Everyone knows that the most fundamental lesson in bass guitar is learning to get your axe as low as you possibly can and still play it – preferably on the same level as your slightly bent knees – and perfecting your sneer. Ideally it’s the “Sid Vicious” look that you are aiming for, with one side of your top lip arching up to almost nostril level, but anything more eye-catching than “Billy Idol’s” limp affair is acceptable. Having previously mastered both of these elements, I was intrigued as to what the latest version of Ubisoft’s Rocksmith might teach me. “Intrigued” is my middle name – well, it would be if it wasn’t Roger – so I procured a copy of it to see if there was actually more to strumming my banjo than I had previously imagined.
Rocksmith was launched as a serious guitar-tutorial program in 2011. Initially only available for PS3 and Xbox 360, it migrated into a PC version in 2012 and gained the bass guitar capability at the same time. That was when it became of interest to me, as I’ve never mastered any more than four strings and prefer tones that liquefy bowels rather than allow communication with bats. I tell people that the bass appeals to me because, as a fundamentally rhythm instrument, it places me at the heart of the band and is the instrument of choice of both “Roger Waters” and “Krist Noveselic” – two of my bass guitar heroes – but in reality I do it because it’s not as complicated as having six strings to worry about.
The game requires you to have a real instrument and luckily, despite being bruised and abused by my inquisitive children, my “Fender Precision Bass” still falls into that category. I had to connect the output jack to the Xbox via the supplied USB connector so, I had to make sure that my console had a spare one to plug into. Once done, it’s into the game where I was presented with the option to tune my guitar. This was a useful addition as, being mostly tone deaf, I’m never entirely sure if my “Precision” is actually in tune and I had to admit that it sounded better after tuning in Rocksmith, just reinforcing how out of shape my ear really is. I had played Guitar Hero before so felt completely comfortable with the interface. In fact it was so familiar that if I was on the board at Ubisoft, I’d be half-expecting something nasty to turn up from the tame lawyers of Harmonix, concerned that their IP had been infringed!
Following the tune-up session, I was launched into the basics where the program taught me the fundamentals. This section is part of an intuitive program that monitors how well you do at lessons before opening up new sections of the game as my skill broadened so that I was really sure of getting a full tutorial. But this is fundamentally where Rocksmith falls down; it is a program aimed squarely at the novice or learner and a pro-user trying it will find it frustrating as they cannot just move onto working their way through the extensive song list without completing the basics first. In truth, a seasoned guitarist would work through the lessons and games quicker than the casual user, but it would be an exercise in frustration; a bit like having a Ferrari but only a small area to drive it in. Apart from that, the only other complaint that I had was that I couldn’t turn the in-program amplifier up to 11, but you can’t have everything.
Rocksmith is intuitive and always interesting – even when I’m learning something. It breaks down learning chords into a series of visual sessions as part of a section called the Guitarcade which uses unrelated video game type graphics to assist with getting your fingers in the right place. One moment I was shooting at approaching ducks and the next it was whacking zombies, all done by playing the right chords!! Amazing! Once I had proved myself adept, I got to play the in-game tracks, which seemed to compose of a few well known tracks, a bunch of B-sides and album fodder from well-known bands. There wasn’t any “Aerosmith” who, love ‘em or hate ‘em, are a must when it comes to loud music. Worse still, “Aerosmith” didn’t figure on the downloadable content so maybe Rocksmith is too highbrow for “Steve Tyler”.
Like masturbation, Rocksmith is essentially a solo endeavour but is also ultimately satisfying. I completed the lessons in order and found that I had actually picked up a few new and slick moves, concentrating on perfecting my slap-bass, ‘cos it’s just so sexy and looks great and, as far as I’m concerned, image with bass guitar is way better than trying to play it right.
If Santa has just left you your first guitar in your stocking, then I urge you to dash out to get Rocksmith and work through it; if you are already a pro with your axe, don’t bother!!