Rustler’s alternate title “Grand Theft Horse” lets players know almost everything they need to about the premise. As a classic-GTA throwback offering a top-down camera and random, bloody violence, Rustler puts players in control of a petty criminal who elects to work his way up through the bleak medieval world he’s been born into via a series of thefts, murders, and extravagant pranks.
Even more so than the gameplay, Rustler is focused on capturing the tone of the GTA series with its nihilistic worldview and low-brow gameplay. To their credit, the developers have done a great job of creating a world of random, pointless, consequence-free violence in which the player is free to cause as much mayhem as they like, provided they can stay ahead of the local guardsmen. (The guardsmen, by the way, have flashing red and blue lights mounted to their horses.)
Rustler‘s presentation is utterly competent. The controls work perfectly for navigating on foot and horseback – although playing with a keyboard, I was a little disturbed to find that the horses only have two speeds: fast, and too fast for the camera to keep up with them, which led to some issues while attempting to zip across the game world. That world looks impressive enough – there are fields, villages, a walled city, even a small port. It’s not a large map by any means, but for the game’s ambitions, I have no doubt that it will be sufficient.
Unfortunately, Rustler‘s mission design doesn’t yet live up to its inspirations. The first couple of tasks I was assigned worked fine – go to a place, steal a horse, have it repainted, deliver it to a customer – standard GTA stuff. Then I was asked to kill someone and move the body, and the game basically fell apart on me. All world logic ceased to exist when, just after loading the corpse onto a cart, I found myself swarmed by guardsmen. I’d committed all of my crimes away from witnesses, so I’m not sure how they found out about them. And since I was driving a cart and considerably slower than the horses chasing me, the mission ended in failure ten seconds later, as the guardsman destroyed my cart with just a few swings of his sword.
Theoretically it’s possible to outrun these guardsmen by setting horses to gallop, but since the camera can’t keep up with horses moving at that speed, making impact with obstacles is inevitable. Naturally, any crash will give the pursuers a chance to catch up and end the mission immediately. Adding insult to injury, the developers haven’t included mid-mission checkpoints, so failure necessitates fleeing from the authorities, finding one’s way back to the mission-giver, and starting the whole process over. It’s a mess, and after a few failed attempts I finally took the hint and quit the game for good.
These aren’t impossible problems to solve and since it’s still in the process of being Kickstarted, Rustler has time to fix these issues, and I hope they do — the part of the game I managed to see offered a pleasantly anarchic experience.
Rustler has been successfully funded and will be published on PC.