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August 2022


Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Modus Games
Developer: Jutsu Games
Release Date: Aug. 31, 2021


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PS5 Review - 'Rustler'

by Cody Medellin on Sept. 20, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Rustler is an open-world, top-down action game paying tribute to the good old GTA 2 style and gameplay, fusing it with a historically inaccurate medieval setting.

Buy Rustler

The success of Grand Theft Auto III roughly two decades ago brought about many other titles taking inspiration from Rockstar's gargantuan hit series. Each of them varied wildly in both quality and success, and a few of them even helped to craft franchises of their own. The number of titles that were inspired by the first two Grand Theft Auto games, however, can be counted on one hand (American Fugitive, Retro City Rampage DX and Shakedown Hawaii). That makes the release of Rustler intriguing, as it follows in the footsteps of being an open-world, crime-focused title with a top-down viewpoint. Does everything else come together to produce an enjoyable experience?

In Rustler, you play the role of Guy, a low-level horse rustler in a tiny kingdom. After your latest horse heist, your friend Buddy discovers an invitation to a grand tournament that guarantees the winner lush riches and a chance to win the hand of a fair maiden. Thus begins your quest to con your way in to finally living the good life.

Everything that you expect from a modern interpretation of a medieval setting is present, from dirt roads and simple houses to the crop fields and simple clothing. It's all brown and gray with smatterings of green, but it's very familiar for fans of realistic and medieval fantasy. You'll also notice some modern trappings, from the graffiti to the presence of street signs. Guards ride around with flashing lights while in pursuit, and wagons with green crosses roll by. People use modern speech instead of ye olde English, and that goes for the slang as well. It's a strange merger, but it sets the tone so people know that this will be about as serious as a later Saints Row title.

The delivery of this type of humor is very hit-and-miss. Some of the dialogue in missions is rather silly, but a few of the jokes land well enough for a quick chuckle. Seeing people dump their waste out of second-floor windows or hearing moaning accompanied with hearts is novel — at least until you see it happen all the time in the exact same spots. There are numerous references to other works, but some can feel overused, especially the Monty Python ones that have been rehashed countless times in other titles. The presence of burp and fart buttons may please those with more juvenile humor, but the constant presence of bards never ceases to be funny. The fact that they can be hired to play music for you all the time might be off-putting if you're on a money-related quest, and the need to punch them to change songs is nice, but the fact that they belt out medieval versions of songs from various genres is astounding in a good way.

As alluded to earlier, this is a top-down, open-world affair, though presented slightly askew instead of directly from above. If you've played such games before, you know how it all works. Mission markers appear near people or places, and you can take on any of them at any given time. Missions range wildly from retrieving stolen horses to sabotaging people's property. Things can also get silly, such as having to wait in line to get a license for a distillery. Many missions are mandatory, but there are plenty of side missions and other activities, such as medieval cage fighting, horse races, or something more mundane, such as tilling your field.

Of course, you can burn time by ignoring all of this and simply running amok, jacking horses or killing guards. Once alerted, the game follows the classic star system, but the major difference is that trying to hide out somewhere doesn't stop the cops from coming after you. Instead, you can either ride through a shop to change the outfit for your horse to reset the star count or tear down wanted posters to drop the meter one star at a time. The focus on melee weapons and the laborious method of reloading your crossbow means that the fighting is in close quarters; it helps the game stand out from its contemporaries, where everything devolves into gunfights. The one flaw is that none of the horse shops or wanted posters are placed in random spots, so chases devolve into taking the same routes to the same places.

Beyond the medieval setting and an emphasis on swords and sticks instead of guns, things are pretty much by the numbers. One thing that works in Rustler's favor is the overall length. Considering that many open-world games try to squeeze in as much playtime as humanly possible, this plays like an indie title since the main campaign is roughly eight hours long. The nature of the game and presence of side missions means that you can spend a good chunk of time trying to reach 100% completion status, but the time is more reasonable when compared to the bigger titles in the genre. For those who get fatigued from the length of other open-world titles, this can be beaten in a reasonable time frame.

If you're good with the scattershot style of humor, then all of the above sounds like a good time, especially if you're a lapsed open-world player. However, a few design decisions and other issues start to mar the experience. The biggest of these remains the lack of checkpoints for missions. Whether it's a side mission or a main quest, some go on for quite a while or consist of multiple segments. Death or messing up enough to miss an objective can easily fail the mission, and that means having to restart at the beginning — cut scenes included — which is more than a minor annoyance.

The top-down nature of Rustler and the camera angle do a good job of hiding some important things, like fences that can't be broken, making traversal a bit cumbersome. This is highlighted when you're riding a horse and the fisheye lens obscures all of the tree trunks in the forest. There's also the issue of the AI being rather busted on both sides. Things play out fine when the characters are working against you in combat or in races, but things play out poorly otherwise. Bystanders walk around in small circles, and companions fail to follow you or get stuck behind walls. This is especially frustrating when it occurs during very long missions.

The presentation works well enough, despite some imperfections. The viewpoint means that the environments get the lion's share of the details, while the characters are still fairly detailed, mostly due to the use of distinct colors for the more important people in the world. The animations are smooth, and the screen can hold a decent number of people in it, but what's perplexing is how the PS5 iteration still exhibits frame rate drops and slowdown. Considering that the game doesn't look like it's pushing the hardware enough, it's surprising when the game drops way below 60fps. As mentioned earlier, the music is excellent due to the medieval renditions of modern genres, but you'll hate the abrupt cutoff when you move away from the bards. Meanwhile, the gibberish that plays whenever a dialogue box appears is charming, but hearing actual voices when you're being chased or confronted by guards muddies that magic a bit.

Rustler can be a fun enough game if you're willing to forgive some of its flaws. The missions may not be that different from other genre titles, but seeing it all play out from a top-down viewpoint can trigger nostalgia for those who have dabbled in the older titles. The humor is subjective enough, and the overall length feels just right, but some can attribute this to bugs and design decisions that may feel archaic nowadays. Rustler may not be for everyone, but it's good enough for those who aren't too fussy about their games.

Score: 6.5/10

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