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E3 '11: Hands On: Rocksmith

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When I was a kid, I took guitar lessons, but I don't even think I lasted a year. The strings made my fingers hurt, and I didn't like being forced to practice by my parents. I'd thought playing an instrument was supposed to be fun. Of course, I suppose if I had any kind of actual innate musical talent, things would've turned out differently, too!

But having played Ubisoft's unusual new game, Rocksmith, I was actually led to believe that I could really play the guitar. Basically, Rocksmith is a game that kind of tricks you into learning to play an instrument. It ships with a cable that you use to hook up the electric guitar of your choice to a USB port in either an Xbox 360 or a PlayStation 3, turning your console/TV into a very elaborate amp. There are a variety of pedals and amps to choose from to change the sound, too. And if you want, there's even an Amp Mode which lets you play whatever you want!

But first, you have to learn. Well, I did, anyway. Because a real guitar has no buttons or indicators of where you are on the frets, I got lost a lot. A whole lot. First I played a very simple game where ducks floated down the screen at you and you had to hold down a string on that fret and strum to shoot a blast and take it out. It sounds easy, but without any real guitar-playing ability, I struggled. I seemed to constantly be on the wrong fret. However, I have to admit that towards the end, I started to feel like I was almost getting the hang of it, and if I'd had more time with the game, I could have actually gotten good at it.

That's how Rocksmith plans to teach you to play guitar; With videogame lessons like this to get you used to the locations of the frets and strings. I could have had another go at the duck mini-game lesson, but I opted to just jump in and start playing a real song to see what that was like. Nirvana's "In Bloom" was suggested as a particularly easy one to start with, and it was pretty simple, but I still kept screwing it up! Rock Band on Easy is cake because it's just a few buttons, and a trigger you strum. Here, the easiest level had only two active strings, but finding the right fret and strumming the right string turned into a monumentally difficult challenge for me.

Rocksmith will also level you up, automatically increasing difficulty levels as you get better and better, just like a good music teacher. Oh, and while you can buy whatever electric guitar you want, there will also be a version of the game that includes a snazzy white one that should retail for around $200. There's a part of me that wouldn't mind this being a success because then they might do one for drums, too! (But my neighbors probably wouldn't like that too much — or my boyfriend, since we don't have any space for a drum kit in the apartment! Maybe I'd better hope for keyboards instead!)

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