PC Release: February 8, 2018
By Ian Coppock
It’s surreal to see so many Early Access games suddenly cross the finish line. CAT Interstellar, Gang Beasts, Subnautica, and now Rust have all exited Early Access just in the last few months. Some of these games spent years bearing that stupid blue badge on their Steam store pages… Rust longest of all. It’s time to see how one of Steam’s most well-known titles fares after so long in the oven.
How long did Rust marinate in the puddle of horror and regret that is Steam Early Access? The game first cropped up in Early Access in the winter of 2013, which makes Rust one of the first titles (if not the very first) to launch within that program. The game underwent many changes over the next four years, guided by the steady hand of Garry Newman (the Garry’s Mod guy) and the folks at Facepunch Studios.
Rust has changed a lot since its 2013 debut, but through thick and thin the game has always been about mulitplayer survival. Players spawn in naked and alone on the shores of a mysterious land and their goal is to stay alive as long as possible. To that end, they can search for food, gather resources, build bases, and band together for common defense. They can also descend from the hills wearing nothing but a headscarf and promptly beat new spawns to death with rocks. Absolutely terrifying.
Rust‘s tutorial provides just enough guidance to get new players on their way. The game gently prods new spawns to complete a series of increasingly complex tasks. Gather wood. Gather stone. Build a pickaxe. Gather more wood. Build a house. Find some food. Eat the food. EAT THE FOOD! Players also have no control over the race or sex of their character; Garry Newman has continually insisted that Rust is about survival, not identity. Those are some bold words in this age of hypersensitive identity politics.
Spawning in with no clothes and only a rock for defense may sound daunting, but Rust is kind to resourceful players. The game has a resource flow similar to that of Minecraft, i.e. gathering materials, building new tools, and using those tools to accrue more advanced materials. Before long, players can go from living in a dilapidated shack on the beach to an expansive fortress reinforced with stone walls and metal gates. Likewise, clubs and spears eventually give way to pistols and even rocket launchers. Players can also gather food by foraging plants and hunting animals.
Rust‘s gameplay and user interface are both pleasantly streamlined. It’s easy for players to scrounge for items just as it’s fun to engage wildlife in combat. In keeping with the game’s goal of staying alive as long as possible, players have to manage health, thirst, and hunger meters as they make their way around the world. Finding water and food is usually pretty simple; the fate of the health bar, though, hinges on players’ ability to “git gud” in combat.
Players can craft lots of other stuff in Rust. The game’s menu is a simple two-panel affair comprising inventory and crafting screens. The latter menu lists all of the items the player can craft; just click on a weapon, wait thirty seconds, and boom: instant spear! Rust‘s items are divided into smaller menus that look an awful lot like the menus in Garry’s Mod; overall, it’s a system that’s easy to pick up. Just don’t call up the menu while standing out in the open. Enemy players love that.
Rust contains many realistic survival threats that range from chilly nights to cold river currents, but these natural phenomena can’t hold a candle to the game’s greatest danger: other players. Yes, just like so many multiplayer survival games, Rust is a breeding ground for hilariously unhinged psychopaths. True, some of the folks in Rust are just fellow digital pilgrims peacefully going about their business… but many more are cutthroat raiders who’d sooner shoot a player than mic chat with them.
Human enemies are always much more terrifying than computer-controlled characters, and the proliferation of them in Rust adds tension to the game. It’s hair-raising to be approached by a spear-wielding stranger during the morning mushroom forage, especially if they refuse to mic chat or lower their weapon. In the end, it’s up to each and every player to decide how to interact with the people around them. Rust players either die civil or live long enough to see themselves become assholes.
Gathering mushrooms and killing occasional nomads works well for solo players, but the best way for large groups to sustain themselves is through all-out war. Raiding is the name of the game in Rust, as players suit up and break into each other’s fortresses for food and sleeping bags. These turf wars can be frustrating (especially if unwelcome visitors come knocking while the player’s logged out), but damn if it isn’t fun to blow up a gate and rush in at the head of a blood-crazed war band. Another beautiful day in Rust!
Rust is now balanced enough to give logged out players a chance to protect themselves. It used to be that anyone could come in and take all the things during logout, but players can now build nigh-invincible doors with keys and code locks to protect their loot during the workday. True, a door won’t stop someone who has C4 and a rocket launcher, but attackers have to invest a lot of time into Rust to acquire such sophisticated weaponry. It’s not perfect, but compromises rarely are.
The notion of players competing for scraps of food lends Rust a postapocalyptic vibe, and so does the game’s world design. Players spend most of their time in the wilderness but occasionally stumble upon dilapidated buildings and rows of rusted-out cars. Rust has no narrative outside the stories its players make, but these unsettling sights still succeed in making players wonder what happened. It’s a bit creepy to wander through a dark, cold munitions factory in search of food, especially when there’s signs of recent occupation.
Rust‘s artwork is also both bleak and beautiful. The game is absolutely saturated with bright colors from the roots of its green grass to the top of its searing blue skyboxes. The game’s textures are above-middling but could still use a bit of refinement, especially on those wooden house panels. Rust also makes effective use of lighting, or rather, the lack of it. Days are brightly lit but nights are dark and full of terror. These artistic choices inspire caution in players, which is appropriate considering that Rust is a survival game.
Rust‘s sound design also goes to great lengths to make players feel as vulnerable as possible. Whenever music does play, it comes in the form of mournful little interludes that barely constitute a whisper above the game’s other sounds. They sound like the piano medleys from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as rewritten by The Sound of Silence-era Simon & Garfunkel. Really creepy (albeit pretty) stuff.
When these tracks don’t play, players are left alone with the sounds of the wilderness: the birds, the wind, and the occasional creak of metal. This minimalist setup is not dissimilar to that of PUBG. Players are left alone with these sounds and have to creep around wondering when the sound of another player will finally break the tension. Rust‘s environmental sounds are, well, sound. Everything from the creak of a wooden door to putting scrap metal in the inventory sounds rich and full.
Rust is one of those rare survival games that combines fun gameplay with smooth presentation. The game runs well on PC and its options menu contains more toggles than players can shake a stick at. Players might notice occasional lag during gameplay, but alas, such is life in the world of online video games. Facepunch made good use of Rust‘s elongated Early Access cycle, though, as the title is now all-but completely bug free.
Many players, though, continue to insist that Rust faces a hacker epidemic of Biblical proportions. Such claims have dogged Rust since it first hit the Steam store. While players might run across the occasional hack-riddled superhuman, the claim that every other Rust player is a Chinese bot needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Gamers are a creative group, but they’re also one of the saltiest bunches on the Internet. Was that enemy player really a hacker, bro, or was he just better?
Rust was in Early Access for over four years. That’s a long time. It’s worth pointing out, though, that Garry Newman and the folks at Facepunch made damn good use of that time. Rust is an example of Early Access done right, because even though the game took a while, Facepunch made regular updates to the title and interacted with the community. That’s more than can be said for the dozens of Early Access titles in which devs update “whenever they feel like it” or just ghost from their projects altogether.
Rust can feel like an unfair game. It’s a title that doesn’t care about players’ feelings and chides them for being “asshats.” Players live or die by their ability to make good choices with the resources that they can find. The game inspires euphoria with every successful raid just as it inspires hopelessness when players are captured by a 20-man crew of AK-47 enthusiasts. All of these experiences, fair and otherwise, are what make Rust a compelling game. It’s both a breakneck survival odyssey and an endlessly entertaining glimpse at online human interaction.
You can buy Rust here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.