*This is part one in a series of review articles about Ubisoft’s upcoming Rocksmith. Check back over the coming months for updated impressions.
If you know what Rocksmith is, it’s important to point something out before continuing: Rocksmith patently isn’t a shortcut, if only because such a thing simply doesn’t exist. It’s a fabulously well-designed learning tool that’s never dishonest about wanting to teach you how to handle, tune and play the instrument, but it makes the same demands (time, dedication) that you’d expect from a tutor if you’d just shelled out for 2-3 month’s worth of one-on-one guitar lessons. It’s a mammoth undertaking, and under the surface it’s one that bares precisely zero relation to the likes of Guitar Hero and Rock Band.
On the surface though, there are clear similarities. Musical notes move down a tiered corridor towards you during play, your “career” progression is marked by a ranking system and the continuous promotion to bigger and better venues, and all of the notes that you play are helpfully colour-coded. If you recall how throughly impossible Hard mode once seemed in the first Guitar Hero, it won’t be long before you’ll be likening that to the proverbial walk in the park. That said, there are a surprisingly bountiful array of different tutorial options constantly available to you in Rocksmith, and you’re never once steered away from the tack that best suits you.
It’s difficult not to be impressed when you set the game up for the first time. Although Rocksmith is compatible with any guitar that has an audio jack output on it, we’re using the bundle set that includes an Epiphone Les Paul Junior; an instrument that’s ideal for beginners (according to its creators) but nevertheless favoured by the likes of Keith Richards and Paul Westerberg when they’re playing live on occasion. The first thing you’re asked to do is tune the thing, and that process is basically faultless. After that you’re free to chart your own path, and all video guides and text-based tutorials permanently remain skippable; a relief if you happen to be a lapsed professional.
Those tutorial pointers – which cover everything from technique to timing to hand placement – are concise and never aggressive, and the game creates the same I-can-do-that atmosphere that an affable and patient teacher would do. Basically it’s never intimidating, and the real brilliance of it is that, kaleidoscopic career progress aside, it’s completely open-ended. You can simply jump into the same song repeatedly if perseverance is your tonic; you can use the “Leveller” and “Accelerator” tools if you want to learn each new technique in short bursts; or you can hone your skills via a series of mini-games housed in a place called the “Guitarcade”.
We’ve only unlocked one of those mini-games so far, a simple fairground ditty involving rubber ducks: strum the correct note to zap them, before an ever-decreasing timer times out. At first glance it appears to be little more than a throwaway morsel designed solely to appease players looking for additional content, but it’s actually an underhanded way of slowly teaching some people – hardcore gamers especially, to whom this will immediately appeal – how to move their hands up and down the fret board at speed, without sacrificing precision at the same time.
It’s a little too early to assess whether or not the game’s most interesting mechanic works as effectively as it needs to. Rocksmith instantly adapts to your skills – ramping the difficulty up when you nail a sequence of bars in rapid succession – though at this stage it’s a little too quick to raise the pace when you’re flourishing. It’ll be interesting to see whether or not, over time, it tinkers with its pacing to fit your abilities in the long-term, but it says a great deal about our experience with Rocksmith so far that we wouldn’t be at all surprised if it did.
This is part one in a series of review articles about Ubisoft’s upcoming Rocksmith. Check back over the coming months for updated impressions.
Rocksmith is currently due for release on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 on Friday, October 19th 2012. A PC version is expected to follow later in the year.
Watch the US launch trailer for Rocksmith below: