When Minecraft was first released, it spread like wildfire thanks to one thing and one thing alone. Creativity. There we were playing in someone else’s world, with tools they’d given us, to complete a story they wrote. And suddenly someone found a way to turn Lego into a game.
The feeling of freedom and opportunity it gave is hard to understand, though, when four years down the line you pay fourteen of your hard-earned pounds to play Rust, a boring hut simulator.
Spawning with a large rock for some reason that’s never explained, players of Rust must run around a world hitting trees to gather wood, which, from a menu, they can set about crafting into huts and barricades through the wonderfully inventive method of clicking a button.
The first task seems to be to gather enough wood to construct a fire and a small hut. The second is to acquire weapons. The former of these tasks is fantastically easy, given the preponderance of forests, although it does have the distinct disadvantage of being the place most players stop, leaving servers littered with ugly wood huts like the planet of the outhouses.
The second of those tasks is made considerably more difficult than it needs to be by the uneven and overly sparse distribution of natural resources. In Minecraft, to which this game draws inevitable comparisons, materials could be mined and some were indeed rare, but it was always feasible to find reasonable amounts and the most elusive ones were those used in high-end equipment.
Here, though, such rudimentary elements as stone are difficult to come by in sufficient quantities to make anything worth having. This, despite the fact that stone, in non-mineable form, litters the environment almost as much as empty wooden huts.
The promised appeal of Rust was the fact that it was a survival game with Minecraft-style crafting elements. It would be wise for the developers in future to avoid going head-to-head with both DayZ and Minecraft, because that is a fight it will almost inevitably lose.
If it wasn’t for the presentation, which is good, it wouldn’t have many redeeming qualities at all. That’s ‘good’ mind, not perfect. The trees are curiously low-polygon, as are rock formations and the textures are not as wonderful as the game’s trailers might make them appear. Audio-wise it’s a complete non-starter, with no memorable music and rather poor-quality sound effects.
Another small gripe is that there’s a complete disconnect between a lot of actions and their results. Hitting a tree with your large rock adds one wood to your inventory (when it actually works) but is completely unsatisfying thanks to the lack of any physical effect upon the tree. It’s the old MMORPG problem of combat coming down to two character models waving weapons in the air and watching numbers emerge from one another’s heads.
There’s something deeply lacking about this game, and for the price (the same as Minecraft) it leaves a distinctly unpleasant taste in the mouth. Whether that’s buyer’s remorse is irrelevant – is the product is worth it, any price should be acceptable. This product is not worth it.
I stopped playing Rust after a while, and it’s not because of any presentational or gameplay aspects. They’re all functional and if the graphics are a little ropey it’s down more to being an online multiplayer game and in alpha rather than poor design.
The problem is simply that there isn’t yet enough to do. Even in their early stages, Minecraft and Terraria gave us ugly worlds with a lot of scope for expansion. Rust gives us a gilded cage, and fails to understand what made Minecraft fun wasn’t the ability to make a big house, but that doing so required real effort, grafting for hours with a pickaxe to collect materials and wandering around dangerous ledge placing floors and torches block by block. There’s no difficulty to merely collecting the materials and clicking an option in a menu. Even assembling the crafting patterns by hand at least had some creative element to it.
Rust shows us the dangers of releasing a game in Early Access to raise funds. While it may make production easier, it risks raising ill will against those who paid full price for an alpha they don’t like. Better, in most cases, to raise funds via Kickstarter or similar, and not release any playable game until at least late beta stages so as to avoid disappointment.
The Rust team claims “This is 10% finished” and the question is “why release it then?” Surely releasing a game in a barely-playable state is only likely to put off potential buyers who aren’t well enough informed to know that it will vastly improve in future. Surely another two or three features could have been added, a couple of mechanics tweaked here or there, before releasing this? It seems an immense tactical error and one from which the developers, the lovingly named Facepunch Studios, may suffer.
If you have £15 to spend on video games and haven’t got Minecraft, then get it. If you’ve got £15 and have Minecraft, spend it on two pizzas, invite a friend over and build yourselves a giant obsidian skull fortress. It would be much more fulfilling than the alpha version of Rust.