Video Game Review: Rocksmith

I've been meaning to write this review for awhile, but life has been keeping me pretty busy lately. In fact, while I'd like to have spent more time playing this game, I haven't had much opportunity -- or energy -- of late.

Rocksmith allows you to plug a real guitar into your PS3 or (in my case) Xbox 360 and play along to real songs (using a special cable included with the game -- plug one end into the guitar, the other into your gaming console). It adjusts the difficulty up or down depending on your skill (or lack thereof!) and no matter how badly you do, you can't fail out of a song as in games like Rock Band or Guitar Hero.

When I first heard about this game, I was intrigued. But when I happened to come across it the day it came out, I was hesitant to purchase it. What if it didn't work well? What if the mechanics were off? I decided to hold off until reading some reviews. By the end of the day, a steady influx of glowing reviews had piled up on Amazon (the only place I could find any), and I decided to buy the game. I don't regret it one bit.

Some musical background on myself: I played acoustic guitar in 4th grade, and sporadically thereafter, not really keeping up with it. In high school, I switched to bass, and played that for a few years. In late 2008, I decided to pick up the guitar again and bought a Jackson RR3 electric guitar. Since then, I've practiced whenever I have the time and energy -- which sometimes isn't too often. One of the things I hoped Rocksmith would help me with was adding structure and routine to my practice.

Someone asked me recently if the game will actually teach you to play guitar, and the answer is yes, it will. It will not, however, teach you music theory: you will learn techniques, chords, scales, and even how to read tablature if you use the tab view mode while playing (which is not the default view mode by the way).

The game works in a similar fashion as Guitar Hero and Rock Band, by having a series of notes (and chords) scroll down the screen. However, unlike the aforementioned games, Rocksmith has visual representations of all six guitar strings, as well as the different guitar frets. When the note marker meets the string on the screen, play that note (or chord). You're really playing guitar, not a plastic controller. And don't be intimidated -- the difficulty will be throttled to match your skill.

In addition to playing songs, the game also offers a variety of mini-games to help you learn and perfect the aforementioned techniques, chords, and scales. These mini-games are not all available to start -- you unlock them as you progress through the game. The mini-game to help learn chords, "Dawn of the Chordead", is the one I was most interested in, as my knowledge of chords is not all that great. In this mini-game, you are presented with a chord to play (verbally along with a diagram of it) and must successfully do so before a group of zombies reaches you. It's a fun little twist and really does help you learn chords.

As for the song library that comes with the game, it's not as good (IMHO) as the other music games, but downloadable content has already begun trickling through, and I was happy to download "Symphony of Destruction" by Megadeth and am in the process of learning the guitar solo. Which brings me to another feature the game offers: Riff Repeater. This lets you play a certain section of the song over and over again until you master it. There's also a feature that allows you to practice sections of songs at a slower speed, slowly building it up until you can play it normally.

Okay, so what are the downsides? Well, the game is kind of menu heavy, and there are often moments where you'll end up traversing menus rather than just hitting a button to do what you want. If you want to play a song using a different arrangement (songs often have single note arrangements as well as one or more chord arrangements) you'll need to back out of the song in the song menu, then re-select it just to switch the arrangement you want to play.

Also, if you're using HDMI for sound, you'll want to switch to composite audio, as there have been issues with delay when using HDMI. The game even comes with a diagram packed inside the game case explaining the best way to set up your console/TV/sound system to work with the game. My console is connected with composite audio, and there's only the slightest audio delay from when I pluck a note until I hear it through the TV. During game play, I don't even notice it.

If you're interested in learning to play guitar, or already know how and would like to sharpen your skills or just learn new songs, Rocksmith is a great way to do it.


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