The original GTA formula gets a medieval twist in Rustler from Jutsu Games. The Finger Guns Review.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then the original Grand Theft Auto and it’s direct sequel must feel very flattered by Rustler. The similarities begin the very second the game begins as you’re treated to a live action intro that has more than a passing resemblance to the live action opening to GTA 2. Thematically and visually at least, Rustler certainly stands apart from the 90’s Rockstar games that inspired a generation. It swaps crime filled metropolises for a sparser medieval setting and trades in the top down 2D visuals for an almost-top-down 3D art style. The structure and content of Rustler however feel comfortable and instantly familiar, replicating many of the signature touches in the first two Grand Theft Auto games, to both its benefit and its hindrance.
In Rustler you take on the undesirable role of ‘Guy’, a horse thief, thug and general miscreant. After killing a knight at the behest of his boss, Guy learns of a tournament to be held by the land’s nobility. Teaming up with his ne’er-do-well friend ‘Buddy’, the pair set out to forge some documents, crash the royal party, beat the competition at the tournament and make off with as much loot as possible. In order to pull this off, they’re going to need some capital up front so they go about their olde worlde environment pulling off outlandish jobs for a whacky cast of characters.
Much like the first two GTA games, the tone of the humour in Rustler will be divisive. While this is certainly an ‘adult’ game, I’d stop short of calling it ‘mature’. The game has a dedicated button to make Guy fart or burp, for example. Throwing poop at people is an offensive capability, in more than one way I suppose. Graffiti found around the main town simply says “F**k the King” which serves no practical purpose other than being a random bit of profanity. There’s certainly aspects of this game that are little more than toilet humour.
For every moment of uninspired, almost childish humour though, there are moments of inspired, irreverent hilarity in Rustler. The radio stations have always been an important part of a GTA games and the equivalent here comes in the shape of bards. You can hire these to ride/walk alongside you while playing their lute or beat boxing. They even change the song they’re playing when you punch them. The spray shops of GTA that remove any wanted level? They’re replaced by Pimp-A-Horse paint shops which will repaint your stallion. Ride in to one being chased by an entire battalion of guards and they’ll all instantly lose your trail simply because the brown horse is now grey. There’s more than a few well-placed pop culture references to catch too, most notably a few nods to Monty Python.
Most of the best moments in Rustler come in the window dressing to the quests. Sure, mechanically, these quests are nothing more than following an arrow to someone you’ve got to kill or something you’ve got to steal but the surrounding narrative is what makes them stand out. In one side quest, you’re working for a grave digger who’s business is dwindling because of a lack of war/plague so asks Guy to dress up as the grim reaper and to kill people with a scythe within a time limit. In another quest, you’re asked to kill a traitor and then cart their body off to a butcher’s shop. Upon arrival, the butcher offers you a meat pie, which Guy turns down. I can only imagine the content of his baked goods. In another quest, you’re tasked with dressing up as a sex worker in order to gain entry to a winery and then to sabotage the operation.
While many of the positive elements of the original GTA games have been adapted for Rustler, so have a few of the less desirable aspects. Driving carts and riding horses certainly feels a little better than it did to drive around in the 90’s counterparts but it still comes with a few foibles, most notably in relation to physics and force. It’s easy to get snagged on pieces of the scenery, some of which you’d expect to crumble under a horse and cart going full pelt, and come to a complete stop. The camera angle can be unhelpful; most of the environmental objects become translucent whenever Guy gets close to them – but not all of them. I got jumped twice under a bridge by a group of thugs I never saw coming. The combat, which makes up a huge part of the game, feels stiff and a little hit and miss. You’ll sometimes expend an entire stamina bar hacking away at a guy who doesn’t appear to be blocking – this could have been avoided with some overhead symbols of some kind. Some of the autosave points are questionable at best too.
One aspect of Rustler that’s totally divorced from the 90’s GTA games is an RPG-like skill tree. As you complete missions, you’ll be granted upgrade points. These can be spent to improve everything from health amount, damage dealt out, stamina cost for running or fighting, the ability to retain items when arrested and prices of items at stores. These do have a palpable difference on play; knights can be a real pain in the early game but after beefing Guy up with these upgrades, you can likely take them down without an issue.
These RPG like upgrades are one of the primary motivating forces in Rustler. Guy and Buddy are thoroughly unlikable people (and not in a Trevor Philips unlikable way) and while the tongue-in-cheek side quests are a fun diversion, the overarching heist isn’t exactly The Italian Job. Instead, being able to revel in the chaos that this game enables for much longer without dying makes for a more enticing hook than the games actual narrative structure. Like the original GTA games, getting into a spot of bother with the ‘cops’ just because you can is one of the game’s most cathartic and fun things to do. Simply going on a rampage to take out some stress in a violent playground is as fun today as it was in 1999.
It’s a shame then that some portions of the Rustler map feel more like filler than a fleshed out playground to commit crimes in. There’s characterless fields and forests that simply exist without any real reason for them. Outside of the locations that the game directs you to for quests or side activities, there’s little in the way of interesting landmarks. Compared to other games that have attempted to modernise the original GTA concept like American Fugitive, the map feels positively baron.
One worthy talking point is how this game uses the DualSense controller in some pretty inventive ways. When reversing a cart, the controller speakers will play out the beeping that accompanies a modern day truck while it reverses. I’ll be honest, I chuckled out loud when I first heard this. When you’re stamina is low and you don’t have enough in you to swing your sword, you’ll feel the inability to attack in the tension of the R2 adaptive trigger. As good as the DualSense implementation is here, it’s a cherry on top of a pretty disappointing cake.
That’s not to say that Rustler is a bad game. It’s not. It’s just that there is obvious potential for this game to be much more than it is. You’ll likely have a few hours of laughter filled fun with Rustler but not as much fun as the games that this cribs from and certainly not as much as the other games that have attempted to evolve the formula for the modern day. Rustler finds itself stuck in a weird middle ground – ironically holding onto aspects of the past that are better left forgotten while not doing enough with its new ideas and unique theme.
An homage to the original GTA games, Rustler is a fun medieval twist on what made those 90’s smash hit games so enjoyable. Unfortunately, many aspects of GTA 1 & 2 that have aged poorly also rear their ugly head here which makes Rustler feel dated and clunky in comparison to its modern day peers.
Rustler is available now on PS5 (review version), PS4, Xbox Series X | S, Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch.
Developer: Jutsu Games
Publisher: Modus Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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