New release game Rustler is pretty upfront about its influences, with even their Twitter page describing it as “Grand Theft Horse”. Developed by Jutsu Games and published by Modus Games and Game Operators, Rustler is inspired by the first two top-down perspective Grand Theft Auto (GTA) titles, but this one is set in medieval times. It’s an appealing proposition for sure.
It goes without saying that GTA is one of the most influential series in video games. Linking your game so blatantly to a franchise like that is risky. Sure, it gets you some attention, but it’s like a musician saying their latest was inspired by Prince or MJ. It is a big call to make for sure. So how does Rustler measure up to its influences?
In Rustler we play as a guy named ‘Guy’ who joins forces with a buddy named ‘Buddy’ on a mission to enter The Grand Tournament, the hand of the Princess is the prize. Along the way, we run into some interesting characters and find ourselves involved in various missions including shooting cows into the sky, digging up dinosaur bones, as well as some good ol’ general chaos and mayhem.
I got to play the game recently and things were looking pretty positive in the beginning. Rustler features a live-action intro video which clearly took its queue from the opening sequence of GTA 2 featuring similar music and editing. It is actually quite funny in parts, it sets the scene and tone of the game like any decent intro video should. But when I got into the game, it wasn’t long before a few gameplay quirks showed up that take the shine off what could have been a seriously fun game.
Fun fact, the original Grand Theft Auto started out as a racing game, but along the way, more ideas started to be included and it evolved into the criminal playground we know and love. Because you spent most of the time driving around, the gameplay was there to ensure that it was fast and fun the whole way through.
Obviously, because Rustler is set in Medieval times, there are no radio stations to keep you company as you tear around the countryside. Jutsu games got around this by giving you the ability to hire Bards to play live music for you. You can also punch them to get them to change songs. A fun and comical workaround. But there are a couple of simple yet important aspects of gameplay in the original GTA games that either weren’t noticed by the Rustler developers or ignored.
One of those things is perspective. In the original GTA games, the screen would zoom out as you picked up speed so that you could see more of the playing field to help with the driving aspect. That simple solution is missing from Rustler. The screenshots are a little misleading because you aren’t fixed to the centre of the screen. I found that the camera was a bit too zoomed in and travelling on a horse, you really can’t see far enough in front of you. The number of times I collided with another horse or a pedestrian by accident was a little annoying.
In those original GTA titles, the controllability of the cars and character was on point. That is something that Rustler has unfortunately missed the mark on. It’s pointless having a fast horse if you can’t really see where you are going properly.
It’s also worth pointing out that the horses have an incredibly wide turning circle. In one of the first missions, whilst I was being chased by local law enforcement, I think I had to make 3-4 passes to get the horse into the pimp my horse for a paint change.
Some of the AI is a little iffy as well. In one mission we are attempting to assist a church minister to rip off the locals and we need to assault the commoners to make them go to church. I noticed that some of them were getting stuck literally right next to the door just running into the wall. This also happened when I was luring some local rozzers into an alleyway where they got stuck by a nearby doorway, just running around in circles.
On the quality of life side of things, I also noticed that I was frequently left without a horse and sometimes in remote areas, which was not ideal. There are missions where you need to leave your horse behind and drive a horse and cart instead. That is KIND of fair enough, but not if the horse you had to take for the mission disappears when it’s over and leaves you stranded.
You also get stranded without a horse if you die and retry a mission from a checkpoint. The horse that I initially had when I reached the checkpoint had disappeared so it was walking for me. Simple fixes for this would be to have some horses lying around near the end of missions, but unfortunately they are a bit too few and far between sometimes. It’s not the end of the world, but again it’s just one of those little things that could have been avoided.
The combat is fine for the most part, no machine guns or flamethrowers this time around. There are plenty of medieval staples at your disposal like the classic sword plus shield, crossbows and even the Grim Reaper’s scythe. It’s pretty straightforward with a block and attack button. As long as you choose the right weapon based on what your opponent has, you shouldn’t have too much trouble progressing through the game.
There are certainly a couple of errors with Rustler, and some of those little things that helped make the first two GTA titles so playable got lost along the way. But it’s not all bad news, at least the humour of those classic titles have carried through to Rustler with decent helpings of interesting characters and missions to enjoy. There are loads of pop culture references including a well placed yet unexpected Monty Python reference pretty early on.
Overall, Rustler is a bit of a mixed bag. Old school GTA but set in Medieval times is an interesting idea and Rustler ALMOST gets there. It features some fun missions and humour influenced by the original GTA titles but it’s neglected some simple quality of life aspects that made those two classic titles so playable and that hurts the overall experience for me.
Rustler is available now on PC, Switch, Xbox and PlayStation.