I feel like a fogey sometimes when I think about games I played when I was a kid. Back when fully 3D open world games were just a dream, I was chain-exploding cars with one of the hidden tanks in Grand Theft Auto 2, back when it was a top-down style game. While that old school Grand Theft Auto style has been imitated, I don’t think anyone has come close to what Rustler has achieved.
Rustler is a top-down open world game where someone asked “what if we made Grand Theft Auto, but like, with horses?” The result is an often hilarious, highly satirical game that not only pays homage to classic video games, but is packed to the gills with other references. So, easy money, right? Not so fast. While Rustler can be a lot of fun, it’s by no means perfect.
In Rustler you play as a The Guy, a bald horse thief and bully, which is the perfect character to get into all sorts of medieval antics. You can either play Rustler as a medieval trouble making sandbox, or choose to complete missions to progress the story, which will have you performing all sorts of tasks, from stealing horses to killing knights. Combat is handled in a twin-stick style, and you can wield swords, polearms, and crossbows—among other weapons. Of course, there’s also horse rustling, medieval style. You can steal a multitude of different horses, each with their own speed. There are also carts you can steal, some of which allow you to partake in appropriate mini-games in pure Grand Theft Auto style.
While there are a decent amount of things to do in Rustler, some of them can be a bit frustrating for various reasons. Combat in Rustler is okay, but horse riding—one of the main activities—is borderline frustrating. Horses just aren’t fun vehicles in Rustler—they’re hard to turn, any collision can get you thrown off, and turning a horse around can be a pain in the ass. Carts are better, but they have some wonky issues of their own. For some reason carts have zero point turning, and you can spin them quickly enough to knock enemy pursuers off of their mounts. The most frustrating thing about Rustler, however, is its lack of autosave points. Sometimes I would have to repeat long stretches of gameplay if I made a stupid mistake. It could be argued that this is true to the old school style of gameplay it’s emulating, but in 2021 I want games to consider my precious time.
Rustler’s medieval setting is intentionally inaccurate for humor’s sake. My favorite part of Rustler is its strange, medieval-meets-contemporary setting where you can get in trouble for parking in a no horse zone, and guards will run you down in horses with flashing blue and red lights. It’s ridiculous in a Monty Python sort of way. Of course, there are loads of Monty Python references throughout too. But Rustler loses me a bit with its parody of a game that was already satire—all of the movie references kind of muddy the thing even more. Even so, there are some truly genius throwbacks to Grand Theft Auto, my favorite being the bards that are hireable, and act like radio stations to liven up your playthrough. They’re NPCs, though, so if you ride off without them you’ll have to hire another.
Rustler is a game that feels like it would be great for streaming. It can create some hilarious moments, sometimes emergently, but it’s really a one-trick pony that manages some moments of genius. If it had gameplay that was more polished, I would probably more heartily endorse Rustler—but it never really rises above the joke of its premise, nor does it seem earnestly to try to.
Rustler is available now on PC via Steam, and for Playstation 4 and 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series S|X and Nintendo Switch.
A Steam key was provided to us for this preview/review.
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