Instead of using a five-buttoned piece of plastic, Rocksmith lets you plug in a real guitar using a special USB jack packaged with the game. The software then recognises the notes you play and scores you appropriately. Unlike the samples triggered in Guitar Hero by pressing the correct buttons, Rocksmith works like an amplifier and what you hear in the game is what you are actually playing.
The game’s simulation approach obviously means you won’t be playing something like House of the Rising Sun without practicing first. Initially, you will just be playing to get the basic gist of the song, with the game gradually ramping up the difficulty based on how well you do. To be successful, you’re going to have to practice each section of the song separately, and repeatedly, until you are confident enough to play the song in its entirety. You can practice necessary techniques such as sliding and chord switches through the game’s own retro mini-games.
For a game that is so eager to promote how different it is from Harmonix’s Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises, it owes much of its appeal to its less serious rivals and their interfaces are quite similar. In Rocksmith, you play the songs as prompted by notes sliding down a fret board. It’s much like Guitar Hero, except with more frets and six strings to worry about. Rocksmith could have ended up being a guitar simulator instead of a game, but has found the happy medium between being fun and being an effective guitar tutor. It even has a song list to rival the “fun” titles, including David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, The Pixies, Radiohead, and Nirvana, among others.
Music-based games seemed to be on the way out, with far less Guitar Hero and Rock Band updates being released. This is probably a relief to most people, considering the amount of Guitar Heroes Activision managed to pump out (12 in five years). Rocksmith deserves to win music games back some lost respect after the last few years of money grabbing cynicism, and if you’re going to spend hours of your day on your Xbox360, at least this way it’s productive.