Review: Rocksmith

On October 18th, 2011 a new music game was released, although to call it a game might be a disservice. Rocksmith is probably the best way for a beginner to figure out guitar since “Come As You Are” was put into tablature.

For those that haven’t been paying attention, Rocksmith is the first “game” that allows you to plug in any electric guitar (except for Bass) via a 1/4 inch to USB cable into your Xbox 360 or Playstation 3.

Rocksmith is also an affordable substitute for Native Instruments GuitarRig since as you progress through Rocksmith you unlock various pedals to jam out with via Amp Mode.

Baby Steps

The first thing you’ll encounter when you start up Rocksmith is a tutorial (which you can’t skip) that introduces you to the bare necessities of guitar. While I would have appreciated a “do you know how to play guitar already?” option to bypass this, the design decision is clearly put in place to make sure that a novice can’t possibly begin Rocksmith without this basic knowledge.

The tutorial ends with you unknowingly playing the riff to The Rolling Stones “Satisfaction (I Can’t Get No)” which is met with cheers from the video game audience and an achievement/trophy unlocked! The next gig you play will be for a much much smaller crowd: a dingy club called The Mouse Hole where you’ll rock out to “Next Girl” and then try your hand at the full version of “Satisfaction.”

First, however, you’ll have to tune your guitar, and you should get used to this because you’ll be required to do this before playing ANYTHING. Tuning seems to be a major complaint, but a quick muted arpeggio will you get you through it quickly, and almost makes getting through it as fast as possible a game in itself.

Wait what am I looking at here?


Rocksmith is an alternate way of displaying tablature. Imagine you’re looking through the back of your guitar neck and you have the back drop of the Rocksmith interface. At the bottom of the screen you have your guitar strings which are now color coded with:

E – Red

A – Yellow

D – Blue

G – Orange

B – Green

e – Purple

The Guitar Hero aspect is done through the notes floating down the respective frets of your on screen guitar and having you hit them as they hit your strings at the bottom. Most guitars have 22 frets so the fretboard shifts down the “neck” as needed. The area that you will be dealing with for each section of the song will be highlighted in light blue to let you know where your should be keeping your hands.

The notion of the Rocksmith Method being an alternate way of displaying tablature is reinforced by the option to invert the strings to mirror how you would learn a song on a website like ultimate-guitar. Chords are displayed in “windows,” which, when repeated, are notated by lines in the light blue lane following the initial chord. Bends, harmonics, slides, and hammer-ons and pull-offs are also tracked.

There is no failing out in Rocksmith, nor is there a score multiplier factor like Guitar Hero’s Star Power or Rock Band’s Overdrive.

Dynamic Difficulty


One of the points of contention for Rocksmith is its scaling difficulty. When you first play a song, you won’t be playing much of it at all. Once you hit the notes that Rocksmith does give you in succession though, the sections will “level up,” which in turn gives you more notes to play. Rocksmith is clever as it will take note of how well you do and make sure that the next song you play is leveled up accordingly to your “mastery” of the previous songs you’ve played.

Single notes become triplets, triplets become sixteenths, chords appear, solos start sounding more like the actual solo. It’s quite exhilarating when the song you’ve been playing displays it’s first chord and you somehow manage to play it. This aspect of Rocksmith has been lambasted by many “advanced guitarists” because they don’t want to put in the time to play a watered down version of a song. It’s easily solvable by taking the time to master one of the three beginner songs such as: “Go With The Flow,” “Next Girl,” or “I Got Mine.” That will let the game know that you are here to rock and not to learn, although chances are you probably aren’t as good as you think you are.

No, that isn’t a fancy way of typing “FML,” though you will probably think that several times during gameplay.



Rocksmith’s track list is certainly a departure from what we have grown accustomed too from the yearly iterations of Guitar Hero. There is a reason for that however: each song on Rocksmith’s disc teaches you a different style of playing or incorporates a new skill. The Horrors’ “Do You Remember” is the song that will introduce you to slides and tremolo picking, Queens of The Stone Age’s “Go With The Flow” will be the first chord strum fest you conquer, The XX’s “Islands” will make sure you learn how to palm mute, and Soundgarden’s “Outshined” will introduce you into the wonders of Drop D tuning. Every song is in there for a reason, and with Sigur Ros, Muse, Radiohead, Clapton, and Red Hot Chili Peppers on the same disc it’s a winner in my book.

Thankfully, for people that aren’t feeling the on disc tracklist, DLC is definitely an option as Ubisoft has already released several tracks, and have set out on a bi-weekly release schedule. Also for those that think everything in this game is far too easy, wait until you unlock the bonus songs via Double Encores.

