Secondly, Rocksmith has its own Guitarcade – a series of unlockable arcade games designed to help familiarise you with the display and the game mechanics, and let you work on your timing, your accuracy and your techniques. These are addictive and fun in their own right, with online leaderboards and escalating difficulty levels, but all the time you’re playing them you’re getting better at playing Rocksmith, and so better at playing the guitar.
Here’s the good news, then. Rocksmith works, and it can and will make you a better player. Some might point at the tracklist and complain that there could be more vintage rock classics or more modern tracks, but the fact is that the tracks chosen do an excellent job of getting you playing, boosting your confidence and helping you on to the next step. And if you look, there’s enough stuff from The Black Keys, Jack White (in Dead Weather and White Stripes modes) and Muse, plus tracks from Nirvana, Radiohead, Blur, Bowie, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, Sigur Ros, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Lenny Kravitz and The Horrors to cover a pretty broad range of material.
We also love the amp mode, where you can unlock new guitars, amplifier models and effects pedals and turn your Xbox 360 or PS3 into a virtual setup for a bit of practice. Not everyone can own a Les Paul gold top or a mid-1980s Explorer, so it’s nice to hear your own ropey knock-off transmogrified, even if the accuracy will depend on the quality of your TV speakers, headphones or surround sound system.
All the same, there’s plenty we’d like to see worked on in a sequel. We’d like to see more tracks, better features to introduce chords and riffs before you come across them in a song, and more facilities to replay specific sections if you’re struggling with them (a bit like the ‘Break It Down’ feature used to help you with isolated moves in Dance Central 2). We’d also like a bit more atmosphere. This isn’t a Rock Band game, and we’re happy with the fairly straight guitar/bass multiplayer options, but Rocksmith’s rather basic presentation means it doesn’t have the authentic gigging feel of Rock Band or the rock god lunacy of Guitar Hero. It’s all a little bit po-faced.
And we still haven’t confronted the biggest issue facing Rocksmith – latency. On some TVs, particularly those without a game mode or where a lot of image processing takes place, there’s a noticeable delay between screen and sound that makes it hard to hit notes on target. To be fair, this isn’t entirely Ubisoft’s problem, and there’s a guide in the box explaining what the problem is, and how to combat it (by feeding an analogue output from your console to an external speaker system, and not using HDMI for audio).
Here your mileage will vary. In our case, on a budget Panasonic plasma with game mode activated, there was barely any lag to speak of, but from forums we understand that we’re fairly lucky here. If you’re affected, Ubisoft’s recommended workarounds are a bit of a faff, and might put you off playing the game. All the same, it’s not that much of a faff, and if you want to learn and play guitar, it’s definitely worth it.
An impressive learning tool disguised as an entertaining game. The interface isn’t always clear and we’d like to see more options to help players tackle tricky parts, but Rocksmith really does bridge the gap between guitar game and learning to play a real guitar, and you can have a lot of fun while you’re using it. Lag will be a major issue for some players, and the prescribed workarounds are fairly clumsy, but once you get it all working Rocksmith is a treat for frustrated axe heroes.