Written by Andy Chalk
My first day on the island did not go well. Waking after some unknown calamity, it was only a few minutes before I stumbled upon a man-made structure and encountered its owner, working diligently to expand and improve his home. He was somewhat less pleased to see me, however, than I was to meet him. "Leave or I kill," he said, four short words I failed to take sufficiently seriously, and a few seconds later he hit me in the face with a hatchet, and then again, and I was dead. That's life—and death—in Rust, an open-world survival game that falls somewhere between DayZ and Minecraft and has a way of bringing out both the best and the worst in its players.
A babe in the woods
Rust's only goal is to survive, and it's always challenging. You begin with nothing but a rock, a torch, and a couple of bandages, and if you try to spend more than two nights out in the open in that condition, you will die. It's an intimidating, sink-or-swim introduction to the game, but Rust isn't a forgiving experience. Most of the game world will do its best to kill you and while epic multiplayer battles are rare, ambush murders are not. Nor are you particularly durable, unlike conventional videogame characters, and if somebody puts a few bullets in you, you will die. Yet that fragility, coupled with the near-absolute freedom offered by an open-world, no-rules arena, is exactly what makes it work. "Go forth and do whatever the hell you want" is exhilarating.
There's a primal thrill to running through the jungle like some latter-day Tarzan, but if you're serious about staying alive then sooner or later you'll want to build some form of shelter. Construction options are quite limited so you won't be erecting any great architectural masterpieces, but having a relatively safe place to crash and store your stuff can extend your lifespan dramatically. Crafting is an even more important component of the game and while it's likewise neither particularly interesting nor flexible at this early stage of development, better equipment is the key to survival. The transition from prey to predator can be tedious, but once you're packing heat (and pants), the real fun begins.
The conventional fauna is bad enough, but there are also deadly zombies and radioactive hotspots that give the game a faint whiff of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Worst of all are your fellow players, who ensure that no matter how powerful you are, you're never entirely free of danger. At one point, well-armed and equipped after several hours, I was hunting zombies near some radioactive fuel tanks. Quick double-taps from my MP5 dispatched them and I was starting to feel like a real badass, which is probably why I wasn't paying as much attention to my surroundings as I should have been—while my attention was occupied by the inventory of my latest undead victim, a pair of bandits snuck up from behind and creamed me with a shotgun.
That's not to say that everyone you meet is a paranoid, kill-or-be-killed social Darwinist, and in fact there's a considerable degree of cooperation to be found in some locales. But it comes cautiously, while vicious, violent death lurks everywhere. There are non-PvP servers for those who prefer less capriciously lethal entertainment, but while that cuts down on griefers, it also does away with one of the most undeniably exciting parts of the game: Random encounters with other human beings in which anything can happen. As frustrating as it is to be blown away without warning, that pervasive uncertainty is a central part of the survival experience, and Rust is vastly diminished without it.
It's not too soon
The Rust alpha test is available via Steam Early Access, and as you'd expect it's very much a work in progress. The graphics are no great shakes and you can expect wonky shadows, occasional clipping errors, and other glitches, and the sound effects don't even pretend to venture beyond minimal. Lag is sometimes a challenge, especially when you find yourself caught up in a spot of unpleasantness with your fellow island inhabitants, and simply finding someplace to play can be a hassle: Official servers tend to be crowded, while unofficial ones can be unreliable. Server wipes happen with major updates, so it's best not to get too attached to your stuff, and there are plenty of gameplay oddities: for instance, every animal you kill, from boars to bears, provides "chicken breasts" for food. (I haven't found any chickens in the game.)
Rust's alpha is rough, but it's surprisingly playable. The underlying systems are essentially complete and functional (or at least appear to be, from an outside-looking-in perspective) and recent updates have dramatically improved the performance of the server browser. Rust has a ton of potential, and it's an intense and impressive experience even now.
Release date: Out now via Steam Early Access
Developer: Facepunch Studios
Multiplayer: Server dependent, typically 128
Play it on: Dual-core CPU, 8GB RAM, DirectX 9.0c video card
This review is based on the current alpha build of the game.
We will re-review this game once it is complete.