While the ubiquity of open world adventures that owe a debt to GTA III continue to dominate the big budget AAA games market, smaller indie developers have begun to turn their eyes back towards the series’ origins. Two of the stand-out examples of this approach are Glitchpunk and Rustler – each taking Rockstar’s template in opposite temporal directions. Glitchpunk offers up a cyberpunk world with androids and technology whilst Rustler strips everything right back to medieval basics. Introducing itself as Grand Theft Horse, Rustler is exactly what it sets out to be. Whether that is enough to keep your attention may depend on your tolerance for recycled jokes and dated mission structures.
Despite the retro sensibilities and approach, Rustler doesn’t go for the expected pixellated aesthetic; instead opting for an almost cel-shaded look that is pretty easy on the eyes. Everything is clear and easy to distinguish, even when you end up surrounded by enemies. The exception to this, though, is the lack of any transparency when you go behind buildings. This led to a number of frustrating moments when I found myself stuck behind obstacles or caught by guards without being able to see what was happening.
In terms of structure and gameplay, this is pure old-school GTA. Whilst working your way through the main quest narrative, you’ll have the opportunity to carry out side missions for different characters, with occasional roadblocks requiring you to have earned enough money to continue. The beta build contains a complete narrative arc but more sidequests and missions are promised before the full release. On the whole these missions offered a nice mix of fetch quests, escort missions and combat but inevitably the dated mechanics began to feel a little repetitive during the 6 hours or so I played. There was also a lack of clarity in several missions where it took me a few tries to work out what the game wanted me to do.
Rustler’s indebtedness to GTA is apparent from even a cursory glance, but perhaps more egregious is the wholesale lifting of humour and gags from Monty Python. The game opens up with a disclaimer that it cites popular culture in the name of parody and fair use but these references go way beyond Easter eggs. The infamous Spanish Inquisition make an appearance as a faction who give you quests, as do the Knights of the Holy Grail, and you also get a full retread of the Black Knight scene. This makes the game feel like it’s lacking a character of its own, an impression exacerbated by protagonist Guy being the spitting image of the lead character from Rockstar’s Bully.
Having said all of that, and having listed the issues I had with Rustler’s beta build in terms of mission structure and self-indulgent lifting from its influences, the actual experience of playing is solid fun. Controls are tight, the map is large without being too unwieldy, and the combat system has the potential to offer decent depth. In this build I found the lengthy halberd was over powered and enabled me to survive even the highest warning level for quite some time.
While I wasn’t blown away by Rustler during this initial hands-on, I enjoyed my time with it and will definitely keep an eye on the extra content to be added during Early Access. If it can move past its inspirations and develop more of a sense of its own identity then this is one old-school adventure that could have plenty to offer in the near future.