E3 2012 Preview: Rocksmith

June 11, 2012

Rocksmith has already been available in America for just under a year, but it won’t be hitting Australia until September 2012. The reason behind this delay is unclear, but it may ultimately prove to be a boon, as the version we receive is privy to a few new features that the Yanks didn’t get the first time around. I had a chance to go one-on-one with the game at E3, with Creative Director Paul Cross and Senior Producer Nao Higo.

At first glance, Rocksmith may appear to be another note-hitting music game like the currently dormant Rock Band and Guitar Hero franchises, and in some respects it is, although it has an entirely different focus. Rather than training people in the art of hitting coloured buttons on plastic guitars, which is arguably pretty useless, Rocksmith wants to take the hours and hours you’d spend playing  fake guitar and get you on a real one. Rocksmith comes with a ‘Hercules’ adapter, which allows you to connect the 6.35mm found on most electric guitars into a USB port on a PC, 360 or PS3. Some acoustic guitars which don’t have this jack will need a pickup in order to be used. When you play Rocksmith, you’re literally playing an actual guitar, and learning how to play it.

Rocksmith‘s interface on-screen resembles the guitar you’re holding, with the neck and all the strings lined up to match what you’d expect to see. You’ll need to spend time learning chords in order to get the most out of the experience, but this is made fun and easy with a track-like system similar to Guitar Hero where you watch tracks approach the bottom of the screen, and strike them once it’s the right time. Helpfully, the places where your fingers should be are also highlighted. This all might be a little overwhelming to start off with, but as I was assured by Paul and Nao, they couldn’t play guitar at all before working on Rocksmith, and now they’re very confident thanks to plenty of practice.

There’s a litany of licensed music present in Rocksmith for you to play, but more importantly they’re there for you to learn. Songs like ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and ‘House of the Rising Sun’ are fun to play, but they have an adaptive difficulty system. That means, as you play through the song, it monitors how well you play in certain sections. If you’re struggling, then it’ll decrease the number of notes you receive on the track, or lower their complexity. If you’re performing better, then it’ll raise the difficulty to challenge you a bit more. You aren’t really punished if you’re not playing as well as a professional, the game is just providing you with more help to get you up to that level.

There are also a range of mini-games available, not necessarily in place to learn guitar skills but just to have fun. As the guys put it, instead of turning a controller into a guitar they’ve ‘turned a guitar into a controller.’ Games like Super Slider bring familiar genres into Rocksmith, but force you to use the guitar’s strings in place of a regular controller. As a bit of fun to take a break from the rigor of learning guitar, they look to be a cool inclusion.

The big new addition Rocksmith will boast when it hits Australia is added support for bass guitar. Not only will you be able to plug your bass guitar in and learn it the same as any other supported instrument, but you’ll be able to use your regular guitar as well, as the game modifies its sound output to match that of a bass in case you don’t own one. There are also a few other fixes and tweaks that will be included for our version, so for gamers who’ve been waiting for this title, they can rest assured we’re getting the best version currently.

Rocksmith is perhaps less of a game and more of a tool for teaching yourself guitar, but it’s an admirable concept and definitely seems to have a very viable system for getting gamers actually playing real music. As with learning an instrument in the real world, Rocksmith requires time, patience and practice, but the developers have done everything they can to make the process fun and engaging. Look for it in our stores on 13 September, 2012.