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As the open-world game format has moved forward and expanded—particularly in the AAA space—it’s left behind a lot of creative ideas from the past. Grand Theft Auto might be well-beyond its top-down roots from the first two games, but indie developer Jutsu Games wants to embrace that classic feel with a whole new twist: a medieval world. Rustler, once referred to as Grand Theft Horse, is an homage to those classics, filled with plenty of goofy and historically inaccurate satire and clever ways of taking modern-era elements and making them fit this medieval theme.
You are this guy named Guy, who, along with his buddy Buddy, are a couple of rustlers (hey, he said the name of the game) who take part in some less-than-moral activities throughout the kingdom. Ultimately, your goal is to win fame, fortune, and the hand of the princess via the kingdom’s big tournament, but along the way, you’ll run into a variety of comical medieval encounters. Forging a nobility certificate? You’ll need a local painter to get you a picture to go along with it. The Spanish Inquisition also wants your help disproving the round-earther conspiracists, which ultimately leads to a long sailing trip and launching a cow from a trebuchet. How about helping a bishop defraud members of his church, being the hype-man for an up and coming medieval rap star, or dealing weed? Yup, you’ll do it all.
Rustler’s humor isn’t always going to hit, but it’s got enough of it that the misses don’t take away from it too much. There were times when I grimaced and groaned a bit. There were times when I grimaced and groaned a lot. But for every terrible joke that had me shaking my head, there were plenty of laugh-out-loud moments that legitimately had me cackling (“Nobody expects the Inquisition!!”). I’m still undecided on if the humor would have worked as well if it had been voice acted, because some of the delivery is arguably more funny when you read it in your own head. However, at times dialog boxes pop up while you are trying to ride a horse, drive a cart, or win a tough fight with a sliver of health left, and it was these moments that I would have appreciated a bit of voice acting.
Rustler Review – Aging Inspiration
Inspired by games that are more than 20 years old (GTA 2 came out in 1999), Rustler can feel a bit simple at times. Most of its gameplay and missions consist of going from one place to another on the map and getting into fights with enemies. But that doesn’t do Rustler’s little quirks enough justice. After all, any game can be boiled down into extremely simple sound components with enough effort. While Rustler does technically “suffer” from some elements of its dated game design inspiration, it’s also admirable how much it pays homage to that classic game design too. It’s a clever twist on a classic formula, and honestly had me grinning more often than not.
Just like GTA, you can get a wanted rating for doing bad things, and you’ll remove this by riding through a Pimp My Horse station or tearing down wanted posters. You can hire bards to follow you around and serenade you, punching them to change the song. Or you can kill them, take their lute, and play it yourself (and even use the lute as a weapon). In fact, bards are the entirety of the dynamic music in Rustler, a rather clever mechanic that allows the songs to change as you travel the world, and depending on what’s going on. Chase music is different than general world music, for example.
Combat is mostly melee based, focusing on swords, spears, halberds, sticks, lutes, and other things you can hit enemies with. You can block and parry enemy attacks, and you’ll need to either parry their attacks or break their guard to get some damage in. I do wish the combat was a bit more refined, though. When it works, it’s fun, but it can also feel incredibly punishing, and failing to block or parry a hit can quickly lead to getting slaughtered. Combine this with some frustrating checkpointing (seriously devs, stop making checkpoints prior to cutscenes, long conversations, and lengthy treks across the map) and even just a couple of deaths starts highlighting places where combat leads to really unfair deaths. I’d recommend just playing on Easy to avoid running into too many of these scenarios.
Rustler Review – Little Big Game
Part of Rustler’s magic is in being a “big” little game. Or a “little” big game. (But not a LittleBigPlanet. Now I’m just confusing myself.) That is to say, Rustler is a bite-sized open-world game. In an age where open-world games are being played on expansive, near endless maps over anywhere from 50 to 100+ hours, Rustler is a breath of fresh air, offering some of the same open-world feel, but only asking anywhere from 10 to 15 hours for 100% completion. Its story alone shouldn’t take you more than 6 hours to run through. And yet, with how “short” that is compared to other open-world games, Rustler handles its scale really well, in many cases feeling a lot bigger than it actually is.
That sense of scale is helped along by ridiculous (in a good way) and memorable missions like a prison escape accompanied by a whole lot of hallucinogens and a medieval bard-style instrumental cover of Queen’s “I Want to Break Free.” Even the quest feed gets a little high. It’s legitimately one of the most entertaining missions in any game I’ve played this year. There are plenty of side activities to do as well, from MMA (Medieval Martial Arts), to body delivery to the graveyard (“Bring out yer dead!”), and plenty more. These are rarely quite as entertaining as the scripted missions or side missions proper, but they still provide a world that at least feels “alive” with plenty to do.
Despite all the fun I had with Rustler, my experience was chock full of bugs, both minor and game breaking. I’ve had occasionally imbalanced audio, and at one point, even the slowly escalating volume of the bird sounds in areas outside of the town until they were comically loud. I’ve had issues where I can’t dismount a horse. The AI pathing occasionally goes into complete dunce mode, especially frustrating when a character I am supposed to be guiding somewhere keeps making loops into a wall (though arguably excellent when enemy AI does this, giving me a free kill one one of those tough, shield-bearing jerks). One mission just went to a black screen, and while I could hear the audio and pull up the menus, I couldn’t actually play the game. I had to quit and restart at my last save. Another mission where I was supposed to be chipping away at someone’s “cement shoes” with a pickaxe teleported the character where they were supposed to be, but left the block of cement in the lake that I couldn’t enter without drowning. I was confounded.
For all of its issues, Rustler is a fun little game that tries something a bit different, recapturing a long-lost element of game design and adding a fun new twist. Its humorous and satirical elements help keep it light-hearted, and though it occasionally has some comedic misses, its also full of genuinely laugh-out-loud moments. I’d hope to see some adjustments to the combat system as well as a general cleanup of the odd variety of bugs encountered, but as a whole Rustler is a clever and fun title that has zero shame being exactly what it is.
Rustler review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS5. For more information, please see our Review Policy.