My previous musical experience could comfortably fit on the back of a small postage stamp – I’m not one those people who fancied himself a rockstar in my teen years or even now as I freewheel towards thirty. I had no interest in joining my friends for their band practise or jam sessions. I did however find myself utterly embroiled in the Guitar Hero games and thinking about it, it’s not that I had delusions of super-heavy-metal-stardom in my mind, it was more the technical side of the gameplay – a more convoluted Simon Says but with good music to accompany it if you will. Coupling my near obsession with Rock Band and Guitar Hero games meant that I had enjoyed flailing around on a small plastic drum set or tapping little plastic buttons and hearing Through the Fire and the Flames emanate from my TV so when I heard about Ubisofts attempt to bridge the gap between rhythm based video game and guitar tutorial software programme I was intrigued.
The basic premise behind Rocksmith is to use a familiar user interface (similar to those used by both Guitar Hero and Rock Band) and through different lessons and songs teach the player how to play an actual guitar. I was exhilarated to be able to use a real life guitar and at least pretend to know what I was doing with it. Using a Fender Bass under the careful and watchful eye of its owner I started Rocksmith…or at least I would have…
Sadly, this is where my issues with Rocksmith began. Given my past experience with PC games I assumed that merely installing Rocksmith and double checking the installation would be enough to ensure it was in full working order…I was wrong. After first realising that the retail box I had contained an invalid Steam code (a known issue as well so anyone who has bought a boxed PC copy please take note) I was then e-mailed a second code which worked. After installing the game on my PC and double checking the game worked by loading it up the day before the beautiful Fender was due to arrive I came to check the game once again and was prompted with an error which prompted a complete re-installation of the game.
Annoyingly this was not the end of my technical issues with Rocksmith as the game then failed to recognise that it was installed at all even after a second installation, forcing me to restart Steam in Offline Mode to actually get the game working.
Eventually though the game loaded up, my friend turned up with his gorgeous Fender Bass (did I mention how good looking that guitar was?) we connected it using the bundled USB cable (which interestingly sported a very long cable) everything seemed to be coming together nicely as I embarked (finally) on my journey into digital music tuition.
The first thing a lot of people mention about Rocksmith is how much additional setup the game needs; tweaking the sound intensity through the menus or the video latency by swapping their video cables for something a little less high tech. I had none of these problems, using the Slimgamer BeastRig demands only a VGA cable running from one of the several on-board plutonium powered graphics cards to our 100’ private cinema screen – okay so that’s a slight exaggeration but it is only supported by a VGA cable and this offered no reason to fiddle with the internal settings of the game for better performance or response times.
What would need more tweaking however would be my general performance with a real guitar – as I mentioned, I’d never really used a guitar before so going from a plastic Rock Band Fender to the real thing was a bit of a culture shock. The game would introduce me to several aspects of playing the guitar (such as sustained notes, hammer on’s and advanced fretwork) and as much as my musically enlightened colleague would disagree with the order of these lessons I did find the more informative than I thought I would.
One of my biggest criticisms about Rocksmith would be the lack of a defined difficulty selection, the difficulty dynamically scales to your performance, the better you do, the higher it goes and whilst that’s absolutely fine for a novice like myself it might get somewhat annoying for more seasoned pros who want to jump in at the deep end. Also the lack of a ‘free play’ mode makes it hard for me, as a non-musician, to want to continue with the sometimes slow ‘baby-steps’ tutorial process and slightly irritating mini games that are automatically laid out by the game. Many people who have played other rhythm games in the past may want to turn this game on and simply jump into one of their favourite songs without prior knowledge to see how they manage but that’s simply not an option. I’m also not sure how correctly playing the notes on the Rocksmith screen would translate to playing an actual guitar – I’m sure that there is a connection there that other musicians may pick up instantly or that I would learn going forward with the game but currently I simply don’t see how Rocksmith would help me with anything other than general guitar handling technique rather than actual musical ability.
At the end of the day Rocksmith is very hard to place as a game – I’d recommend it for anyone with a spare guitar lying around who wanted a reason to pick it up again. I think seasoned guitarists will become frustrated with some of the pacing though. Overall it’s a solid concept with less than solid execution which is unfortunately (in regards to the PC version) bogged down by technical issues.