Rocksmith PS3 review – As rock ‘n’ roll as a bowl of unsorted M&Ms

It’s September 2006. I arrive back at my uni house from the summer break to find my housemates clacking away at Guitar Hero in the living room. As, the only guitarist in the house, I saunter up to the greasy peripheral with confidence… and promptly fail I Love Rock ’N’ Roll.

Rocksmith PS3 review

Of course, I went on to love Guitar Hero’s compulsive clicking as much as anyone once I accepted the fact that it’s a completely independent skill from actually playing guitar. But… what if it didn’t have to be? What if there was a way to learn the basic principles of guitar, using a real guitar as the peripheral? Why, it’d be – let me stop you there, because there isn’t. And if there ever is, it won’t be anything like Rocksmith. Credit where it’s due to Ubisoft, connecting a guitar to your PS3 via USB is an impressive feat – but almost everything that follows is distinctly the opposite.

Lag is the biggest problem. If your PlayStation’s connected to your TV via HDMI, forget about it. Seriously. I’m no John Mayer, but with 16 years of twanging behind me I can usually get through a riff without getting hopelessly lost. If you hook everything up via component cable and output the sound through external speakers or headphones, the lag’s still present, but much better. But do you have all that just lying around? I didn’t.

But Rocksmith’s more profound, unfixable problem is that it doesn’t know jack about teaching you to play an instrument. The game interface takes Guitar Hero and Rock Band’s rolling guitar neck and flips it lengthways, so you’re looking at the neck horizontally… and upside-down. The opposite of guitar tablature, which you’ll have to learn if you want to learn anything beyond the game’s (to be fair, favourable) songbook. There’s an option to ‘invert’ it, but if you were just starting out, how would you know to do that? How would you know the game’s teaching you the opposite of the language you’re trying to learn?

On the subject of learning, locking half the content away seems especially at odds with that spirit, and indicates a failure to understand how and why people want to play a musical instrument. Jamming on your own and experimenting with amps shouldn’t be a privilege to be earned. The way the view zooms in and out of certain areas of the fretboard is an especially disorienting and ill-advised design choice. It’s like a tutor showing you a lick while jamming their guitar in your face, then running to the other side of the room, screaming, “You can’t play this! You can’t play this!”

Once you hook everything up via component, endure ten songs spent barely playing anything, and fix the view, there’s enjoyment in Rocksmith comparable to the rhythm-matching games that spawned it. If you’ve got a basic competency at guitar, Rocksmith will teach you some songs, and very occasionally make you feel like a boss while doing so. But Lord only knows what your timing, technique and phrasing would be like if your only guide was a handful of mini-games and dry ‘how to’s. There are thousands of programs, YouTube tutorials and teachers that do a more effective job of teaching, and an army of clicky peripheral-based games that nail the fun element better.

Our Score

Score: 4