Rocksmith reviewed: The guitar teacher you’ll love to hate (PC)

Rocksmith

By on October 19, 2012 at 6:31 pm

It would be remiss of me to start a review of a game that teaches you to play the guitar without telling you about my previous guitar experience. I come from a musical family, I’ve dabbled with the bass guitar in my time, and taught myself a little guitar as well. Then I put all that away for a while, and started playing Guitar Hero like a fiend. So now, I’m a bit of a Guitar Hero wizard. Top ranked female player in Western Australia, actually. No big deal. *cough*

So when Tim asked me if I wanted to review Rocksmith, a game that teaches you to play the actual guitar through gameplay similar to Guitar Hero/Rock Band games, I was understandably excited. Rocksmith seemed like the perfect combination of gameplay and actual learning, and having to deal with it being unavailable to Australians for over a year was just frustrating — let alone its absence from the PC. But now it’s here in Australia, and on PC as well.

From humble beginnings

When you begin your journey to Rock God status, you might be forgiven for thinking Rocksmith is a frustrating, limiting game. The first screen of real gameplay it shows you are some songs, some numbers and a little arrow that will eventually track your progress — once you start making some. It is a little confusing, and the best way to understand it is just to get started.

I chose the first song, having not picked up a guitar in… well, years, and began to play the Guitar Hero-esque representations of notes coming down the highway at me. “All right,” I thought to myself as the song ended. “That wasn’t too bad. Let’s play it again, to make sure I’ve got it.”

But as I start the song again, I notice something. This song is different. It’s changed. It’s become harder.

What I’ve just discovered is that Rocksmith tracks every note you play, and levels you up accordingly — giving you more notes, harder intervals, ramping up the challenge as you improve. I eventually came to love this feature; it keeps you on your toes and makes sure you keep learning and improving.

To start with, though, it really felt like too much, too soon. I had gone from being able to play a song in a somewhat mediocre fashion, to hardly being able to hit notes before they disappeared again. With a cry of frustration I put down the guitar, quit the game and didn’t return until the next day.

Adjust for the learning experience you need

In the following days, I took on technique challenges, played games in the ‘Guitarcade’ section, and tried to familiarise myself with Rocksmith and where I was going wrong. It was still frustrating me, and I couldn’t play for more than half an hour at a time. It felt like the difficulty was just beyond my reach.

Providence intervened, though, in the form of Ubisoft, who wrote to us and ask how the game was going. We relayed my frustrations with the increasing difficulty level that never seemed to let me get a handle on things, and they let me in on a little secret – the Riff Repeater.

I call it a secret because — even though it’s a community-requested feature that’s actually new to the Australian version — it is hidden away, deep in the sea of menus. For those looking to learn from my mistakes, you have to select the song you want to play from the ‘songs’ menu, not the ‘Rocksmith Recommends’ menu that you start on. And then from there, you have to cycle through some more menus until you eventually hit the ‘Riff Repeater’. It is difficult to find, and I hadn’t known it was there to begin with — it occasionally shows up after you’ve completed a song in the ‘Rocksmith Recommends’ menu, but not all the time. I recommend activating it manually.

The Riff Repeater is awesome. It essentially takes all the frustrations I had with playing the song from scratch and irons them out into a neat, learnable system. From there you can fiddle with the difficulty, play the parts of a song that are causing you trouble, whatever you need to really nail a song, and really improve your skills.

Two guitars in one

The other key feature that I should mention is the Bass Emulator. This was released as DLC for overseas players, but one of the advantages of this delayed Australian release is that it’s included as part of our Rocksmith package right from the start.

Naturally, Rocksmith can teach you to play either the guitar or the bass guitar, but for those interested in playing both but who only have the one guitar, there is the Bass Emulator. This feature allows you to start learning the bass using the top four strings of your regular guitar, pitch-shifting the notes down to bass levels. It’s truly sweet, and works flawlessly if you just want to change things up a bit from your regular learning.

Pushing the PC

Graphically, Rocksmith isn’t going to blow anybody’s minds. There are three levels of graphical fidelity: high, medium or low, but there’s no individual control over level of detail, shadowing or AA or anything of the sort — which, honestly, is fine. It’s the audio we’re interested in here.

