E3 2011 Preview

E3 2011: Rocksmith Hands-on Preview

Rocksmith has the potential to create hundreds of thousands of new guitar players. On the surface it may look like a Guitar Hero or Rock Band knock-off, but the simple act of using a real guitar is only the slightest feature that sets this game apart. In my hands-on time with Rocksmith, I felt like I was 14 again, taking guitar lessons for the first time. But after about 30 seconds into Nirvana’s In Bloom, the game recognized that I could play the basics and it slowly upped the difficulty. In no time at all I felt like I was ready to go on tour – a fitting notion considering I happened to be on a tour bus that had been converted into a demo area.

This Adaptive Difficulty, as Ubisoft calls it, listens to how well you are playing and adapts the difficulty on the fly. If you miss too many notes, the game becomes slightly easier. But if you are hitting all the right notes, or at least a majority of them, the song progressively adds more and more notes to the equation. This all happens during the actual song and your difficulty meter spans throughout your career. As you follow your journey in Rocksmith you gain points that draw more crowds, land you some encores, and of course net you that epic gear and guitars.

The game features 50 songs (plus an additional 20 available via DLC at launch). Completing certain thresholds throughout each song and your career will land you gear like pedals, amps, and other effects to tweak your sound. For those of us that love to mod our pedals and amps, or even the placement of mikes on our amps, Rocksmith allows you to truly control your sound. Not only can you decide which effects to use, but you can tweak your effects like you would a normal pedal or amp. Tweaking your effects creates an endless sandbox for your experiments in sound. Of course, the game comes equipped with plenty of pre-set tones. There’s even a built-in guitar tuner; in fact, you have to tune your guitar at the start of each song, further demonstrating how Rocksmith is fundamentally like having your very own video game guitar teacher.

The actual interface looks relatively similar to other music games, but it’s laid out as if you are looking straight through your guitar’s neck. You can swamp this if you are left handed, but Ubisoft wanted to avoid just providing simple tablature. It’s important to note that you can’t change the difficulty, and while the game encourages you to follow the campaign; you can jump into any song on the disc.

Any good guitar teacher puts emphasis on practice and Rocksmith is no different. In Practice Mode you are given a chance to play through various sections of a song to nail it down perfectly. For instance, if you play through a song and butchered the bridge, you can jump back and retry after you finish the song. The game will then assist you by quickly pausing before each note or slowing the tempo until you feel more comfortable. There are even a handful of mini-games on offer to help teach you some rudimentary techniques, but we skipped this section in the demo.

All you need to get started is a real guitar, and Ubisoft said it plans to release a bundle with an Epiphone Jr. at launch for less than $200. The game will come with a proprietary chord that has a standard quarter-inch jack on one end and a USB input on the other—allowing you to plug in any guitar. With four years in development, it’s clear that Rocksmith is a forward-thinking game. This happened to be one of my favorite games at E3 simply because it felt new and was like nothing I’d ever played before. Sure, the cynics will call it a Rock Band rip off, but I feel bad for those people because they are missing out on a chance to learn an instrument and experience real music, rather than a simply glorified Simon Says.

Rocksmith is out on October 11, 2011.