Guitar Hero may have saturated the plastic axe-wielding scene, but Rocksmith, which allows you to use an actual guitar, proves there's still space for more rhythm games.
Game Review: Rocksmith
PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Although we might have become blasé when it comes to the frantic speed of technological developments, there are times when something makes you sit back and say "wow". Speaking to my parents thousands of miles away using Skype on a Wi-Fi connected laptop was a personal wow moment about seven years ago. Another came recently, when I used a cable to plug an ordinary electric guitar into a video games console and my television helped me put it in tune.
At first glance, Rocksmith could be considered the next step up from Guitar Hero and Rock Band, the hit-spewing, button-mashing affairs that had a few years in the limelight before falling from grace. But it's so much more than that. For starters, it's not a lurid red, China-made toy guitar you're playing. It's a real electric guitar. Your electric guitar. Yes, the one gathering dust in the corner.
Using the proprietary "Hercules" adaptor, you connect the standard quarter-of-an-inch output jack of your instrument into the USB slot in your console, and every pluck or strum comes roaring through the machine. Sit down before this bit, because it's pretty magical.
Beyond this sorcery, Rocksmith is - at its basic element - a teaching tool. Starting from the ground up, you're following the tutorials and videos to hit single notes as they move towards you on the Guitar Hero-style track that mirrors your guitar's neck. Getting the right notes at the right time means you earn points and progress. Get it wrong and it'll sound awful and you'll have to go again. Cleverly, if the game spots that you're making an absolute meal of things, it'll stop mid-song to explain the particular issue you're having.
Along the way you're shown the basic guides to positioning, tuning and holding the pick. Gradually - although anyone with bit of experience is likely to find it a bit too gradual - things get more complex, with chords, more fiddly note progressions and various techniques thrown your way, and trickier songs to attempt. Keep going and you'll be pulling off slides, bends, palm mutes, doublestops, powerchords and hammer-ons. Get to the end and, well, you're probably good enough to make it outside of your lounge room.
But don't consider Rocksmith just a guitar lesson with an incredibly patient teacher. For those who shudder at the sound of the word "tutorial", there's a free-play rehearsal mode allowing you to jump straight to the songs, split-screen multiplayer opportunities for a friend to join in and also a selection of minigames that mask practising of scales and timing within arcade-style action.
The song list is rather eclectic, ranging from the Stones, Bowie and Cream, up to early Nirvana, Radiohead and even a bit of Sigur Ros. While 50 tracks might not be enough to keep most entertained forever, there are extra songs that can be downloaded.
For a while it felt like the plastic axe saturation Guitar Hero inflicted on the world might have ruined it for everyone, and when Activision finally pulled its noisy cash-generator last year, it looked like it could be the end for rhythm games. Rocksmith shows there's definitely still space for more, you just have to be smarter about it.
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