Rocksmith (2011)

Unnatural Selection, Muse

I had purchased today’s game quite some time ago, but worked on it gradually until I finally decided that I should review the thing.  I’ve been a fan of the bigger music rhythm games such as Rock Band and Guitar Hero since they were first made available.  I’ve been playing guitar off and on for more than a decade now, but I’ve never been very good at it.  So when some games came along that could at least partially make me feel like I was really playing some of my favorite songs, I was all over it.  I also got to dabble in being mediocre at singing, playing bass, and playing drums.  But this wasn’t making me any better at actually playing guitar.  When a game came along that allowed me to play such games with my actual guitar, I figured it would be the only way to get me to practice.  But would it be enjoyable enough?  Let’s find out when I review Rocksmith, developed and published by Ubisoft.

The story of this game is … uh … you are a person … sitting in your house … playing guitar.  Then you play different songs.

I enjoyed this game, if you can even call it a game.  It’s hard to say.  It’s similar to Rock Band and Guitar Hero in that you play songs and get somewhat arbitrary points, but the points do even less for me here than they did in those games.  In those games, you could create your character and deck him out with new instruments, clothes, and style.  You can pick other guitars in this game, but I’m not sure why.  You don’t see your guitar in the game at all, and I don’t think I ever heard any difference.  In the other games, points also advanced you on to the event and to new songs, and this game does that as well, but I never really felt motivated to get points other than just to play the song well.  So does it help you play the song?  Yeah, kinda.  It depends on how good you are to start with.  My mediocre skills made it a little difficult to play this game.  You start off playing a pretty dumbed down version of the song, playing only single notes and maybe 20% of them.  Then, if you play those well, it starts becoming more and more like the real song, adding more complicated techniques like chords, harmonics, hammer-ons and pull-offs.  But when you’re about halfway between expert and novice, you may already know how to play some of these songs, and that makes it harder to play the dumbed down version because it’s not the muscle memory you’re used to.  And the techniques weren’t introduced in a very wise way, as they would usually throw the technique into the song without telling you what this new symbol is supposed to mean, and then they tell you right after what that was supposed to mean.  At this point in my guitar playing experience, I could mostly figure out that the bar that moves from the third fret to the ninth fret is a slide, and the one that drags out longer is a sustained note, but it would’ve been nice to have a heads up.  But it does indeed help you play … because you’re actually playing guitar.

The graphics of this game don’t make a lot of difference, and they took advantage of that enough to decide not to put a lot of effort into it.  There’s not a whole lot to the menus, and the rehearsal part of the song is usually just a couch on screen that you’re not paying attention to because you’re watching what you’re supposed to be playing.  Even the actual events that you perform after you’ve practiced the songs don’t look good.  I never noticed any difference in the venues even though the game claimed they were different locations.  And the people in the crowd are all two-dimensional and looked terrible.  But, again, it’s not really what you’re watching if you’re like me.  My eyes were glued on the track that showed me what to play next.  Most of the time, I could tell what they were asking me to do, but it was hard to wrap my brain around the color-coated strings because the strings on my guitar aren’t all the colors of the rainbow, so I can’t look down and say, “Oh, I should be playing the yellow string right now.”  And sometimes I lost track of which fret I was supposed to be on because the three-dimensional design they went with to represent the fret board made it difficult to see if they wanted me to be on the third fret or the fourth one.  But it’s all stuff that you can get the hang of.

The songs are pretty important in these games, and I’d say I was vaguely disappointed in the songs that came with the game.  Maybe half of them are songs that I really like or really want to play such as The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun”, Cream’s “Sunshine of your Love”, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama”, Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ “Higher Ground”, Soundgarden’s “Outshined”, Velvet Revolver’s “Slither”, The White Stripes’ “Icky Thump”, and a couple of good Nirvana songs.  You can’t expect them to demonstrate the exact same taste in music as you, but I got the feeling that they went a lot heavier on the Indie and artsy fartsy stuff, but I suppose that also stands to reason since it’s probably cheaper to get underground shitty music than the mainstream stuff.  It wouldn’t be an issue if you didn’t have to play these songs at least twice to move on to more songs that you may or may not like.  Maybe even more since I would have a much better chance of not scoring high enough on a song I didn’t know as it would just robotically become trying to imitate the notes on the screen as opposed to trying to play a song, but it’s what you have to deal with.  Otherwise, you can always just go and pick a song you want to play instead of doing the career bit.  I also wished that they would organize their songs better, since a good portion of the songs required you to retune your guitar to drop D and going from standard to D and back to standard in the middle of a venue got annoying.

I have not yet gotten all of the achievements for this game, but they don’t seem all that difficult.  A bunch of them will probably be attained just from playing a lot if you do indeed like the game enough to use it as a practice motivator, and the other ones seem like playing fairly simple games.  I would say it’s probably entirely time consuming, so it’s not something to farm achievements if you’re looking to do it quickly.

I would say that Rocksmith is a failure as a game because it’s graphically unimpressive, not enormously fun as far as games go, and give you no real motivation to get high scores.  Where the game does succeed is as a fun way to practice guitar.  It’s more fun than looking up tabs online or taking lessons, and at least you have musical accompaniment.  If you’re looking for a fun party game akin to Guitar Hero or Rock Band, this isn’t it.  If you’re looking for achievements, look elsewhere.  But if you want to practice guitar in a more interesting way than just doing it, Rocksmith serves its purpose.  Rocksmith gets “Icky Thump” out of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”

Let’s get these reviews more attention, people.  Post reviews on your webpages, tell your friends, do some of them crazy Pinterest nonsense.  Whatever you can do to help my reviews get more attention would be greatly appreciated.  You can also add me on FaceBook and Twitter.  Don’t forget to leave me some comments.  Your opinions and constructive criticisms are always appreciated.