Cigar Aficionado

Like many guys, I was a self-taught six-chord guitar player growing up. Even managed to teach myself some primitive finger picking, but girls were unimpressed, and I had no money to pay for lessons—guitar case closed. Recently, though, I’ve begun developing some actual electric guitar chops thanks to an innovative game/music tutorial from Ubisoft called Rocksmith.

In many ways, Rocksmith follows the formula pioneered by popular games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band. You see notes coming toward you in an on-screen guitar image and try to get your fingers in the right position and the string plucked at the right moment. Unlike those older games, though, you’re not banging away on plastic buttons on a faux instrument—you’re playing an actual guitar, and learning real-world techniques in the process.

The game comes with a cable that connects a standard ¼-inch electric guitar jack to your Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 gaming console—couldn’t be easier. It even helps you tune the instrument with an interactive display. Just a few minutes in, you’re playing the familiar lead guitar riff from the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” with Mick’s vocals and a little help from Keith in the background. The first-rate song selection ranges from classic rock (Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love,” Bowie’s “Rebel, Rebel”) to more recent tracks by the Black Keys (“I Got Mine”) and The White Stripes (“Icky Thump”). Additional songs are available as extra-cost downloads, to keep boredom at bay. (The full list is on the website.)

The game automatically adjusts the difficulty level based on how well you’re playing, keeping frustration levels down. Separate exercises help you master finger placement and technique, like shooting at chickens to learn different fret positions—it’s a ploy left over from learn-how-to-type games of yore, but it works.

There are a few rough patches to get over, including the lack of a proper user manual (video lessons explain how to hold the guitar and other basics, but you have to hunt for them). The visual presentation is kind of barebones, lacking the party-hearty vibe of those plastic-guitar games. And the instructional level is limited to beginner-to-intermediate, with little to attract experienced players. But that’s fine with me. I don’t expect my Xbox 360 to transform me into Stevie Ray Vaughan. If I can pull off the sweet lick in “Sweet Home Alabama” for $80, I figure Rocksmith represents time and money well spent.