Rocksmith Review

Calluses. Hard, rough patches of toughened skin that have become relatively thick in response to repeated friction, pressure or other irritation. To a guitarist, calluses mean several things. They are protection from the steel or nylon strings of his or her musical instrument. They are a vindication, for hours of practice. They are a badge of honor of sorts and a calling card to other guitarists. And for many gamers, they will be the result of long hours playing Rocksmith.

Rocksmith has been called a guitar trainer, and for all intents and purposes it is exactly that. A teaching device that can take a relative novice and instruct them how to play the guitar proficiently. This is not Rock Band or Guitar Hero. There is no plastic “faux” controller. Rocksmith requires you to utilize an actual guitar to participate. By progressing through the “game,” not only will you be taught how to tune a guitar, but you will learn strings, notes, chords, scales and numerous other tools and techniques that guitarists from garage bands to professional touring acts employ. And it is accomplished in such a way that it endeavors to remove the one obstacle that all fledgling rock gods contend with at one point or another in their journey: quitting.

Rocksmith's interface can take some getting used to, but look! That's a real guitar!

By making a game out of learning a musical instrument, Ubisoft has done what few music instructors can do with regularity; it has made practicing fun. In fact, you don’t really feel like you are practicing at all. It would be a rare instructor, for instance, that would introduce themselves, help you tune your guitar and tell you “Today we’re going to jump into The Rolling Stones,” on Day One. But that is precisely what Rocksmith does. Now, it would be disingenuous to pretend that everyone will be able to jump right into playing “Satisfaction.” But the true genius of the game (actually there’s a lot of genius here) is that it does make the song immediately accessible to anyone, regardless of their skill level, due to its ability to dynamically adjust the difficulty level on the fly. If the program detects that you are a beginner, then it will only throw single notes at you. There is no failing here, so the song will continue as you try to make sense of the colored strings and note locations on the frets.

Disclaimer: I can play the guitar somewhat, so I’m trying to envision what it would be like picking one up for the first time and playing. As for myself, there was a period of adjustment as my mind had to transition from reading guitar tablature (a method of reading music for guitars) to the colors and numbers being displayed on the screen. My first few runs were, in fact, pathetic. But I immediately wanted to do better; precisely the motivating factor that practicing scales in your room over and over again is lacking. I wanted to play that song, and I wanted to play it right.

By my fourth play through, the system was starting to recognize that I had grasped the basics, and winged a few chords at me. I hit a few, but chunked a lot more. On the sixth play through, I was playing chords and single notes and being pushed to do slides. Another very intelligently designed aspect of the game is that as you complete songs, training videos are unlocked that explain guitar terminology and allow you to practice techniques that will be featured in upcoming songs. Completing songs and training videos unlock games, which are all related to guitar playing. These games are also teaching you as you participate in them. One of my favorites is “Scale Runner.” Please reference my above comment about practicing scales. They aren’t fun. This game makes them fun. Ripping through an A minor pentatonic scale is a blast when you’re scoring points; not so much fun when you are staring at a sheet of paper in your room and your friends are playing games without you.

Is the game perfect? No. The developer needs to address a few issues with navigation. There is no online multiplayer. There was a decent amount of songs but should have been more, although credit is due for the eclectic mix. DLC is coming, and looks like it will cost about $2.99 per song. There are minor problems with the game recognizing certain types of notes, like harmonics. It’s a little clunky having to use the controller and a guitar, but I’m not sure how they could have avoided that. Some people report lag issues, although I seem to have avoided them. Crowd recognition and reaction can be spotty and underwhelming. And, finally, this will probably end up being a niche product. The necessity of needing to have an actual guitar will definitely hamper sales but, again, there’s no way around that.

In the end, this is a breakthrough product that may revolutionize and reinvigorate the sagging rhythm game market. I’m sure Rocksmith Bass is just around the corner, judging from the posts from all the bassists on the forums. It may not be a game that is a crossover success, but for any aspiring guitarist who finds that his PS3 takes him away from practicing (I’m looking at me) this is a rockGodsend. My calluses are back, I’ve learned how to play a few new songs, and I’m trying to get to the almighty Master mode, a true test of a guitarists’ talents, wherein the game no longer shows you the notes. You have to play the entire song(s) from memory. If you can do this with any accomplishment, you can play them for anyone. How many other games can make that claim?

Score: 8/10