Back around four or five years ago, DayZ exploded in popularity, and with it came a glut of survival game copycats. Some of them, like Subnautica and The Long Dark, ended up emerging from early access mostly delivering on their development promises. Others, like ARK: Survival Evolved ended up becoming bloated by feature creep. Rust almost had a similar fate in its four years of early access,but Garry Newman, the Garry’s Mod designer and head of Facepunch Studios, managed to release a solid product—even if it doesn’t garner the fanfare I once envisioned when these products were “released.”
Rust is a survival game that ticks off every box in the genre: open-world, crafting, hunger/thirst, day/night cycle, base construction, procedural generation. Now, this may seem like a laundry-list of complaints to some more jaded early access survival enthusiasts, but the fact that Rust manages to successfully incorporate all of these aspects into the game is quite impressive.
Like many games in the survival genre (and now some outside of it) Rust players need to keep their characters fed and hydrated. There is a day/night cycle, but in Rust there is no need to sleep. You can hunt animals for meat, forage, or even farm a bit along with base construction (more on base construction later). The biggest challenge in Rust will come to the new players—those who have never played before, and are just learning the mechanics. Like too many games in the survival genre, Rust does little to help the player along—instead relying on players learning how to play second-hand. Unfortunately, there is no official Rust wiki, and most of the new player resources are years old. This causes Rust to feel not like a game that’s been recently released but instead one that has been already years old–plucked after being over ripened on the vine, perhaps.
To start Rust, you choose a multiplayer server—either an official one, or a community run server—and then you spawn naked and alone. The best you can hope for is survival. The community itself swings between helpful and outright cruel. Unless you’re organized, experienced, or with friends, you’re likely going to meet your death more often than not—especially at the hands of a random player. That is, after all, one of the main activities in Rust: player versus player combat—sometimes on a HUGE scale. In the past (and present, presumably), Rust players have formed huge alliances and created sprawling structures as both defense against their enemies, and as a challenge to them.
Bases in Rust can range from single person dwellings to the aforementioned fortresses. There is a surprisingly robust “permissions” system in Rust, allowing the distribution of keys for locked doors to other players, coded entries, assigning of sleeping bags, etc. This is to make sure that only people that you want into your buildings get in and get access to all of your loot. These buildings persist when you’re offline, so sturdy construction or putting smaller structures in a surreptitious location is recommended. Building these structures takes a lot of material, and upkeep is a constant challenge. That challenge only increases as buildings get larger. The actual construction mechanic is a bit frustrating, and cumbersome to use—but really no more so than the majority of modular building systems in games. Still, it might be Rust’s roughest feature.
Item crafting is essential to survival, and crafting (and placing) a sleeping bag is the only way you can choose where to respawn with your current character. You’ll be just as naked upon rebirth, but at least you’ll be in a familiar place. Heavier clothes are needed to survive in colder biomes, body armor can be crafted to ward off against attacks, etc. You gain access to higher tiered, and thus more technologically advanced items through blueprints, eventually working your way from a bone spear to an assault rfile. Any blueprints you learn persist through death (but not server wipes!) so player death doesn’t mean losing everything.
Most maps I’ve played in Rust during this review were procedurally generated, and impressively so. I’ve played a lot of the survival genre, and procedurally generated usually means obvious tiles, ugly landscapes and uninteresting environments. Facepunch Studios figured out the special sauce for Rust because their terrain generation works well. Most of the time I forgot I was even exploring a procedurally generated map. Sure, the major landmarks or “monuments” are the same you’ll find in other maps, but everything fits together believably and (mostly) without weirdness. The play areas are variable, but often so big that even at its 200 player capacity you may wander for a while before running into another soul.
Instead of gamers rejoicing for the final release of all of these early access survival games lately, most have moved onto the “next big thing.” These survival games are quietly ticking over from a prerelease “0.9” to a full release “1.0” with only a press release and patch notes—sans fanfare, and sans the community which brought most of these games to popularity. Rust’s numbers have dwindled since its initial popularity, but there are still thousands of naked cavemen on its servers knocking down trees with rocks. Rust succeeds because it was able to deliver on its lofty promises in a way most early access survival games didn’t. Facepunch Studios fought off feature creep, survived years of development and is now finally available on Windows, Linux, macOS and other Mac operating systems.