Wot I Think: Rust

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“Here, have some arms”.

I’ve been alive for about 2 minutes, and the first player I’ve met in Rust has just chucked a pair of severed human arms at my feet.

“I found them on a corpse just over there. I…may have killed him. But then I wasn’t hungry, so you can have them. Here’s some animal fat too.”

Rust is a strange game.

It’s a multiplayer survive’em up where you spawn on a beach with nothing but a rock and a torch to your name. Once you’ve gathered the right materials and built up a base, you can eventually craft guns, traps and explosives with which to torment your fellow Rusters – about 250 of them, if you play on the standard-sized servers.

You probably already knew most of that, because we’ve been writing about Rust for almost half a decade, but now that it has finally launched for realsies I’m here to tell you wot we really think. The transition to a full release wasn’t marked by a particularly big update – as this blog post explains in greater detail, Rust may no longer be ‘officially’ an early access game and has gained a bigger price tag, but development continues “as usual”. The main feature of the launch day update was a visual overhaul, along with a starting task list that provides some direction when you first spawn in.

Rust is good at generating strange anecdotes, as well as thought-provoking articles about the nature of society and morality. But just as a game, as something that’s meant to be fun to sit down and play… well, your mileage may vary.

I’ve spent most of my time in Rust dealing not with other people, but with survival mechanics. Managing hunger and thirst meters while gathering mundane materials might have enticed me once, but in 2018 I can’t help but balk at the prospect of hitting a tree with a rock until wood falls out.

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I spent most of my first few hours with Rust (though I did play a bit several years ago) roaming the island until I died from hunger, or at the hands of fellow survivors who I risked approaching just in case they’d feed me. Sometimes I would find a wild animal to slaughter – but they’re rare, and often ended up slaughtering me instead. When I did manage to avoid starvation and gather enough materials for a base, I’d get shot in the back of the head and have to start over from scratch.

But wait.

I said the other day that Rust is a game that’s defined by its harshness, and I stand by that. The thing is, it’s that harshness that makes eventual success rewarding. It’s a similar deal to the one everyone makes with Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds. Much of the time, you’re going to be screwed over by factors that are outside of your control. As bitter as that can be, it means that overcoming the odds generates a sense of achievement that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

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Let’s be clear though: the Rust deal is not as good as the one that Plunkbat offers. In an attempt to make chopping down trees and smashing up rocks a little more interesting, there are markers that you can aim at to accelerate the process. Those markers definitely help, but there’s no escaping the fact that gathering mundane resources is a fundamentally boring task. In the wake of Subnautica, which has you collecting strange alien flora and fauna while keeping an eye out for predators, how could collecting piles of wood by pummeling trees with a rock not feel lacking?

There are predators in Rust too of, course, only here they’re usually bipedal, naked, and shouting insults about your mum.

Not everyone is like that, sure, though you will meet a lot of children – both the literal sort, and adults that behave like them. Yet as unpleasant as some of those encounters will be, they’re part of what make Rust worth playing. Usually, people will just kill you on sight, but not always. Sometimes you can steer your attacker off their murderous path, and the joy of playing that game, the social one, goes a long way towards making up for the monotony of the resource gathering one.

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Playing the “how to convince this person not to kill me” game is great, because 1) observing people’s behaviour can be super interesting and 2) thinking up ways to manipulate that behaviour can be even more so. Bear with me on this, but I’m reminded of Opus Magnum, a puzzle game about using programming-like logic to build alchemical gizmos. What makes Opus Magnum a great game is how you have to invent your own solution to each problem, and come away feeling creative and clever.

Rust is, a little bit, like playing Opus Magnum with people. Something that the best board games recognise, but rarely video games, is that the humans playing them are their most interesting components. When you’re interacting with a person rather than a lifeless system, you can be inventive in ways that transcend typical puzzle solving.

I mean, this is a game where singing “Why Can’t We Be Friends” can be a useful defense mechanism. Employing that tactic, I’ve made people laugh and stop trying to shoot me – or at least help me back to feet after they have shot me. One bloke didn’t stop stabbing me, but he did start singing “Another One Bites the Dust” in retaliation.

Another time, while I lay bleeding on the ground, I launched into an am-dram soliloquy about the cruel earth and the murderous foes that stalk upon it. My attacker came over and said sorry, helped me to my feet, then gave me a pistol by ways of apology.

I don’t particularly enjoy the hassle of base building, but I do like how setting up in an area affects the dynamic between you and your new neighbours. I convinced an aggressive player to stop attacking me after I pointed out that we lived next to each other, and shouldn’t get into a feud. I had no weapons with which to fuel such feuding, but he didn’t know that.

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It’s those relationships that have got me invested in the bases I’ve built, over and above the attachment gleaned from simply putting effort into something. I’ve taken to making friends with my neighbours whenever possible, though I always grow my cloth-producing hemp under my house so they’re less likely to nab it. Lord knows I steal enough of theirs – I don’t typically attack people, but I’ll happily nick their stuff.

