E3 2011: Rocksmith Preview

Put away those plastic instruments and learn how to play a real guitar in Ubisoft's upcoming rhythm game.

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With the Guitar Hero franchise on "hiatus" and no signs of Rock Band 4 in the near future, Ubisoft has swooped in to fill the rhythm-genre void with its upcoming game Rocksmith. Some of you might be thinking that it's a bit late to the party or that the genre needs to go away already, but Rocksmith isn't bringing more plastic instruments with primary-colored buttons to your living room. It's turning your television into an amp where you can hook up an electric guitar of your choice and jam to your heart's content, while annoying all your neighbors within a three-block radius.

It takes awhile to get used to the new note highway, but it's not so bad after some practice.
It takes awhile to get used to the new note highway, but it's not so bad after some practice.

For anyone who wants to learn how to play a real guitar and has spent too much time mastering the plastic one, this is your chance to not only play along with some of your favorite rock songs, but also hopefully learn how to play an actual instrument in the process. Some artists that have been announced already include The Cure, Soundgarden, David Bowie, Radio Head, Nirvana, and The White Stripes. Unlike most rhythm games where you chug along through the career modes to unlock songs and venues, Rocksmith's approach is about teaching you the skills necessary to eventually play a song. It's like a virtual guitar teacher that will begin by teaching you how to tune your electric guitar, highlighting the strings that you need to pluck and even telling you how much you need to twist the pegs to get it right. You'll have to do this every time you begin the game, and even before certain songs that are tuned differently. Either way, for beginners, the menu is an excellent tool to teach you the very basics of picking up any guitar.

From there, the game will begin by teaching you basic guitar techniques, which you'll unlock as you go. We were told that there is a point system where you'll gain points as you progress that can be spent to purchase in-game items like guitars and bigger venues. If you already know how to play guitar, you can easily breeze through this section (or play in Amp mode, which we'll explain a bit later), but the game will slowly walk beginners through each technique and then provide challenges that you must master before you can get up on your virtual stage and perform. All the songs will be available from the start, and when you're ready to rehearse at a venue, you can customize the set list if you wish, but Rocksmith will purposely pick the easier songs based on your skill level. What's interesting is that everything is constantly changing and adjusting to your performance so that when you do begin playing a song, the number of notes that come at you will increase and decrease depending on your performance.

It is a little intimidating at first when you're staring at a much more complicated note highway. The colored strings are laid out at the bottom, and the frets are numbered (3, 5, 9, and so on) across the highway that represents the neck of your guitar. Colored notes corresponding to the colored strings displayed at the bottom will come toward you along the fret that your left hand needs to be on. Notes that don't require a string to be held are represented by a solid line. There is a mode that will display the notes that come down or chords that you'll be playing, but in the early stages, you just have to worry about colors instead of the ADGBE strings. At the top of the screen, a chart also tracks how you're doing when it comes to the phrases in the song so you can see which parts you've nailed and which parts could use a bit of practice. It's a dynamic system that monitors and tracks you as you go. So if you perfect all the notes in a particular portion of the song, the game will continue to add more and decrease as well based on performance.

Scale runner is part of the guitarcade to make scales fun!
Scale runner is part of the guitarcade to make scales fun!

You'll learn techniques such as sustaining or bending, and you'll even have more than 60 effects pedals to experiment with to get the sound that you want. Amp mode essentially lets you use your television as an amp, and you'll have access to all the pedals and can play anything you like. As long as your guitar has a quarter-inch jack for a cable (or a pickup), then you can plug in and play. Ubisoft is still working on whether it will release a bundle that includes a guitar, but at this stage all we know is that you get a 25-dollar credit at Guitar Center if you preorder the game for $79.99 at GameStop.

Anyone who has taken music lessons knows how painful scales can be. As important as they are, it doesn't mean that they're always fun to play. Rocksmith has a Guitarcade, a minigame section where you can practice your major/minor scales or pentatonic and mixolydian scales via a game called Scale Runner. The minigame that we saw was called Ducks, an old-school arcade-style game where the frets are lanes and you have to move your left hand along the frets and pluck to fire at the ducks that appear. This is meant to help you with your muscle memory so that you don't have to always look and count to see where the frets are. Apparently numbered stickers will be provided as a guideline when you purchase the game.

Of course you can track your progress to see how you're doing.
Of course you can track your progress to see how you're doing.

The game is set to be released this fall. The build that we looked at didn't have final menu navigation, so we're unsure how the setup will be and how easy it will be to go about taking Rocksmith guitar lessons. There will be fully voiced video tutorials to demonstrate the techniques, so we're curious to see how much this game can teach someone who is musically challenged. It's about time someone took advantage of this platform to make a rhythm music game that is educational as well. Be sure to stay tuned to GameSpot for more E3 updates.

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