Dig for gold in this Early Access mining sim, and then keep digging, and then dig some more

I respect a sim that doesn't skip steps. I don't always enjoy a sim that doesn't skip steps, but I respect it. Gold Rush: The Game doesn't skip steps.

As its name implies, Gold Rush: The Game is a game. It's also about mining for gold, not in some cartoony Minecraft-esque fashion but in a realistic sandbox simulation. And this Early Access sim strives for that sort of extensive realism the best sims have. You don't simply tap a key to get into your truck and drive. You open the door and climb in, start the engine, deactivate the parking brake, and—this is so important the game will constantly remind you of it—disable the differential lock while driving on asphalt.

You don't just rent or buy a claim from the menu, you drive to the bank, park your truck, turn off the engine, apply the parking brake, get out, and physically walk over to the building. You don't just pick mining equipment off a list, you drive to a warehouse, walk around it, pick out the items you want off the shelves, go to the cashier, pay for them, then go outside and load each item, one by one, into the back of your truck. 

Perhaps you do this a bit clumsily.

I drive along dirt roads and a few paved ones (always disabling the differential lock) and finally arrive at the claim I've rented. I park and unload the gear I've bought: the Hog Pan (pumpless), the Hog Pan Sluicebox Core, two Hog Pan mats, and a bucket. Once various Hog gear is on the ground, I walk around the claim for about ten minutes until I discover the mining area is actually in one small spot at the edge, so I reload all my gear, drive over, park, and unload everything again. I set up my Hog stuff and excitedly prepare to discover my weight in gold. What I really discover is a lot of digging.

Gold Rush doesn't skimp on the digging.

It's pretty cool that while you're spending long minutes digging shovelfuls of dirt into a Hog that the ground really warps and deforms. I even slid into the hole I was digging at one point and had to hop out. Like I said, respect! And, a lot of boredom. It's just not that interesting to shovel dirt, and you have to shovel a lot of dirt.

It takes 10 shovelfuls to fill the Hog to 100%, and the simulation does not spare you a single one of them. Then you carry a bucket to the stream, fill it with water, walk back to the Hog, pour the water in, and wait as it washes the dirt over the mats. The UI that hovers over the equipment is clean and useful as it shows you the percentage of dirt left in the Hog as it pours down the sluice, and how much of your life you are letting slip away while you watch this:

On the plus side, Gold Rush is quite attractive, and you can see things really working. Things with water in them look like they have water in them and things with dirt in them look like they have dirt in them. You can tell if water is clean or dirty just by looking, you can see the dirt and water pouring and, uh, sluicing, I guess. The point is, it's all visually represented very well. It's nice to have something to admire while standing there endlessly digging and pouring and waiting.

Did I win? Did I make gold yet? Not quite. The idea is to have four mats set up (I have two) and repeat the digging, dumping, and pouring until all four mats are at 100% capacity. I just can't bring myself to wait that long, so I begin pulling the mats out as soon as I see even a tiny bit of gold lodged in them.

Of course, it's not as easy as just picking up a mat and having gold appear in your inventory. Once again, you fill the bucket from the stream, then dunk a rolled-up mat into it. Of course, it's not as simple as that, either: you have to dunk each mat a total four times until it's clean and the presumably gold-heavy dirt has washed off into the bucket. And, you can't dunk all four mats unless you have four buckets, because the bucket water becomes too dirty after a single mat has been dunked.

Once the mat is clean and the water is dirty (and hopefully dirty not just with dirt but with gold) you pour the bucket into the pan. Then you bring the pan to the other, bigger bucket, which you've forgotten to fill with water, and which you accidentally bump into the river and then also accidentally cause to fly into outer space:

But that's okay, you've had the foresight to buy an extra bucket (actually that was an accident too, while shopping, but it saves you a long drive back into town to visit the warehouse, so let's just call it foresight).

When you've filled the backup bucket with water you can put the pan in, and then wonder how this works because the controls menu for this task doesn't actually come up properly, so you just start pressing keys and mouse buttons, which first makes the pan lift up so high you can't see it, then scatters your dirt clumps into the air, as if in celebration of an hour of lost work.

But hey, this is Early Access, so I can forgive a few physics problems. I do, eventually, manage to pan some gold using the gunk from my second mat. After carefully dunking, then sloshing, then peering, a single gold nuggie appears among the wet dirt kibbles. I manage to pry it it out with a special tool, and I'm so excited with my find (it is actually a bit exciting) that I jump into my truck and speed into town (well, I walk to my truck, open the door, climb in, start the engine, disable the parking brake, and slowly drive into town while making sure to disable the differential lock when driving on asphalt).

The bank, unfortunately, doesn't deal in nuggets, only bars. Do I have enough nuggs for a bar? According to the blacksmith, no. My starting gold was .035 of an ounce, and my little nuggie has only brought me to .05 of an ounce. At least I can sell the nugget itself for a whopping $48. Considering the claim I'm jumping costs $25,000, and even just the equipment I've bought cost about $200, I'd say I've got a bit more work to do.

Another way to look at it is that I don't have a bit more work to do, because I'm not going to do this anymore. I respect the simulation of Gold Rush, but respecting it isn't the same as enjoying it. Maybe it does get really fun and satisfying once you've got heavy machinery and automation going, but I played for two and a half hours and didn't even make $50. I think I can chalk up digging alongside my other least-favorite activity: chopping down trees.

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.