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Put away the plastic: ‘Rocksmith’ game to use real guitars

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Rocksmith - Ubisoft

When Activision officially unplugged Guitar Hero earlier this year, most of us figured the battle of the video game bands was over.

Turns out it was just waiting for a new player.

On Tuesday, game publisher Ubisoft pulled back the curtain on an upcoming new rhythm game called Rocksmith. But forget the plastic peripherals -- Rocksmith will forgo the fake clutter entirely and let you play with any electric guitar on the market.

That trick is accomplished via a device that converts a standard, quarter-inch guitar cable into a USB connection. Simply plug in any electric guitar -- from the busted up Fender gathering dust in your kid's old bedroom to the mint Les Paul you've been eyeing on eBay -- and you're ready to go. Unlike games that use plastic gear, you'll hear what you're playing, too: Xbox 360 and PS3 consoles are essentially turned into amps, while your home
sound system functions as the speakers.

The game itself is as much an in-home guitar trainer as a legit video game. Notes flow down the screen, but instead of landing on colored buttons, they land on a transparent view of a virtual fretboard. Strum the right notes and you're essentially playing the real song.

But rather than requiring you to pick a difficulty level ala Rock Band or Guitar Hero, Rocksmith is designed to train you to play, featuring an automated, dynamic challenge that gradually adds more notes as you play them correctly. Start blowing it, and it will scale things back a bit. The goal isn't to turn you into an 'Expert' mode, button-mashing shredder, but to actually teach you how to play these songs. Like, for real.

"Whether a beginner or a seasoned guitar vet, players progress at their own speed and walk away from the game with the ability to play songs by memory," said Tony Key, Ubisoft's senior VP of sales and marketing.

It's a bold move from Ubisoft, a company best known in the rhythm
game space for publishing casual, multi-million selling dance games like the Just
Dance and Michael Jackson: The Experience.

But where the dance space is taking off, rock games are fizzling out. Sales have dropped
dramatically since 2008
; both Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock and Rock Band 3
underperformed at retail last year, prompting Activision to shut down the
Guitar Hero franchise and Viacom to sell off Rock Band developer Harmonix. Newcomer Power Gig -- which attempted to bridge the real/fake gap using an odd guitar/controller hybrid -- was a critical and commercial disaster. The once-thriving genre isn't exactly steaming up the charts these days.

Related: Hottest Dance Games

So why take the risk? Perhaps Ubisoft sees the sudden vacancy less as a warning sign and more as opportunity knocking -- and frankly, their 'real guitar' approach is a pretty savvy one. Gamers seem largely fatigued with specialty peripherals, which have only marginally evolved since the 2005 debut of Guitar Hero. Though it isn't the very first game to let gamers play with a real guitar (Harmonix sells a custom Squier Stratocaster guitar to use with Rock Band 3's Pro Mode), the fact that Rocksmith will work with any electric axe breaks down a big barrier. With seven bazillion electric guitars tucked under beds, stowed away in garages or proudly displayed in dens, there's already a hefty built-in userbase. And with the cost of a low-end starter guitar hovering between $100-$200, the barrier of entry isn't any greater than, say, a full Rock Band setup.

There's more to Rocksmith than just training, too. A career
mode will let you wail through set lists and unlock gear, including over 60
true-to-life effects pedals (chorus, delay, flange, etc.) to endlessly tweak,
combine, and tinker with. More gameplay can be found in a variety of throwback,
8-bit-influenced arcade minigames -- dubbed the 'Guitarcade' -- designed to
improve your technique and teach you basic scales and theory. And should you
bust a string (and if you're properly rocking, here's betting you will),
Rocksmith will even show you how to re-string and tune up your instrument.

Ubisoft has yet to announce any specific pricing options, though they've confirmed that Rocksmith will be sold standalone or possibly bundled with a guitar (a partnership with a guitar manufacturer is in the works), and that every version will come with that essential cable converter. They've also announced plans to provide over 40 songs on disc, focusing on guitar-heavy artists like The Animals, The Black Keys, David Bowie, Interpol, Nirvana and The Rolling Stones. We'll surely hear more soon, however,
as the game is set to release for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC this coming
September.

Think Rocksmith has what it takes to breathe some life into
the ailing music game genre? Or is it bound to hit a bad note? Sound off in the
comments!

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