New way to rock

By Jeff Shedden

It’s been a few years since “Guitar Hero” was released to big sales and high praise. Since then, there have been quite a few sequels, spin-offs and rivals. These days, however, the popularity of playing music games with plastic instruments has lost popularity.

Enter Rocksmith.

Rocksmith is the first “game” in which you can use any real electric guitar as the peripheral. And if you don’t own a guitar, there is a $200 version that comes with a perfectly serviceable Epiphone Les Paul Jr. I myself play with a nice Epiphone Les Paul Standard.

Rocksmith is advertised as a game, and while you will indeed have fun playing it, it actually is more of a learning tool. Within a few hours of playing it, you will be able to turn it off, hook your guitar up to an amplifier, and play Queens of the Stone Age’s “Go With the Flow.”

The very first thing to consider is your audio setup. The developer, Ubisoft, includes instructions on avoiding lag when you play. If you are playing on an Xbox or PS3, and you use HDMI to connect to your television, there will be a noticeable lag between plucking a note and actually hearing it from the television. I’m currently using component cables, which doesn’t eliminate all of the lag, but it fixes the worst of it. Ubisoft recommends outputting the audio directly to speakers or headphones. If you’re not willing to do this, you will want to wait for the PC version in mid December.
Once you’re set up, the game pushes you right into the pool. After a brief introduction, Rocksmith teaches you how to tune your guitar, and then gets right to work.

You’ll start off playing just a few notes here or there, but as your accuracy improves, so does the difficulty. If you play well, you get to play more notes. If you get good at playing single notes, the game moves you up to chords and then entire songs.

Rocksmith changes the monotony of learning chords and scales with its Guitarcade series of mini-games. There’s “Ducks” which trains you in simple fretwork, and “Big Swing Baseball” which works on timing and bends, and probably the most important, “Scale Runner,” in which you simply practice scales, while trying to get your little man to the end of a tunnel.

These little mini-games are so much fun, that they’ve even gotten criticism from some of the more serious guitar players for taking all of the work out of practicing, and turning it into fun.

Rocksmith isn’t going to turn you into a virtuoso, but it will give you the ability to play 50 different songs by artists such as Stone Temple Pilots, Nirvana and The Black Keys yourself, and point you in the right direction to play thousands more.

Your fingers will hurt, your hands will cramp and you will lose all sense of time. None of this will matter the first time you realize that you’ve just been tricked into playing The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction.”

I’m pretty sure nobody’s ever gone out on a Saturday night and used their skills at “Modern Warfare” to impress the ladies, but Rocksmith may just be the one game that might end with you getting lucky.