Premature Evaluation: Rust

Every Monday, Rob Zacny gathers the raw materials of Early Access and attempts to survive against a world of crazed, screaming unfinished games. This week, he visits the ultra-popular survival game.

As I died screaming between a wolf’s jaws, collapsing in the snow that dusts the top of the mountains while listening to it gnaw through virtual flesh, I had a realization: survival games are fun as long as they are about the threat of death.

Death itself is underwhelming: a gateway to an ever-increasing set of chores and tasks that you must repeat in order to recover your lost progress. Inevitably, the process eventually repeats, and the to-do list gets longer and less fulfilling, which sounds a little bit like hell and a little bit like a parable about the human condition. Rust [official site], the multiplayer survival game from Facepunch Studios, seems comfortable with both analogies.

If you’re not familiar with Rust, or if you only know it as the Survival Game with Lots of Penises, it’s actually a weirder and more interesting game than it first appears to be. You wake up in a strange landscape, cold and naked with nothing but a torch and a rock to your name. Then, after a few minutes of trial-and-error exploration of Rust’s wilderness, you can start building crude tools out of loose materials, then using those tools to harvest more material to build better tools, etc. The tech tree runs from Stone Age materials all the way to automatic weapons and heavy body armor. Survival in Rust can become a fairly comfortable survivalist’s fantasy if you stay alive long enough… but death comes swiftly and with little warning.

Rust is the closest I’ve ever come in a videogame to feeling like I was living in The Most Dangerous Game or The Ruum or any of those pursuit-and-survival classics that students read every year in middle school. Every player you meet is potentially a mortal threat or a potential ally, which is common enough for a survival multiplayer game, except that Rust also functions a bit like a social experiment. It’s like someone gave Stanley Milgram a private island, a private army, and an endless supply of willing prisoners and said, “See what you can make happen here.”

Every few hours in-game, a cargo plane flies overhead and makes a supply drop that draws players from all around the map into a highly charged, dangerous confrontation over the mere possibility of treasure. There might be nothing very special in those supply drops… but there might be advanced gear that would be difficult or impossible to craft yourself.

Alternately, an attack helicopter sometimes appears to hunt down and kill any players that it manages to see, and its appearance is as chilling as it is unexplained. It’s existence is contrived, like everything else in Rust’s deserted, semi-industrial wilderness, but still unsettling. It’s something that forces me to consider what Rust looks like from above, as a bunch of half-naked, violent, and greedy people try and create peace and security for themselves in a setting of profound anarchy.

But eventually, you die. You didn’t hide quickly enough and the helicopter mows you down in the open, or you were too busy stalking a deer to notice someone has been stalking you for the past few minutes and literally all you hear is a shot before the world turns red and you drop to the ground. Or you die in the dumbest of ways: taking a shortcut over a mountain, and a wolf walks up a near-vertical cliff face to surprise you at the exact moment that you don’t have any of your good weapons equipped in the hotbar. A few impotent stabs with your spear later (a weapon with the worst hit-detection in the game) and you’re back to square one: naked and alone.

Well, almost. Rust is also a game about securing property rights in an anarchic world, a John Locke essay with a flintlock blunderbuss and magical crafting items. When you die, you have the option to wake-up again at a sleeping bag you’ve left somewhere out in the world. Ideally, inside a home you’ve built next to a supply cache and behind a locked door. With a little foresight, you can leave an inheritance for yourself of decent tools, materials, and weapons so that you can get right back to your survival saga of living by your wits and slowly becoming predator rather than prey in this hostile world. If you build a tool cabinet inside, then nobody else can construct anything near your stuff, letting you securely lay claim to territory. After a couple deaths, I was building two of everything and jamming my hilltop fortress full of weapons and material.

But some loss of progress is inevitable, and if you get on a bad run, that little rainy-day fund will get depleted and eventually you’re back to being alone with a rock and virtual genitalia (which will, of course, be the name of my forthcoming memoir). At that point, Rust becomes a far less joyous and evocative experience and something a lot more like shift-work. The first time you hunt a half-dozen animals and smelt enough metal ore to create advanced weapons and armor you feel like Ash in Army of Darkness. The fourth time you do it, and you’re chopping down yet another tree with a stone hatchet, or chasing a deer around some rocks? It starts to feel like survival might be a punishment rather than a goal.

The weird thing is, I think that’s contributed to a strange sense of community on some servers. A year or so ago, Rust sounded like a game full of half-naked sociopaths killing each other in front of a pig’s skull. Now, while there’s still a heavy air of distrust that hangs over the proceedings, there’s also more respect and cooperation. Neighbors ask to borrow tools to get back on their feet. Warnings go out regarding particularly violent players who are causing trouble. It’s not that Rust is turning into some kind of utopian experiment, but it’s definitely less the anarchy that it was in the past. Live, and let live seems to be the rule in Rust, unless someone has REALLY nice stuff and you have a clear shot.