We’re talking ’bout practice


Rocksmith’s non-metal tracklist might irk the more experienced guitarists, but any competent musician will tell you that everyone should be practicing at least 2 hours a day. Rocksmith ingeniously uses gamification to trick you into practicing techniques like tremolo picking, scales, chord recognition, harmonics, and bends. This is all done through the Guitarcade, which starts off with a simple Space Invaders-like game called “Ducks,” and goes all the way to the most difficult game which has you diffusing a bomb with harmonics called “Harmonically Challenged.”

These “mini-games” are also the only aspect of the game that has score tracking online and a brunt of the on disc achievements/trophies are tied to ridiculous high scores in these games which will motivate you to come back again and again.


Okay, maybe not ANYONE.

Anyone Can Play Guitar

The bottom line with Rocksmith is that this is NOT a party game. The only way this is going to be fun at a party is if your friends are already guitarists and they enjoy playing along to the songs featured in the game or through DLC. Visually the game’s interface is bland, the audience is ghostly and clearly clone stamped, and the “vocal mode” is an afterthought.

The menu system is full of strange design decisions that constantly have you forced into returning to the exact same screen no matter what you’ve picked previously, and the practice mode done through “Riff Repeater” has been given a form of gamification that is not needed whatsoever (lives in practice mode? why?). This is a game where all of the personality is supplied by you and your guitar.

Also, due to the nature of the audio technology, there is 30ms of latency that comes with Rocksmith that will take awhile to get used to, and if you opt to ignore the optimal audio/video setup (as in using an external audio source or bypassing HDMI for your audio) expect to have some audio lag thrown on top of that 30ms of latency. Many reviewers so far have decided to base their final score simply on their unwillingness to modify their “superior entertainment setup” for one game, their loss.

That being said, I have never been this good at guitar before. In my entire laughable foray into the instrument, I have never been able to memorize simple chords like G, D, or Em until now. Something about those colored blocks in a blue window just clicks for me I suppose. Of course, Rocksmith isn’t for everyone, but with each passing day it’s appearing that more and more people are finding out that it is for them. Anyone truly can play guitar; playing well is a different story, but Rocksmith will most definitely get you on your way.

“Rocksmith won’t teach you to play Guitar… But you’ll learn” – Paul Cross (Creative Director)

I’d like to think that we all need to start somewhere, me being a novice with guitar and Ubisoft with their first attempt at bringing music education to your home console. Rocksmith is an impressive effort on Ubisoft’s part, but there’s still room for extra polish and implementation of “user feedback” for Rocksmith 2. Also, how about some Sublime?


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December 18, 2011 7:12 pm

I think you made an error in your review:
"The area that you will be dealing with for each section of the song will be highlighted in light *blue* to let you know where your should be keeping your hands."

Instead the area you need to keep your hands positioned for the upcoming passage, the anchor area, is shown with the 4 fret wires lit up in bright *yellow*, not blue as you stated.

December 18, 2011 7:42 pm
Reply to  alexlifeson

What? I think you need to read gooder

December 18, 2011 7:09 pm

The "quick" tuner used in between songs has been said by the developers to be the less strict/looser tuner in the game. The tuner you access from the RS menu is the strict/more precise/accurate tuner

December 10, 2011 3:30 pm

Forget Guitar Hero! Forget Activision. It's peaceful without them, they are not needed. Their hearts were OBVIOUSLY NOT IN THE RIGHT PLACE. Forget them! Rocksmith is what Guitar Hero could have been if the designers were thinking about guitar music instead of whatever THEY were thinking of!

December 10, 2011 3:56 am

Whatever buddy, go piss up a rope.

Funn Dave
Funn Dave
October 18, 2012 8:39 am
Reply to  Tommy

Pretty sure he was being facetious.

October 18, 2012 10:11 am
Reply to  Funn Dave


December 9, 2011 9:19 am

You do know that Guitar Hero has been put on hiatus by Activision, right? It might not be back anytime soon. Also, a six stringed instrument is really different than a five buttoned, plastic "guitar." I like GH too, but playing "Sunshine of Your Love" is completely different when playing it on the real thing.

Leonardo Storti
Leonardo Storti
December 10, 2011 3:08 pm
Reply to  Matt

Put on Hiatus yes I know that all too well, but it's not the end, Activision is still working on another title supposedly, they themselves said they did not kill the brand…. (though it's hard for me to trust em, it is Activision afterall)

people don't understand why it is I don't buy Rocksmith, the game is just a learning tool to me I don't consider this a game, it's not a party game. But don't get me wrong it shows alot of promise for people who are willing to learn so its a good piece of software there is no denying and it's very original. Anyway, most of the songs that are in the game I already own on Guitar Hero….why would I switch from Guitar Hero to either Rockband or Rocksmith? just so I have to spend almost 100 dollars worth of DLC songs that I already own? I have over 450 songs on my GH library that includes: GHWT, GHSH, GHM, GH5 imports. The other problem is I don't have a real guitar and I really don't plan to buy one just so I can play Rocksmith, I would prefer to spend extra money on DLC but since Activision decided to say "screw you" to my face and other GH fans, I'm just gonna have to wait god knows when. Rocksmith would have been a maybe for me if it supported the toy guitars but since it is a no go, no thank you….

and that's my 2-cents, XD

December 9, 2011 8:55 am

I have this game and I love playing the songs. At first I couldn't maneuver my fingers around the keyboard but the more I practice the better I have become.