In one game though, that changed. I’d progressed to the point where I needed to build a furnace, and to craft it I needed an ungodly amount of animal fat. Furnaces allow you to smelt metal ore, and metal is a component of most advanced blueprints. Given the rarity of wild animals, I realised I’d have to turn to another source for my fat.

The first person I killed had just given me some mushrooms, an act of generosity that didn’t help with the guilt at all. The others that I slew were silent, all busy gathering resources when my spear slid through their backs.

It’s made me wonder if the amount of fat you need for a furnace has been set deliberately high, so that once you’ve been playing for a while you’ve got an extra incentive to be murderous. Again, there’s that harshness: you either become a misery to other players, or take a much longer route to acquiring the stuff you want.

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Player hunting offers a shortcut past boring gathering, and if I look at that through the right lens the dullness almost becomes part of the game’s appeal. The more obstacles that are in the way of cooperation, the more tempting it is to stab someone in the back, and the more meaningful it is when two players manage to restrain themselves.

Except that doesn’t really work, because playing aggressively still involves a lot of chopping up trees and smashing up rocks – just with opportunistic killing sprinkled in. At the end of the day, I only have the patience to put up with that grind for a certain length of time. I can marvel at the fortresses other survivors spend hour upon hour toiling away at, but I can’t face the hassle of building one myself.

I should also emphasise that for every memorable interaction you’ll have with another player, there’ll be many where you’re just killed. Rust is a strange, harsh game that’s worth exploring – but only certain parts of it, and only for so long. I’ll never commit to constructing my own fortress, but I’ll happily knock on the door of one belonging to another player.

Maybe I can convince them to let me in.

Rust is out now and available for Windows, Mac and Linux via Steam for £27.79.

23 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    Rust is one of those games that I would like to like, but it just feels so futile. Sure, I could spend hours hitting crap with a rock so that I could spend hours hitting crap with a rock on a stick, so that I could spend hours forging and whoops I got murdered for no reason back to square one.

    What’s the point? At least in other survivals you’d still have your stuff to show for it. Rust you just… start over, basically.

    Eh.

    • geldonyetich says:

      I think, “What’s the point?” is the question they were hoping to dodge there.

      The thing in, in those other survivals, you might indeed have stuff to show for it, but after awhile you have all the stuff you could ever want and realize that there’s no greater point to having it other than having it. (Unless, perhaps, you want to artistically express yourself by building something in that world, a popular choice being some sort of phallus.) In general, there is no long term point in survival games, and solutions are needed.

      The PvP survival genre thinks it has found such a solution. It is, in a word, misanthropy. But, more precisely, they introduce that the purpose is to be the top ape on the hill. While it’s true that, instead of bashing each others heads in, you could be friends for awhile, if you succeed in those ends then you’re just going to get bored in time and then it becomes a game to see who goes for the backstab first. Your perpetual goal is overcoming other people and, in having this goal, their goal becomes to overcome you. “My survival game needed a long term purpose?” asks the developer, “Your purpose is understanding that Hell is other people. Job done.” Welcome to the giant, never-ending rugby scrum.

      It’s not my bag. It shouldn’t be anyone’s bag, really. It’s a scenario we were happy to leave behind at about the time the chiefs of the tribes decided to think beyond simply surviving and start imposing order and ideals, and thus we stopped being tribes and started being civilizations.

      Yet, the inner ape is not always happy with this “civilization” idea. It seems to involve paperwork, endless toil, and taxes, and then you die. Being civilized is hard work for any animal, and humans fare little better! After awhile, little things like penicillin, not being murdered, and other causes of living past young adulthood start to seem like it’s hardly worth all that bother. For these people, there is Rust, and all the other games that look to harness the DayZ audience. Better that than the clock tower, I suppose.

      • Viral Frog says:

        “After awhile, little things like penicillin, not being murdered, and other causes of living past young adulthood start to seem like it’s hardly worth all that bother. For these people, there is Rust, and all the other games that look to harness the DayZ audience.”

        I’m one of those people and Rust / DayZ and their ilk are certainly not my cup of tea. Life is already hardly worth the bother, so I’d rather not play a game that’s worth even less of a bother. :P

        • Raoul Duke says:

          I know you’re kidding, but seriously. Why do people want to spend their recreational time doing something repetitive, hard and largely filled with unpleasant interactions with other people? You can do that IRL for money, then do something fun in your spare time!

          • Zelos says:

            Rust has no such “unpleasant encounters.”

            The baseline is that everyone you see kills you, like any other FPS. This is fine and expected, kill or be killed and all that. Almost everything beyond that is a *good* experience.

            People play it because of the sense of accomplishment. The vast majority of people never get to feel like they’re the best. Rust gives them that chance; enough skill and effort and they can be top dog, at least on their server. This is the same reason people endlessly grind ranked LoL despite the fact that it is the exact opposite of fun.

    • Kowie says:

      Its the dramatic adventures good and bad you have along the way not the destination that is the fun part of the game. Once you embrace the harsh cruelness of losing it all and just live for the moment the game becomes alot more enjoyable.

      Despite its lord of the flies vibe the game hardens you up and teachs you some valuable life lessons imo.

      ps for the best solo/duo experience stick to servers that limit the size of player groups.