There is an irony to success in Rust: the better you are at surviving, the less that will actually happen. Just before writing this, I spent a couple hours upgrading my building, building new weapons and ammunition, and collecting extra supplies to keep behind a new electronic lock. I have windows that afford me a view in every direction, and a kind of parapet on the third floor from which I can shoot down at anyone who starts trying to batter down my walls. I spend most of my time hiding from other players now, or hiding from the helicopter, or watching out for bears and wolves. When I think about a typical session of Rust, it’s a catalog of things that didn’t happen, of risks successfully avoided and bets wisely hedged. The brilliance of Rust is that it demands a lot of suspenseful work, attention, and planning to make sure that it remains uneventful.

Rust is available on Steam for £14.99 / $19.99. My impressions are based on build 1008380 on 7 March 2016.

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35 Comments

  1. ryryryan says:

    I never picked this up after the reboot it had some time bag.

    Fairly tempted to – but the issue I had with the old one was that you had to be on it almost 24/7 to look after your gear.

    Ain’t nobody got time for that!

    • ThrobbinWilliams says:

      Been playing solo for about a week and a half on a community server and have yet to get raided. Once you get decent defences up they will actually have to have a good amount of c4 to get into your base. Makes it way more fun when playing solo since they made it harder to just pickax through people’s walls and you have to use expensive supplies to risk getting in.

  2. Ruigi says:

    It’s really a shame that so many people get turned off to Rust due to either the (at some times and places) extremely toxic community, the high learning curve or just not being able to grapple with losing everything ranging from every night as a noob to the once a month “forced wipes” on all servers. There’s an amazing modding community; from Battle Royale and Battlefield servers to things like minigames, roleplay and “primitive” servers.

    Rust is a grand social experiment. Minecraft with sociopaths. But underneath the kids kicking down castles in the sandbox is a really passionate community and amazing experiences. I highly recommend checking out some of the Community Updates and content from the community.

    • theslap says:

      “Rust is a grand social experiment. Minecraft with sociopaths. But underneath the kids kicking down castles in the sandbox is a really passionate community and amazing experiences.”

      Don’t forget roaming bands of thugs labeling themselves as “clans”. And hackers. Did I mention hackers?

      • Ruigi says:

        Hacking is only really a big issue on unmoderated servers like the FacePunch Officials. I highly recommend Rustafied, Reddit (community run in official listings) or community servers. As for clans, resources and number is the metagame but a smart player can thrive solo or in a small group. I can’t blame someone for getting turned off by a bad experience on officals but smaller community servers are better to start on to learn the game anyways.

    • Disgruntled Goat says:

      My friend has tried to get me to play Rust.

      I’d rather drink bleach.

    • Solidan says:

      Hi Ruigi! We miss you! Just wanted to say that.

      • Ruigi says:

        I ragequit Reddit. :\ I’ll be on Rust Ages this wipe then maybe Rustafied Medium after that.

    • citrusninja says:

      Hey Ruigi, it’s hotshotjosh from Rust Factions. Have you taken a look at The Culling yet?

      • Ruigi says:

        Played a bit of the beta; I’m not big on symmetrical PvP. I do have my eye on The Black Death though.

        • BORG says:

          FYI, the game has never reached the beta stage. It’s still in alpha and is getting better. They’re also shifting towards including PvE.

    • ShortHandz says:

      NOt to Hijack anything here, but I do run a Newb friendly server for Rust. The toxicity level is pretty low. If any New players are interested.. or experienced players looking for a stable server. Server is linked below.

      link to rust-servers.net

  3. Cinek says:

    How does it compare to Ark? From what it seems these two are quite close, just run different themes – am I right? If not – what are the substantial differences?

    • Espritt says:

      Rust is definitely more…makeshift. All of the weapons are significantly less modern looking than ARK, and a lot of times you look either like a thug or a hobo because of the clothing (not necessarily in a bad way!). Obviously in Rust there’s no dinosaurs, and it’s more of a PvP experience with ARK being more PvE than Rust. Unless there’s bears. Run away from bears.

      • BORG says:

        The PvP is the testing stage to prepare for PvE. You do know that right? There are going to be big changes coming to Rust.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Andy_Panthro says:

    I’d enjoy something like this that was co-op, or perhaps even solo, but the multiplayer aspect and all that it brings just turns me right off.

    Playing DayZ was similar, but at least then there’s not much in the way of progression. The tense nature of the survival in DayZ and the short-term nature of it was about as much as I could tolerate (in small doses). Something like Rust requires a lot more time and effort, so any griefing would feel so much worse. But then, what else is there to do when you reach the top?

    • satan says:

      I really like the idea of the game, all games in this genre really… but my god the other people… last time I played I was out mining, an angry mob threw a hut/box on me and screamed ‘FAGGOT’ at me over their mics for about ten minutes.

      I went afk and came back, the crowd (about 5-7 guys) was doing the same thing to another person trapped in a box about 20 metres away.

  5. Metalfish says:

    That man has a pixelly bum.

  6. Zankman says:

    So, what would you guys say is currently THE best game in this genre?

    ARK?

    Also, I still can’t differentiate Life is Feudal and Reign of Kings… But I’ve heard that one of them is a) good and b) has a serious roleplaying or at least functional DIY governments and whatnot.