Inside the audio menu you can adjust audio exclusivity, latency settings, fiddle with the buffer, as well as make tweaks to clean up the quality of sound. I’m running an Auzentech X-Raider 7.1 card at the moment, and didn’t come across any latency issues to speak of — everything was snappy and responsive. The only problem I did notice was the occasional refusal of the game to accept guitar input, but this was resolved with a quick restart.

Wrapping it up

A lot of this review has been exploring my frustrations with Rocksmith, and I don’t want to leave you thinking it’s bad, simply because it took me a while to find a style that suited me. Once I got to grips with the game, I had a blast — playing song after song, feeling really good about my progress. A lot of my frustration came from what to me, at least, seemed like fairly important features being hidden away in menus.

But a large part, I realised, came from me treating Rocksmith like a game. I mean, well, it is a game. But the frustration you might feel playing it, that’s the feeling of you learning a new skill. Sometimes, you’re going to suck at it. In fact you’re probably going to suck at it a lot when you start, only getting better with practice. That’s not Rocksmith’s fault — it’s simply trying to teach you that skill. And when it comes down to it, Rocksmith is a really good teacher.

I eventually came to think of Rocksmith like this: imagine you’re solving complex maths problems, and rewarding yourself with a jelly bean each time you complete one. Rocksmith’s game aspects are like that jelly bean. Sure, you could skip the maths problem and go eat a bunch of jelly beans straight out of the packet — the gaming equivalent of say, playing Guitar Hero. But at the end of the packet, you wouldn’t have learned any math.

Good:

  • Well-thought out learning experience
  • Flexible difficulty levels for all skill levels
  • Good selection of tracks
  • Strong audio options, including free-play Amp Mode
  • Bass emulator means you only need one guitar

Bad:

  • Somewhat unintuitive in assessing how you’d like to learn

Rocksmith is available on Steam for $64.99. You’ll need a Rocksmith Real Tone Cable as well, which can be purchased separately at places such as JB Hi-Fi, Amazon, or Ozgameshop. Thanks to Debari for lending me his guitar for this review!

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25 comments (Leave your own)

How do you think someone who has never picked up a guitar would fare with this? I’ve always been interested in learning, but didnt want to invest too heavily. Planning to pick up the $200 guitar bundle from gamestop.

 

imcloughy11,

well its gonna be like all things you try at first, and there will be times when you actually have physical pain. i seriously hope this “teacher” pfff yea right, actually shows proper hand posture because when you play a guitar normally without knowing the posture is all wrong and give you arthritus just like that *snap* for 200 bucks the guitar aint gonna be any good at all but for gaming and not gigging it would probably do; but i think the neck would be super fat and slow and probably have a flat radius which means bending might be harder. goodluck cloughy

 

spike4379,

Well! That was all very negative!

Cloughy, I would say it’s a pretty good and cheap way to get into playing the guitar! It would definitely be great for beginners, I would think, introducing you to the concepts of playing the guitar, familiarising yourself with the strings and such. And it can teach you all the chords you should need!

Of course, as Spike says, playing the wrong way can lead to not only physical pain, but just difficulty playing as well. So if you find you’re enjoying yourself, eventually getting face-to-face teacher would be your next step on the road to Rock Godhood!

 

Never hurts to pick up and try Cloughy, especially if you have an interest in music, it may give you the shove you need to get more serious about music. This game won’t teach you how to read music, correct posture, how to buy a guitar, amp, accessories, how to use a wah correctly etc.. but it will do is show what is at the very core of guitar playing and that is playing music and exploring what you can do with it all.

A $200 dollar guitar won’t be particularly gig worthy but trust me when I say that if you can’t play a $200 guitar you can’t play a $2000 guitar – the variation is in quality of the build and features, not in how you bring the music out of the guitar (albeit it is usually smoother to play a more expensive guitar and has a nicer base sound). A $200 guitar still has frets, it still has pick ups, it has strings, it still requires you to pick and pluck those strings and it still requires the same hand movements.

One tip I give any new guitarist, and some more seasoned players of the guitar? Use all your fingers (including the pinky) and you can even use your thumb when required. it’s a bit more effort to start with but the end results is much more control over your playing.

 

Fair enough, thanks for the tips. I don’t really ever intend to do anything other then casual playing at home, so i figure the Epiphone Les Paul Guitar will do the trick. At the very least until i nail the basics and decide whether or not i need a better setup for home use.

