By the time it hits Aussie shelves next month, Rocksmith will have been out in North America for 12 months, but it almost doesn’t matter due to its on-going support and, frankly, revolutionary nature.
In a globalised world, that makes it a unique game to ponder prior to launch. I could tell you that the PS3 version holds a 83% rating on Metacritic and 86% on GameRankings but for the purposes of everyone outside of the United States, I’m going to consider it a game that is yet to be released. After all, it isn’t.
Rocksmith is entering a saturated market in a genre that producer Jason Schroeder told me many believed was ”dying” when Ubisoft first contrived the idea. And yet, it’s unlike anything we’ve seen before as an entertaining video game intertwined with a highly sophisticated piece of learning software.
Rocksmith teaches real guitar techniques, the applicable skills required to play a real guitar.
I asked Jason the important question, the only one you should really care about, and he gave me the answer of an honest man who clearly believes in his work: having never played guitar, after we’ve mastered Rocksmith, will we be able to pick up a guitar independently and play it without the game?
”Obviously the guitar is real, and if you plug it into an amp it will sound the same. We’ve certainly heard reports of people being able to do that on forums and message boards and the game teaches you the skills required to play real guitar,” he told me. ”It will be difficult to remember entire songs,” as without the Rocksmith software prompting them, players will ideally need to learn to read music, as would any aspiring musician. ”But you should definitely be able to play the main rifts of your favourite songs without the game and scales with your friends. How much you can play without Rocksmith will really depend on what you remember.”
That’s what I wanted to hear. Rocksmith teaches real guitar techniques, the applicable skills required to play a real guitar, but taking that to the next level and playing independently calls for extra commitment on the player’s behalf.
Its positives as a music simulator that employs utilitarian functionality are weighed by an expected inflation in price. Real guitars cost money, but you needn’t be restricted by the official options. While Ubisoft is partnering with Gibson to release a $248 bundle, the standalone game comes with a ‘Real Tone’ cable that allows you to connect any electric guitar or bass with a 6.35mm (¼") jack to your PC or console. That dusty old axe your dad put into the back of the closet in 1986 will work a treat. Without one of those, the bundle price is on par with the plastic-infused Rock Band kit (at launch), and considerably cheaper than standard guitar lessons.
But how does it teach?
As a teaching aid, Rocksmith implements a dynamic difficulty system that adjusts with the player. Rather than selecting a difficulty before each song, the game monitors your progress and modifies accordingly. If you’re missing notes, it reduces the demand and pulls back to the basics. If you find near perfect form, it scales up and adds more notes until you’re playing everything, Jason explained. It continues to push you and will increase its demands just as you become comfortable with one section.
Scales -- the enemy of 11-year-old guitar students the world over -- have been implemented as mini-games to make them more enthralling than sitting on the couch and plucking strings in sequence. In the demo I played a E3, I was moving up and down the frets firing at a duck on screen. Unwittingly, I was practising the same scales given to students for years.
However, I must confess that I wasn’t a total newbie. When I sampled the game, I hadn’t played guitar for the best part of a decade, but I had played before. However, as a 12-year-old I always struggled with tuning -- something that has been made simple in Rocksmith. At the beginning of each song, you must tune the guitar. It’s a matter of playing each string in sequence and following the on-screen commands to make any necessary adjustments.
Doing it by ear is somewhat more challenging.
While the 12 month delay harks back to the disappointing waits of yesteryear, the reward is the complete game. Rocksmith has been updated since launch and comes to Australia just in-time for the Bass expansion, which will be included in the local version. In the event that you don’t have a bass guitar, it can be tried using a regular six string guitar with a virtual in-game amp that lowers the sound. “Tried” being the key word.
”With 57 songs, including six that are unlocked, the track list is quite varied, and then there are more available to download,” explained Jason. As for future plans, ”we’re really just seeing how the community reacts to what we’ve done so far. After releasing in the States we made some changes, and now we’ve updated the game with the Bass Mode. We’ll see how that goes and decide what we want to do in the future.”
I played guitar as a kid, but never seriously. I’ve always wanted to take it up again, and I’m intrigued to see if Rocksmith is a game that can reinvigorate the passion I need. I don't expect it to replace a talented teacher, and there's an inherent difference between playing a video game and learning a complicated skillset that takes years of commitment to master. However, I hope it can provide strong inspiration.
Now to call Mum and see if there’s a guitar somewhere I can use...
Rocksmith will be released in Australia on September 27.
By Ben Salter