    • enamelizer says:

      For me it is still Arma 3. Either Exile Mod, Breaking Point, or if you want something faster paced, Wasteland or Battle Royale.

      I keep coming back to it because if I have to play a buggy, experimental game, I might as well do it one a huge map with fun vehicles and a great ballistics engine.

      • Howard says:

        To add to your recommendation, I would say ARMA 3 and the EPOCH mod is about the best experience out there. There are even PVE servers of said mod to be found that provide continuous missions to keep you entertained.

  7. Chillicothe says:

    The most social of games often have the most opportunities to help or hinder our fellow man.

    This not coincidence.

  8. Premium User Badge

    InfamousPotato says:

    I’ve enjoyed Rust very much, and look forward to continuing to play it once I get my computer fixed. It can get a little lonely though, once you have your base established, and don’t know what to do (I haven’t tried raiding yet, as it seems rather rude, but I’m slowly becoming more inclined to do so, maybe from someone powerful who wouldn’t be hurt as badly). I tried checking the RPS forums to see if there was a Rust group I could join, but I couldn’t find any.

    For those of you worried about the initial grind, I’d encourage you to check on the game in a year or so. The game roadmap says that there are plans to make gathering less grindy in the future.

  9. minijedimaster says:

    I stopped playing this game some time back. The rush to build up was kind of fun as was meeting new people and figuring out if you could trust each other. But it has NO endgame. It’s only end game is everyone having fully automatic assault rifles, C4 explosives etc… go and raid other people’s bases/fortresses. Basically turned into Call of Dooty. If I wanted to play CoD I’d go play it. Just stupid.

    • BORG says:

      You have clearly given up on a good thing then. Rust is evolving and changing regularly. It is also shifting into a PvE mode throughout this year which will continue to grow since now the core of the game is pretty much done. Be patient. It will become 100x better when the PvE comes into the picture more. There are PvE servers out there already with their own interesting and fun ways to PvE. Some play CTF even in interesting ways.

  10. cowalicious says:

    I’m disappointed by this for slightly different reasons to everyone else. Me and my wife bought in a recent Steam sale, but on her computer she is unable to log into any server, and on my computer I can log onto a server, but I get around 5 FPS (with a 970M cards).

    I know I’m not saying anything about the game, but this is my first experience of buying a game online that simply doesn’t work. I’m surprised it’s taken so many years, but it makes you realize how much of a pain it is to get any support. (i.e. I don’t want to spend time trying to work out what’s wrong with it…)

    • minijedimaster says:

      Do people really need to explain to you the meaning of “Early Access”… as in Alpha/Beta condition of the game? You’re playing on a mobile GPU on top of it. If you “don’t want to spend time trying to work out what’s wrong with it” then why did you buy a game that clearly states its in early access?

      • Kevin Baxtross says:

        Nah mate my pentium thinkpad can’t run it so the game is broken

    • Kevin Baxtross says:

      Try reading the system requirements next time. Yes it is early access and the optimization isn’t the best, but god damn you shouldn’t be downloading games if you haven’t the slightest idea how it all works.
      There is nothing “wrong with it”, it’s just that your toaster can’t run it. Laptops are a poor choice for gaming.
      In future do more research into the running requirements…this isn’t console where you just download and play.

  11. Parrilla says:

    Bought Rust like two years ago but only got about 3 hours in it. Never been able to get into these survival games.

  12. BORG says:

    For those of you who are distasteful about the game itself or the PvP, be patient and get prepared because there are going to be some very exciting things coming to Rust this year and in 2017. Be patient and don’t judge the game before it’s even out of alpha. Remember people this is an alpha – not a beta or AAA release title. It’s a work in progress that is getting better with time and ones out of early access, much content will be added thereafter. If you just quit playing and give up or don’t express your views and ideas to Facepunch you’re not helping the game to become better and more entertaining. Facepunch accepts many ideas and considers all comments regarding the game. Massive PvE content is coming and it’s going to give Rust a chrome finish that will change everything about the game. there will be PvE and PvP environments for everyone’s taste and that is what makes the game such a great appeal over many other games out there today. All I can tell you is research what is coming. It will likely change your point of view regarding the game if you can be patient. If you can’t then I guess it’s not for you.

    • Punisher_1 says:

      You know it has been about 3 years now. I’m not sure if anyone wants to wait 2 more years to see something slightly better?

  13. Punisher_1 says:

    I have 1100 hours in game and at this point the game is very boring. Face Punch has improved the game and then broken it to makes changes yet again to only break it some other way. Anyone that have played shooters will see this is a weak shooter at best it lacks movement options, quick reloads, limited interaction with the environment ect.. As for weapons it leave much to be desired, incorrect modeling and idiotic “game balancing” kinda ruins it as one would think the “Assault Rifle” would be an excellent weapon due to cost and difficulty to obtain just is another broken gun in the game. There is a long list of interesting things drawn up and paraded in front of the community but have never been released. The vanilla game state at this point is stale. Most servers are heavily modified to speed up the game play and reduce the grind of collecting ten of thousands of units of this or that to make anything. RUST has a long way to go before it becomes the game it should be.