone play who's never tried before, I could see their excitement as they began to strum, and their sense of accomplishment radiated when they realized they're legitimately playing a real-life guitar.
The only thing I'd like to mention is to be aware of how the knobs on your electric guitar affect the game's ability to read your strumming. The game is very receptive to every pluck of each string, so long as your guitar lets it. If you feel it's not reading it very well, your guitar may need to have its volume knob turned up, or a switch flicked. There was a point when I was strumming a chord with no luck, then I fiddled with the guitar knobs and it is now super receptive to everything I do.
It's rare to find a game that encompasses a teaching tool as effective as Rocksmith, with virtually no negatives to observe, while still being enjoyable to play. Though for the first day or two you'll feel some pain in the tips of your fingers as your new guitarist callous' begin to form, it's a small trade for the skills, abilities, and pride you'll feel as you level-up as a genuine musician. Nothing beats learning useful and fun real-life skills, especially when it's with something as cool as an electric guitar.
Rocksmith is available as a box-set, complete with the game, USB cord, and an optional electric guitar (which is a great guitar to start with, but you can use any guitar with the game if you don't want it). Look for it on the PS3 and Xbox 360, and PC later this year.