A survival game that combines many elements in interesting ways without ever mastering any of them.
Rust is a griefer’s paradise. There’s nothing quite like finding a guy sleeping in a forest and looting him before he wakes up, or camping outside another player’s fort and killing her when she opens the door. For those who enjoy deadly games of cat and mouse, Rust might just be the best survival game out there. But anybody more interested in building and exploration, or isn’t able to devote themselves to one game, may have a rough time.
Even though other games are better at specific elements like crafting, combat, survival, and exploration, I’ve never played a survival game that combines them quite like Rust. The way it blends survival and competitive genres is fun, especially if you enjoy the goofier bits, like firing rocket launchers at a naked man running from a pig, or being stabbed to death by a person blasting Russian music over their microphone and brandishing a spear. It’s weirder and less polished than the competition, but that’s part of the fun.
Every time you join a server, your life begins the same way: you wake up on an great-looking island, completely (and graphically) naked, as a randomly generated character based on your Steam ID number. Don’t expect any character customization here; your appearance, race, and gender are all locked. Plenty of survival games go for a grim, faded look, but Rust’s colors pop. The sky is a vibrant blue that I could stare at for hours. The vegetation feels lush and inviting, like it would be fun to wander through the grass barefoot. Buildings are often a nice, rusty red, which lets them pop from the green world around them. The desert and arctic biomes are enjoyable as well, though their environmental hazards mean that they can be difficult to explore without the right gear.
You find yourself here armed with nothing but a rock and a torch.
You find yourself here armed with nothing but a rock and a torch. In this respect, Rust doesn’t deviate much from the standard survival formula found in games like Minecraft, The Forest, Stranded Deep, or Subnautica. Using your rock, you chop down trees and gather rocks, which you use to build a rudimentary shelter while keeping an eye on hunger, thirst, and health gauges. Over time, you’ll find blueprints that let you build better tools, which greatly improve your chances of survival.
That progression can feel stunted, because finding blueprints in Rust is unreliable at best. duplicate blueprints for unneeded items are common, while essentials like a hatchet can be elusive. When that happens, you need to research blueprints for items you find in the world. That means finding a research table or building a level-one workbench, and then crafting a research table of your own. All of this requires you to have hundreds of the appropriate materials on hand to craft, and there’s still a degree of chance involved with finding the items you need to deconstruct. That leads to a lot of frustrating grinding.
One of the parts I found most frustrating is that, despite rocks being everywhere in Rust, only certain rocks are usable as the valuable crafting material known as stone, and I frequently ran into stone shortages. Wood is abundant in comparison, despite both materials being necessary for crafting early game items. I often found myself wandering through piles of rocks on the ground hoping they were stone pickups, but was almost constantly disappointed.
There’s a kind of zen to wandering around the island.
Rust’s resource gathering system as a whole is odd and mismatched. Certain items, but not all of them, have markings for where to strike to get the best amount of resources. Chop a tree and a red X will appear. Minerals and metals you can mine shimmer at the right spot. These points move as you strike, which can lead to some awkward shuffling around the resource as you try to maximize your resources. Worse still, player reach isn’t very far, so you can end up whiffing plenty of strikes while chopping down a tree right in front of you.
There’s a kind of zen to wandering around the island, wondering what happened to make it so abandoned. A few times, I encountered a mysterious grey helicopter which patrolled the island until it spotted another player and opened fire on them. I did my best to avoid helicopters after that. Airplanes occasionally fly overhead as well, but they seem to be friendlier, occasionally dropping supply crates. Rust doesn’t have a story like Subnautica does, so it never explains why you’re on this abandoned island or why helicopters are unfriendly and airplanes aren’t. Even The Forest begins with a plane crash.
A lot of the ability to progress is based on the luck of the draw. For instance, much of the best loot is found in radiation zones that require protective gear, so if you’re not lucky enough to find some, you’re going to have a hard time exploring those zones without dying. I’ve spent hours on a map without finding any kind of protection; other times, I was able to enter the zones almost immediately thanks to lucky radiation suit drops.
There can be over 400 people on a single server.
All of that happens while contending with hostile players, which adds a constant element of danger. There can be over 400 people on a single server, and they’re all potentially dangerous. Like the once-popular zombie survival game DayZ, it’s best to approach other people with a distrustful eye. Cooperation is certainly possible, especially if you go in with friends, but most interactions with strangers seem to result in trash talk and combat. Often, that’s just one player ambushing the other and killing them before they know what hit them.
Most of the text chat I encountered involved players colorfully accusing each other of various perceived injustices, ranging from being inexperienced with Rust’s mechanics to camping outside a base and making it impossible to leave. It was almost entirely aggressive and immature, and I was thankful that Rust included an option to turn it off. And it made me happier that killing them and taking their stuff is such a big part of surviving here.
Unfortunately, the combat never really feels good enough to be exciting on its own merits because of weak-feeling and inaccurate weapons. Don’t expect the terse battles of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds or Fortnite here (though some Rust servers do have their own battle royale modes). But the stakes are high: losing a fight with rare gear in your inventory can mean hours of valuable crafting and resource gathering down the drain. That adds a sense of tension.
The problem is, on heavily populated servers I often found myself killed before I had a chance to establish a base or try more peaceful pursuits; competitive Rust is not great if you want to try your hand at being a hemp farmer, unless you’re fortunate enough to find a group of like-minded players. One of the advantages to Rust’s structure is that there are plenty of servers out there; want to focus on crafting? Find a low-population server and you’ll likely be left alone. Only interested in the combat? There are several battle royale servers to pick from.
Fear of losing everything persists in an unwelcome way even when you’re not playing.
But the fear of losing everything persists in an unwelcome way even when you’re not playing, because once you start a game, Rust expects you to spend most of your gaming time playing Rust. Your base, for instance, will fall apart if you don’t constantly log in to restock its tool closet. When you’re not contending with other players, you’re busy scrounging for food, water, shelter, and heat just to stay alive. And even success is temporary: if you start on a new server, or your server gets wiped for any reason, you have to start over from scratch. Rust has no real persistence, other than blueprints for cosmetic items that you can receive as random drops on Steam.
Enemy players aren’t the only hazards in the world. I’ve been killed by radiation and misjudged jumps. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I was once killed three times by the same boar. The first time, I didn’t realize it was there. The second time, I just wanted to get my loot back and died while attempting to salvage it, and the third, I died while leading it away from my corpses from the previous two deaths, which allowed me to salvage all my original gear on the fourth respawn.
But at least after four years of Early Access, Rust performs well. What rough edges remain are limited to a handful of broken achievements, mild bouts of pop-in, and occasional rubber-banding on high-population servers. For the most part, everything ran smoothly for the 30 hours played for this review.