Rustler Review: Ye Olde Thug Life
Developed by Jutsu Games, Rustler proudly wears its inspiration on its chainmail sleeves. It’s an open-world, top-down homage to Rockstar’s early Grand Theft Auto titles. However, instead of tasking you with hopping behind the wheel of high-end sports cars and running amok through the city with a flamethrower, Rustler instead takes a decidedly more old-school approach to its mayhem. You’ll steal horses, cross swords with knights and bandits, and maybe lob a holy hand grenade or two against the backdrop of an alternate version of Medieval Europe.
It’s a novel premise, to be sure. After all, the 32-bit era Grand Theft Auto games were a blast that fans fondly remember to this day. I happen to be one of them, so I was pretty eager to hop in the saddle and see what the game had to offer. But, unfortunately, while Rustler certainly feels like a product of the era it hopes to emulate with its crude humor and over-the-top violence, rampant glitches and unsatisfying gameplay manage to spoil the fun.
From Grime To Glory
Rustler puts players in control of Guy, a chrome-domed vandal with grand ambitions. Not content to toil in the mud, he sets off to compete in a knight’s tournament with hopes of winning the kingdom and the princess’s hand. But, unlucky for Guy, the contest is reserved exclusively for nobles. So, after scheming with his buddy named Buddy, he concocts a plan to enter the tournament, which sets the duo off on an adventure filled with mayhem and murder. Oh, and lots and lots of cow shit.
Guy has to take on many jobs on the road to knighthood. You’ll take on work from a colorful cast of unsavory characters to build up your reputation and earn your coin. Some missions have you working for the church, where you’ll do things like punch out parishioners to encourage them to tithe generously, or smuggle wagons full of booze into the monastery. Other missions will have you selling weed for the local herbalist or even going on a killing spree for the local gravedigger to help bolster his business.
Sadly, quests never really feel much more involved than this. But, of course, you could say the same thing about the games from which Rustler takes its inspiration. The problem is Rustler lacks many features that made those games so much fun in the first place.
Good Knight, Sweet Prince
Despite its limited mechanics and simplistic missions designs, Grand Theft Auto lets you do a lot of crazy stuff in its pixelated sandbox to keep things interesting. For example, you can steal a blazing-fast Ferrari and get in death-defying chases with the police. Or, if you’re feeling trigger happy, amass a varied arsenal to mow down your enemies. Rustler lets you do a lot of that same stuff, sure. But it’s mostly limited to Medieval technology, which admittedly makes things considerably less exciting in comparison. Except for wagons, which you can use to transport quest items to their destination or bodies to the gravedigger for extra cash, the horses you’ll ride only feature subtle differences. Which, as you can imagine, makes them seem forgettable.
The same can be said for the weapons you’ll wield in Rustler. Throughout the game, you’ll amass an arsenal of halberds, swords, lances, and axes. And, for the most part, they all feel interchangeable. I never found one particular weapon that I enjoyed using more than another. You can also collect a handful of ranged weapons, such as crossbows and auto crossbows. The problem is that they take so long to reload that I only used them as a last resort.
That’s not to say the game doesn’t try to do anything different when it comes to combat. In addition to the standard Medieval tools of the trade, you’ll also find a few unconventional weapons in your travels, such as the Holy Hand Grenade made famous in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Or, if you’re feeling nasty, cow dung that you can hurl in the faces of your enemies to slow them down.
These are entertaining novelties. But they aren’t enough to save the game’s otherwise clunky and unsatisfying combat. You can block and dodge roll. Additionally, heavy attacks can punch through an opponent’s guard. This sounds decent enough on paper. However, these tactics are thrown out the window when faced with large groups of enemies. When this happens, your only real option is to swing like mad and hope your attackers fall first.
Making A Medieval Murderer
As you complete missions and find horseshoes scattered across the map, you’ll earn skill points. You can spend these to upgrade your combat, ranged, riding, and social abilities. This feature does add a welcome bit of depth to the proceedings. Doing things like retrieving crossbow bolts from your victims or keeping your weapons after being captured by guards is undoubtedly helpful.
I recommend unlocking The Fifth Horseman perk as soon as you can. It’s expensive, costing a whopping ten skill points. However, it comes in clutch as it allows you to summon a horse to your location. With how hard it can be to find a ride when you need one in Rustler, having this ability at your disposal can save you a ton of time.
Of course, that’s not to say that Rustler’s ability system is groundbreaking or anything. Still, it does a solid job of adding a little extra depth to the game while providing the player with a meaningful sense of progression.
Speaking of progression, Rustler suffers from a few technical issues that can make completing some missions a frustrating experience. Most of these problems are related to the game’s pathfinding, which unfortunately leaves a lot to be desired.
For example, there were several missions I had to replay because certain NPCs simply got stuck in the environment and couldn’t make it to where they needed to go before time ran out. On another occasion, I found myself wandering for a half-hour, trying to figure out how to progress. It turns out, the character I was following stopped short of where he needed to be to trigger the next cutscene. So I had to literally punch him over to where he needed to be so I could get on with the quest.
Problems like these happen all too often in Rustler. And, as you’d expect, they can make the game start to feel like a slog. Here’s hoping developer Jutsu Games issues a patch to address the game’s glaring pathfinding issues soon.
Rustler Is A Rough Around The Edges Throwback To A Simpler Time
The idea of a Medieval take on the Grand Theft Auto formula is undoubtedly intriguing. That’s why it’s such a shame that Rustler falls short of realizing its full potential. From its unsatisfying combat to the rinse-and-repeat missions, it doesn’t take long before the game starts to wear out its welcome. Add to that near game-breaking technical issues, and you have a title that’s pretty hard to recommend to all but the most desperate fans of the genre. Still, if you’re looking for an unapologetically old-school throwback to the GTA games of old, you might just find some fun to be had with Rustler.
Final Verdict: 2.5/5
Available on: PS5 (Reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Switch, PC; Publisher: Modus Games; Developer: Justsu Games; Players: 1; Released: August 31, 2021 (PC); ESRB: M for Mature; MSRP: $29.99
Full disclosure: A Rustler review copy was provided by the publisher.