Rustler, much like Grand Theft Auto adopts mechanics of the true top-down originals of two decades ago. Developed by Jutsu Games and published by Modus Games you’re about to become a medieval thug in a crazy open-world action game full of insane quests and pop-culture references. Kill heroes, rob peasants, steal horses, fight guards, listen to some bard music, and much more. Rustler clearly takes inspiration from old school GTA games such as GTA 1, 2, and Chinatown Wars, but how does the change from guns and driving around a busy city convert with this middle age take? Sharpen your sword and prepare for bucket loads of blood, vast amounts of swearing, and plenty of illegal activity.
GTA in a medieval setting you say? Tell me more!
After a hilarious live-acted opening cut scene you start Rustler playing as Guy. His parents were too lazy to give him a proper name. Guy is an adult now and he wakes after a heavy night on the booze with a black eye. This is a small introduction to his persona and you’ll quickly get into a scrap with a local. Here you’ll learn how to fight with your fists and block incoming attacks. If you have played the original GTA games you’ll be right at home with the layout of the game, borrowing that traditional top-down view from the get-go
It won’t take long till you stumble back home till you walk home back to your disappointed mother. She gives you crap about your laziness, your drunken state, and the black eye you are wearing on your face. She sends you to plough the fields to serve as a punishment. After this stage, the game opens up and you can begin to explore what is on offer throughout the game world. Believe me, there is plenty to do, see, and get involved with.
Am I criminal in Rustler then?
It isn’t long until you start to take part in criminal activity. There is a huge range of quests and side quests to undertake. I don’t want to ruin your playthrough by revealing any of the stories behind the missions as they are so incredibly varied and exciting to play. You’ll be working for an illegal distillery, killing perverts, trying to obtain fake documents, and just being an absolute rebel in return for cash. A life of crime always has you looking over your shoulder though. You have to keep on your toes and watch out for guards who are essentially the police. They patrol the lands on foot and horseback and hilariously chase you with flashing red and blue sirens above their heads.
There are a few ways to lose the scent on a police chase by hordes of guards on horses armed with swords. You can find most wanted posters scattered across the map, rip one of these off the wall and you’ll lose your star rating. The star rating, again similar to GTA, is indicated in the top left hand of the screen by guard’s heads. These range from one to five based on your notoriety level. Simple crimes such as running someone over on your own horse, stealing stuff, or being involved in some shady circumstances can gain their attention. Riding through the “Pimp-a-horse” points will also get the guards off your back, it will reskin your horses’ apparel to make you appear different. Think of these as the garages that would repaint your vehicle in GTA.
Grand Theft Horse
Horses are the key to getting around the map quickly. You can of course navigate around on foot but it will take you longer. Whilst riding on horseback is simple to control, it became the most major and only frustrating part of the game for me. You will find that on countless occasions that you will become stuck with your horse in a tight space and unable to free yourself. This became quite tedious especially if you were mid-mission. It meant reloading the previous save to start all over again. Over time I found myself only riding down main roads and through wooded areas, I would venture through built-up regions on foot. Some work really needs to be done on ironing out the issues to prevent this as it happened far too frequently.
Your four-legged friends can be located in the majority of the game world. You can choose to kick someone off their ride and steal it, risking being chased by the guards. Or you can often find a few tied up to posts. Some jobs require you to use a horse and cart which I found to be a little more reliable at transporting myself around but slower in speed.
How big is the game world?
It is always the most frequently asked question when it comes to open-world sandbox-style games, how big is the map. At first glance, it does appear to look on the small side. As the world opens up though, it is quite vast and varied with a balance of wooded and town areas. The first three to four hours of the game are spent on the left-hand side of the map. You’ll need to tick off plenty of quests before you can proceed to explore the rest of the land. The centre and right portion of the map is blocked off by police and not accessible until you have the correct documentation to cross. I won’t ruin the element of surprise on how to access the bridge as this is all part of the story. Once you cross this bridge you’ll find a really interesting development that gets you into a real sticky situation.
Weapons, skills and keeping healthy
Throughout your time in Rustler, you’ll find many weapons. Sticks, swords, spears, crossbows, and just plain fists. It was a nice touch that even if you died they appeared to remain in your inventory. You will find vendors dotted around the place that will sell weapons should you require one. I highly recommend turning the gore up to maximum in the settings, not only will this display larger amounts of blood splatter it will unlock an achievement as well. You can acquire a shield for extra defense should you need one in the heat of battle.
Finishing quests will grant you skill points with a large range of options to spend these on. The usual suspects are here, extra health, stamina, cheaper prices at shops, and more. It doesn’t really matter about your choices each time you acquire points as they come along thick and fast. This was a nice touch to the experience as it really felt like Guy was gaining strength as time went by.
Rustler isn’t easy by any means, whilst you can select a difficulty option even the easiest setting is a challenge. Keeping an eye on the health bar to the left side of the screen became the norm. Death doesn’t really impact you much other than having to play from the beginning of a mission or checkpoint again. Often becoming overwhelmed by guards can be difficult to fight your way out of, so I resorted to most wanted posters and Pimp-a-horse rather than going head-on with my sword. Health replenishments are scattered throughout, sometimes they are well hidden in barrels and crates and provide a nice boost at critical times.
Graphics and sound
Rustler is really well illustrated with warm and colourful visuals. It replicates those original GTA-style graphics and polishes them up to today’s standard. The dialogue throughout is presented clear and concise and is funny at every point. They have done amazingly well to get the balance of humour and seriousness spot on. The art style of the characters that compliment the on-screen speech is superb. I would maybe have liked to have seen some more interaction with people walking the streets and different character models there, but overall everything is wonderfully displayed. The lighting along with the day and night cycle blend in well with the surroundings.
The sound effects and musical elements are on par. From the silly mutterings of characters to beatboxers in the street, they have captured a fictional medieval world and not gone over the top with things. The plod of your horse as you traverse through quiet areas with birds tweeting in the background shows they have considered all parts of the game in their sound design. It was delightful to not have to witness too many recycled sounds whilst going through each town, village, or road.
Rustler is by far the greatest indie I have played in 2021. It took my hand and brought me back to two decades ago. Whilst it is a totally different setting and era, it echoes all the happy memories I had with the GTA titles. Playing a game with those same top-down mechanics is still as enjoyable now as it was back then. There is a good solid fifteen to twenty hours of gameplay here depending on how long you take. There are collectibles to find and other activities such as horse racing, cage fighting, and much more to extend longevity.
Where the game really excels is with the range of quests and how they all feel so different. No two missions ever felt the same and I just always wanted to keep playing to see what was next. The dialogue kept me engaged to the point I read everything and never wanted to skip a moment. The humour kept me smiling from ear to ear and I felt genuine connections with characters even though there was no spoken voice in the game. Despite some real gripes with horse handling and getting stuck, the rest of the time spent with Rustler far outweighs this annoyance. I was truly sad when I had done and seen everything, yet I will go back for a second play at the harder difficulty I loved it that much. My fingers remain crossed that they add more to this world or make a sequel. I would urge fans of the genre to give this game your time, it’ll be worth every penny.