 
 

imcloughy11:
http://www.epiphone.com/Products/Les-Paul/Les-Paul-Junior.aspxis the bundled guitar.

for $200? I can’t believe that…

 

diamondd: for $200? I can’t believe that…

Has the rocksmith logo right in the picture in that link…
also http://www.gamestop.com/pc/games/rocksmith-guitar-bundle-for-guitar-and-bass/103045

 

What I’ve not seen, is reviews on the quality of the bundled guitar. Here’s the thing:

These Epiphone Les Paul Jr guitars are going to be largely mass produced; even more so than their other guitar models. You see, their other guitars are mass produced as well, but not to this price point or scale. With each factor in producing their normal guitars, you could probably guess that they’ve spent at least 50% less on each individual part for assembly for these particular guitars, if not less.

In the end, their need to be cheap for actual profit potentially makes the end-quality of the guitar less than acceptable. It may work ok for the game, but as a real guitar, may prove to have less than desirable results.

On the other side, you can get a decent quality guitar of your own, separate from the bundle; The problem then, is getting the cable. So far, nobody has been able to say that you can get the cable anywhere locally.

Because of the lack of Realtone cables being sold in Australia, I’m going to venture to say that this was probably one of the worst organised releases for Australia on record. The game HAS to have it…you have no choice in the matter. What’s the point of selling it here at all, if you can’t buy the necessary hardware here? Not everyone is going to be comfortable purchasing products online, especially with all of the knock-off gear that doesn’t work.

This just goes to show that Ubisoft doesn’t see Australia as important as the rest of the world with game releases…Stop feeding these corporate dickheads until they can prove to us that they give a shit.

 

I’m more interested in what guitar PLAYERS have to say about this game…

We all know guitarists pretty much dislike guitar hero overall/in general… as the things you lean on guitar (like chords, string and not progression, etc) just dont seem to line up with the 5 buttons you’re given. (Yes, I’m aware guitar hero is not a simulator… but it does seem to throw common sense out of the window from time to time… I mean, cmon… Jumping 12 frets and not even having to change buttons, even though you’ve moved up an entire octave…)

 

Oh, and that Epi Les Paul Junior – that’s not a bad guitar to pick up as a learner. You can get a lot worse for more. Although a Strat would probably be a better learning aid, they’re “easier” to get your hands around. LP’s can be a bit “fat” in the hand, and dont fare as well as a strat/copy past the 15th fret.

 

Oh, and thirdly, if you’ve never played a guitar before – physical pain is guarenteed while you “harden up” the muscles required – particuarly the fret hand. I don’t personally place a lot of weight behind “correct fret hand posture” – it’s all common sense… if you don’t use it. Well, you might ache a little more… but eventually your hand will fall into place.

 
 

tera: I literally ordered a cable from JB HI-FI yesterday.

http://shop.jbhifi.com.au/game/accessories/rocksmith-real-tone-guitar-cable/674453

Thanks for that link Tera, I’ve added it to the bottom of the piece :)

 

imcloughy11: Has the rocksmith logo right in the picture in that link…
also http://www.gamestop.com/pc/games/rocksmith-guitar-bundle-for-guitar-and-bass/103045

I’m not saying that its not that guitar, what I’m getting at is that I can’t even begin to imagine how bad a $200 guitar must be.

 

Tossing up whether to get the PC or ps3 version, anyone tried both?

 

I ordered my PC copy from ozgameshop, $54 with a cable. I’ve been playing guitar for ~10 years on & off but have been lazy lately, so i’m keen to get stuck into this when it arrives.

 

hadokenx,

They’re producing a bunch of identical guitars with guaranteed sales (to Ubi) and don’t have to worry about storage or freight or distribution.

They don’t need to be made out of matchsticks to make a profit.

 

ooshp,

they have enough trouble QC’ing their $4,000 guitars, no way I’m trusting them with a $200 one.

 

diamondd,

/shrug

Anyone buying the $200 bundle is basically after a glorified controller (like myself). As long as the pickups aren’t broken it’ll work, and it’s a pretty good deal since it’s around the same price as the pretend controllers for Rock Band and Guitar Hero.

Why on earth would I pay $4000 for a guitar that will likely never be plugged into an amp?

Also, could not get my credit cards to work at Gamestop. Same price at Amazon though, and only $16 shipping.

 
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