In survivor series we drop in on some of PC gaming's most promising survival games. Today, Holly Nielsen takes her finest killing rock into Rust.
I woke up naked on an empty beach, with nothing but a rock in my hands and an unlit torch. Before I’d even had a chance to stand up, someone had bashed my head in. Just before my assailant finished me off, two naked people approached, killed my attacker and stood staring at me. While I waited for them to attack me too they looked down, dropped a rock at my feet, and ran away into the distance. My first minute of Rust was violent, brutal and oddly human.
You’ve probably heard of Rust as the game that people were outraged about as it randomly assigns the gender, race and sizing of your character. This online multiplayer survival game has built a huge following and has developed wonderfully bizarre communities. I’ve heard stories of warring factions who meet in a neutral ground ruled by a character who roleplays as the Swedish Chef from The Muppets, and people who wake up only to find themselves in a prison built by another player. It’s like a social experiment with added nudity.
As with most survival games the formula of gather, build, die, repeat is found here. The difference—that you start stark naked with only a rock—creates an added vulnerability, and a feeling that you're trapped in the embryonic stages of technology. Resource gathering of course involves a lot of hitting trees and rocks and wandering about in search of food and materials. Unlike many of its contemporaries Rust's tree-chopping and rock-bashing has a sense of weight. This is a welcome change to the plethora of Minecraft-meets-DayZ clones on Steam, where gathering involves little more than pawing at various objects.
By gathering resources, crafting objects and killing either your fellow humans or wild animals you gain experience points which can be spent on new items to craft. Eventually you’ll advance from the Stone Age to automatic rifles. Progress is slow but satisfying. However, once you die you can wave goodbye to your inventory and progress. Unless you’ve managed to build a storage, ideally behind locked doors and defences, your stash is either lost with you or looted by your fellow players. Death can come quickly from starvation, dehydration, hypothermia, falling, radiation or being attacked—and it’s surprisingly brutal when it happens. Your character screams and writhes in pain in prolonged death throes.
While playing I have met almost just as many friendly players as those intent on murdering me, which can feel like a rarity in online survival games. While there’s no singleplayer mode, there is still plenty of opportunity to focus on your own survival and settlement building. Of course there are still battle royale deathmatch servers if you fancy a spot of human-hunting. The lack of lumbering zombies (often a mainstay of survival games), puts the focus on human interaction and all the potential for friendship/betrayal that entails. Do you run and hide, or risk exposing yourself in the hope that other players will help you out?
There’s an eeriness to Rust's world. Sprinkled throughout the green and often pretty environment there’s abandoned industrial buildings that house valuable materials. From time to time an airplane will fly overhead and drop supply crates. These crates become a focus point leading to interactions between players that often end in death.
The mysterious planes and dilapidated buildings made me reflect on the chaos happening around and how bizarre the whole thing must look from above. Rust doesn't take itself too seriously. Before too long my character was running about the place with mismatching wellington boots and a pumpkin on his head. Thanks to a pleasant environment design and little humorous touches (like the pumpkin) Rust doesn’t suffer from the brown overbearing barrenness that some other survival games do.
The environment isn’t perfect however. I have seen quite a few trees, rocks and dead bodies floating in mid-air, and textures pop in and out as you run about. Slow progression can be frustrating as you can find yourself starting again from scratch regularly. Early levelling up follows a similar line each time so you’ll be repeating yourself a lot in the early stages of character growth.
Fortunately the developer of Rust, Facepunch Studios, is regularly patching and updating the game. There are weekly developer blogs on the website that outline updates as well as what the team are currently working on. There are also regular blogs to keep players up to date on the rest off the very active Rust community. It feels like an actively growing product, rather than an unfinished game that the developer occasionally patches. For that reason, and the solid amount of interesting features already currently available in its alpha state—it’s one of the most fascinating online survival games available.
Disclosure: Facepunch writer Craig Pearson used to write for PCG up until about five years ago.