Leonard isn't considering that people want to learn how to play the Guitar. Rockband and Guitar Hero games are fun to play but useless in the grand scheme of things. I can play a song walk away and plug the guitar in my amp and start playing with the song I just learned how to play.

It's awesome and there are some things that are tedious but over all I'm learning a skill. If they sold a Mic with this game than I will be happy singing and playing at the same time. Next up, Taking the Electric to a Karaoke bar and just rock out while singing.

December 9, 2011 9:06 am
Reply to  David

You can use any mic from Guitar Hero/Rock Band with Rocksmith if you feel like belting out some David Bowie 🙂

You even get an achievement/trophy for it!

December 9, 2011 8:13 am

Not a game Not a game
talkin bout PRACTICE

Bradley Tennen
Bradley Tennen
December 9, 2011 7:56 am

Nice job Elliot. Rocksmith so far is everything I expected it to be. A pure learning tool. I have no qualms with the dynamic difficulty because I'm a total amateur. With the inevitable death of guitar hero, this game could/should be the launching pad of all plastic instrument fanatics into full fledged guitar enthusiasts. As time goes by, my hand movements about the frets are becoming automatic and smooth. I can only imagine where I can be months from now.

Bobby Kotick
Bobby Kotick
December 9, 2011 7:52 am

>Still plays rhythm games

(P.S. Buy Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 today!)

December 9, 2011 7:50 am

The game is innovative and different from other music games on the market. It's not like GH or RB. Unlike those games, you're not playing pre-recorded multi-tracks, you are playing your REAL guitar along to an MP3 of a song.

One of the reasons I see value in this game is the amp mode, which you did not cover. It has dozens of different effects and amps. In real life, those kinds of things cost a lot of $$$. I just love how my sound system becomes my guitar amp.

A major flaw I found with the game is the tuning feature. It's not as strict as it should be. I've encountered several times when the sixth string has been a half step off and the game passed it off as 'tuned', mostly in Drop D though. This is a problem because the gameplay relies on your guitar being perfectly tuned.

December 9, 2011 7:59 am
Reply to  PikminGuts92

"Rocksmith is also an affordable substitute for Native Instruments GuitarRig since as you progress through Rocksmith you unlock various pedals to jam out with via Amp Mode."

Sir Thomas
December 9, 2011 7:45 am

no ween 1/5 stars would be 5/5 if it had ween

Sir David
Sir David
December 9, 2011 7:43 am

Great review! Can't wait for the game to reach Europe! You are my favourite website, lots of love from Europe! XoXo

Takesi Akamatsu
Takesi Akamatsu
December 9, 2011 5:40 am

Great review Elliott.

I believe I echo your sentiment quite a bit from what I have experienced in it. Rocksmith isn't perfect by a long shot, and it needs a lot of tweaking… but it is still fabulous for what it is.

The DLC seems to be a bit pricey to me. I'm only going to get songs if they really, really appeal to me.

I don't think the game is going to rocket off the sales shelves, but as years go on, it will be a steady seller as people will find this to be a via option vs. paying lots of money for guitar lessons.

I still think that some people (^^^) still don't "get it" yet.

Leonardo Storti
Leonardo Storti
December 8, 2011 11:01 pm

Oh wait there is gonna be another one?…..that's a stupid move, well who cares I really don't care for this game I'm just waiting for the next installment of Guitar Hero, and once it comes out it will blow Rocksmith out of the water, but don't get me wrong if you want a teaching tool Rocksmith is your game, (if it is a game), But for me I want a video game…

And I have wasted alot of money on DLC for Guitar Hero, and there is no way I'm gonna get a game that has most of the songs I already own on Guitar Hero, it's like buying the same songs that you already own again, that is retarded…..and excuse me for saying that

December 9, 2011 8:10 am

As has already been mentioned, you missed the whole point of what Rocksmith is.

As a fan of Rock Band's pro instrument modes, the killer feature of Rocksmith for me is having live feedback of my own guitar playing, so I can hear how well I'm really playing. For the same reason, I like to play pro keys with my synthesizer, although not having any simple way to set the proper voices for each song is a bit of a detractor. Having the proper modeled guitar sound enabled automatically for each song in Rocksmith is great.