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'Rust' Alpha review: Build cool things or die trying

"Rust" is one of many new games in the increasingly popular survival genre created by Facepunch Studios. With an environment and gameplay that emulate DayZ and a crafting system that allows players to create and stock their own unique structures there's a lot of interesting possibilities that "Rust" could offer.

Rust
Facepunch Studios

In the early days of the alpha build of the game Rust's servers were populated with zombies and every character started off completely naked, with fully rendered genitalia. Frightening, right? Thankfully in recent updates both features have been turned off meaning that only Rust's cold, lawless, and frequently bear-infested landscape is trying to kill you.

"Rust" offers you no missions, quests, or direction of any sort, leaving the players to act organically for better or worse. The gameplay is fairly simple, you collect raw materials and turn them into components to build structures that will help you survive. Along the way you're going to need to find wild game to kill for food and tread carefully as fall damage is pretty realistic. You start off with a rock, some medical supplies, and a torch that won't last very long.

After a few agonizing deaths you'll learn to harvest wood by smacking trees and build rudimentary shelters and campfires to protect you from the elements with the crafting menu. On most servers your initial time spent with the game is going to suck, mostly due to the fact that many "Rust" servers allow PvP and people often won't hesitate to annihilate you for reasons unknown. If the players don't get you then hunger, animals, and even the cold are just waiting to end you. Unfortunately the game's learning curve is pretty steep so be prepared for some initial frustration and agony.

Despite the game's strong hints that there's been some sort of nuclear apocalypse (you'll find areas inundated with radiation) the amount of highly intricate items that can be crafted is just bizarre. Things like assault rifles, pistols, and even explosive charges can all be created and are frequently abused. It's a common sight to see a fully-dressed gentleman with a scoped rifle murdering a guy with nothing but a rock and a pair of pants. Some of these items need to be researched using special kits and blueprints but the mechanic doesn't really seem to stop the proliferation of high-tech items that make their way into the game.

Aside from the fact that some people will always choose to be jerks in games, Rust's allowance of such items essentially breaks your immersion. Such things have tons of intricate parts that would no doubt have to be specially made in a factory. In "Rust" you can craft such things at a simple workbench with metal you've got from smacking rocks. I'd imagine most of us would be hard pressed to figure out which way was north in such an environment much less figure out how to make guns. "Rust" would be much more realistic if guns were rare drops that came with limited ammunition. As it stands now certain areas of the game are much akin to a FPS experience. It's obvious that Facepunch wants players to worry about other players as threats but the proliferation of so many powerful and complex weapons just jars with the games premise horribly.

Thankfully "Rust" does have plenty of non-PvP servers which is really where the game shines. People are generally more friendly and it shows in the things you see them build. The horizon is often dotted with high towers, fortresses and simple shanties made to last the night. While there's still the chance that someone will raid your house with some of the aforementioned explosives one can craft the occurrence of such events is far less frequent.

Once you've gotten down to building "Rust" offers you some intriguing choices. First of all, you have to think about your immediate survival. Once you've got clothes, food, and enough materials to keep warm at night you can start thinking about where and what you want to construct. Generally, a lot of people will stick near highly forested areas as there's a good concentration of food, metal deposits and lumber. But, with more people comes a strain on resources and the chance that people will attempt to raid your belongings. If you move further out you might find you're blissfully alone but now you're in an area where trees are farther apart and game is a decent ways away. One can choose to build on a high mountain top on a good defensive position, however building on such terrain is difficult and limits the scope of your creations. Even the layout of the structures you build can be designed to safely store goods or envelope a persistently spawning resource. These kinds of choices are organic, fun, and reward exploration. Many times I've found myself wandering just to scope out cool new locations or good structures to emulate. If you bring friends along such endeavors become infinitely enjoyable.

Rust's map is inherently dangerous though, which is some of the fun. While the zombies have been rightfully removed wolves and bears pose a constant risk. Unfortunately at present some of these animals seem to have a bugged reach when it comes to their attacks. I've had wolves damage me at a distance of around ten feet even with good latency. I'd really enjoy it if a game developer made animals not only look real as they seem fond of doing but also act realistically. Animals either flee from you, ignore you or become absurdly focused with goring you into oblivion. Survival games do best when they really immerse you in the situation of being alone and powerless in a realistic environment. "Rust" would do well to code their animals to behave like actual creatures and not simple stereotypes.

As of now Rust's map is essentially only partially habitable considering the fact that animals have set spawn points, meaning much of the playable space can't sustain human life due to lack of food. Farming crops would be a great way to fix this issue and might also facilitate player trade for the materials needed to start up agriculture. Considering that agriculture contributed to humans settling down and learning to live together I'd be very interested to see if such a mechanic could lead to player-created cities, something that "Rust" currently lacks. It's not uncommon to see two or three individuals working together but as of yet there have been no expansive settlements built by a multitude of people and that's a real shame.

If you're wondering whether or not buying "Rust" is a good investment I'd wager that it is. Unlike some early access offering on Steam the game has its core mechanics set in place and can be enjoyed for hours on end without any major issues. If you do join, be aware that some servers are liable to disappear on you every now and then and others will undergo sporadic resets that will wipe the entire landscape clean of player-made creations. On one particular occasion I witnessed a player actually crash a server by spamming text into the chat function, so I'd suggest you shop around for a server with players that seem to be amiable before building anything you're going to get attached to.

"Rust" is currently priced at $19.99 on Steam and is available for PC, Mac, and Linux systems.