Rocksmith Review (PS3)

As someone that can play a musical instrument, I'm calling Guitar Hero and Rock Band out. While "non-noodlers" were pretending that they could play the hits of The Killers by slightly thumbing at a plastic bar, we, the musicians of the world, were at home, nursing our sore fingers, and harbouring a grudge.

So when DJ Hero and the rest of those substandard, self-important, jumped-up Pappa the Rapper clones got the consumer boot, I smiled. Having spent the majority of my teenage years either pretending to be an elf or drumming myself into the body of a 50 year old coal miner, it was hard not to feel any sort of resentment. You can't learn an instrument by jabbing at plastic. You just can't.

When Rocksmith came along, I was ready to dismiss it. My arms were firmly crossed, my red spandex pants tight and equipped, and my best hearty laugh locked and loaded. Dr. Kawashima came to better us: he failed.

For those unfamiliar with Ubisoft's, albeit late, punt into the realm of the music peripheral, Rocksmith isn't your run-of-the-mill rhythm game. Coming bundled with a USB tipped jack lead, this doesn't involve cheaply made accessories, but actually demands a real guitar.

The upshot to this is that Rocksmith can, and will, help you learn to play a musical instrument. The downside is that it will cost an initial £50 layout for the software, and a further £100 for a semi-playable guitar. And that's without mentioning that it's an educational game.

There's a real sense of terror whenever learning is thrown into gaming. It immediately conjures up images of Fisher Price plug-in-and-plays that help youngster's spell the word "bee". The fact that any sort of self-help software is usually advertised by Julie Walters lightly chuckling, beside an incontinent old timer also makes things worse.

But this is a guitar game right? That makes it cool. Well, sort of, but it's not so cut and dry. Rocksmith is presented in a way familiar to anyone with previous Rock Band adventures. You rehearse songs, and ultimately play a "live show" earning points in the process. As you conquer each song, you climb the ranks of skill, earning achievements, upgrades, and, hopefully, the ability to play a few riffs in the process.

Fundamentally, Rocksmith works. Notes float on a digital fretboard, and you pluck and twang at strings in the right order. Initially starting slow, the game will highlight the bare outline of a song, starting with root notes and working higher until you can hit the right chords and perform a complete solo. It's a slow, often laborious, but ultimately rewarding experience. And yet, while this is undoubtedly a worthwhile and dare I say, important, piece of software, it remains just that: software, and not really a game.

Learning anything takes a certain amount of effort and mental agility. Approaching Rocksmith as I did with knowledge of drumming and some rudimentary guitar playing, it was easier to grapple with the earlier stages. Songs such as the Stones' 'Can't Get No Satisfaction' are a doddle for anyone with any sort of experience, so the first 3 or 4 events were pretty simple.

Now, I am aware that this will not be the case for most. Playing a guitar initially can be one of the most strained and confusing endeavours. Holding down a certain fret, and plucking another string may seem easy, but your mind begins to trip you up and trick you. Your memory is tested. And the tips of your fingers are made sore.

Couple this with a rather unrelenting rhythm mini-game and it feels all too much. There's no time to sit and look at the actual music, study the tab, and practise without doing it on the digital display. And that's not to say that the game doesn't foster skills and abilities. Other mini-games are available, teaching you to bend, twist, and hammer-on with precision. The problem Rocksmith players will face is the pace of it all.

You could conquer Rockband in a few weeks, exhaust it of material, and leave it gathering dust in a corner. Learning an actual instrument takes a different kind of time commitment, meaning you might still be playing the first 5 songs of Rocksmith after owning the game for more than a couple of months. Unless you really studiously attempt to master your instrument, this one is going to feel like an expensive, slow, and often infuriating game.

So that's why I come to the conclusion that this not actually a game. This is educational software that is often entertaining. Like Guitar Pro or Power Tab, this allows you to play guitar without the rigmarole of deciphering notation and the like.

And in that school of thought, Rocksmith could be one of the most powerful learning tools available. Rather than sitting alongside Guitar Hero in your local GAME, this should be in music shops, replacing boring instructional DVDs.

So while Ubisoft may have fundamentally failed to grasp the commitment behind learning actual guitar, the product behind it is sound. It may be a steep initial outlay to play, but if you're serious about learning guitar, this one will put you on the right path, while entertaining you in the process.

I'm slightly less bitter now.

Best Gaming Moment: Pulling off a perfect chorus with a tie wrapped around your head.

Platform Played: PlayStation 3