      • geldonyetich says:

        Despite its lord of the flies vibe the game hardens you up and teachs you some valuable life lessons imo.

        I hope those life lessons aren’t mostly focused on misanthropic ideals such as, “People are generally untrustworthy so here’s how you learn not to have them take advantage of you.”

        Because the thing is, Rust is on the Internet, and the Internet has significantly less accountability than life. Not saying we’ll always catch the criminal in life but, when we do, they don’t respawn. As such, we don’t have to be as ultra conservative as we are taught to in online survival PvP games.

        My worry is that we staunchly defend games as not teaching people the wrong lessons to go through life in. If it turns out that’s not the case, the implications of online PvP gankfest environments are dire.

        • Marr says:

          There’s many classes of people in real life with about as much real accountability as your average pvp sandbox craplord. Anyone that can make more profit from screwing you than they’ll ever risk in fines, for a start. Your boss at work. Politicians. The Police, in many places. Those cynical lessons are far more valid than they should be.

  2. DinoSteak says:

    I’ve installed RUST 3 times since I bought the game in 2016…and haven’t broken 20 hrs. of gameplay.

    On final release I reinstalled to confirm they still had ridiculous numbers (200 wood for an axe?!?) and let out a sorrowful chuckle. Community servers blah bleh. This game has 0 respect for the players time, and the developers can’t be bothered to rejigger the math to make bring out (the admittedly) competent/interesting survival and crafting bits to boot. Only thing they care about is PVP because concurrent users = investors/sales.

    Can I have my money back please? You know what keep it, better I learn my lesson never to buy into these underdeveloped soulless money grabs again.

    • ShEsHy says:

      “Balance”, my most hated word when it comes to multiplayer games. It always means making shit harder (and unrealistic AF) for no reason other than itself.
      It’s also the second most important reason (the most important one being other people) for why I don’t play multiplayer games anymore.

  3. Uberwolfe says:

    Rust has given me the most unique experiences in my 30+ years of gaming.

    No other game has managed to instill terror in me like this game. Those moments when I’m passing the night away in my shack and I hear footsteps from multiple people creeping around my base. Or when you’re using night’s darkness to sneak some resource gathering and you hear the shrub beside you rustle gently.

    Or those moments of clarity and need for instant planning and action when you hear the tell-tale “beep beep beep” of timed explosives on your front door.

    Then there’s those heart pounding games of chasey when you’re pursued across half the map by a silent assailant with a hatchet.

    There’s also those memorable moments when players group to make something special, like a communal 7-eleven, a church or a massive penis fortress.

    Great game.

  4. Delta593 says:

    You know, I’ve never played Rust. It seems like the kind of game that’s far more fun to watch than it is to play.
    Case in point, I watched SovietWomble’s video he did on Rust, and the trick he pulled with pretending to be a newbie before pulling out a klashnikov knock off to fill the generous players full of lead, kills me everytime.

  5. Bobsy says:

    Is there an offline, single player mode? I’ve been hankering for a base-buildy survive-em-up akin to non-blocky Minecraft for a while, but I can’t (and never have been) interested in dealing with fuck-knuckles coming around just to torch my stuff.

    • DasBilligeAlien says:

      There are no-PVP servers. I played on several a year ago. For the base building.

      • Bobsy says:

        Hm. And is the base building good enough to sustain the game without the fear of losing it all to rando dickheads? How does it measure up to Minecraft, for example?

    • Bullfrog says:

      I’m the same, stuff like this and Ark look like they’d be fun but I have no interest in spending ages building something only for the server to get reset or (more likely) some dickhead to come along and steal/break everything.

      • User100 says:

        Ark fully supports SP.
        For one, you can adjust all the basic parameters (e.g. how much time you have to spend on eating/drinking/leveling), and secondly, your stuff doesn’t disappear overnight (or even when you die).
        And with a little bit of copying/pasting you can even keep multiple save points, in case you ever need to go back a few days.

        • Bullfrog says:

          Huh. Thanks for that. So it works like Minecraft in that you can play a local world or set up a server to play with others?

          • User100 says:

            I don’t know much about private server (I’ve only played it as pure SP), but considering that SP is basically just your own server, with *only you* on it, I would assume that it’d be the same if you invited others onto it.

  6. Seafoam says:

    Rust is one of those games I like to watch but would hate to play. And also I only like to watch videos where the creator has cut 90% of the boring stuff out.

    I suppose interesting player interaction would be cool, but if most of that time is grinding and getting racial slurs yelled at you then its not worth the bother.

  7. Railway Rifle says:

    Murdering others to harvest their fat sounds like a sort of holding-a-mirror-to-society idea of choosing whether to consider other people or exploit them as a resource for your enrichment.

    Also, if the game is now released, presumably further patches are for polish. But if you polish up the game, what happens to the rust?

  8. BORG says:

    Metacritic awaits your rating. It’s still pending submission there.

  9. BORG says:

    A week has passed and still no submission to Metacritic. Still says pending review. Pick up the pace, Matt.