Rock Star Roast
Almost 20 years ago, in October 2001, the revolutionary GTA III was released. It was repeatedly voted game of the year and best game for the PlayStation 2, and it was also the best-selling game in the United States.
The popularity of this game in its time is difficult to overestimate. It was played all night long, some gamers “got sick” not to go to work, students applied for essay writing help to free up some time for the game. By February 2002, the game has already acquired more than 2 million players in the U.S., which by the standards of the early twenties - a pretty serious statement.
No wonder other developers wanted to repeat its success. A year later Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven was released and compared to Rockstar, although Daniel Vavra started working on it in 1998. Four years later, the first Saints Row was released.
Over the past 15 years, these series have been overgrown with sequels and re-releases, the Volition franchise even had a spin-off, and now its reboot is being prepared for release. There are several new series that claim to be “the GTA killer” – Watch Dogs and Just Cause. Even LEGO has its own “GTA”: City Undercover, packed with references, is constantly at the top of the best games under the license of the Danish construction set.
The secret of their success is not only and not so much that they took something from the Rockstar hit. Each of these games offers a unique experience - not the same as GTA and similar games. Mafia is a series of crime dramas in the spirit of gangster movie classics. Saints Row is a dorky satire with interesting characters that they officially decided to relaunch because they couldn’t figure out how to raise the degree of insanity again. Watch Dogs has hacking, Just Cause has advanced destructibility, and so on.
They take only the basis from GTA, on top of which they lay the original ideas. Without them, none of the above-mentioned games could become so successful, even if they had references to all the works of pop culture in history. But the creators of Rustler apparently do not agree with this.
The Medieval Kleptomaniac
The plot of The “Grand Theft Horse” is simple: a bald robber decides to participate in a knight’s tournament and get half of the local kingdom. The main character’s name is Guy, and his buddy is… Buddy! And this is far from the last pun in the names.
Along the way, Guy will encounter the Spanish Inquisition (which, of course, no one expects), the local Batwoman, and her nemesis. He’ll also meet the Godfather, find the Holy Grenade, take part in the Colin McHorse Rally, and launch a cow with a catapult. In between, he’ll meet conservationists and a sect of round-landers, and ruin a modern artist’s installation! However, all this is only after he shows the papers at the checkpoint.
Sounds like fun, probably - a kind of mix of puns and references to everything. But there’s nothing else interesting in the narrative. Almost all of the interesting ideas are simply taken from other games and movies and mixed into one game. Because of this, at some point, the references stop seeming funny - you just start thinking that not only did the writers not come up with anything of their own, but they don’t know how to avoid plagiarism.
The structure of the story is the same as in the Rockstar games: before the big story task, it is necessary to complete several side quests. And the names of almost all the missions, as well as their content, refer to the same games and movies. You can recall “Shrek 2” in which the Middle Ages was served with similar allusions to modernity - but there, in contrast to Rustler, it was only a background for a distinctive storyline.
Most of the quests are spiced up with give-and-take references. At first, it’s fun to do them, because you don’t know what the developers are going to make fun of this time. But then you realize that it doesn’t matter: there’s nothing but awkward smirks towards other works in the quests. Some Marvel films are criticized for a similar approach, saying that the studio goes out of its way to make the audience laugh at the most inopportune moment.
A little bit of meaningfulness
The ubiquitous references and total nonsense did not “infect” the gameplay of Rustler, so it is much more enjoyable than the story. The developers from Jutsu Games have carefully transferred gameplay from the Rockstar games to Rustler, and even added a couple of their ideas to it.
The best part of Rustler’s gameplay (or even the entire game) is the skill system. These fall into four categories: melee and ranged combat, horseback riding, and social skills like quickly evading police in the woods and discount shopping. Upgrading gives a constant sense of progression: typical upgrades like the damage bonus are combined with gameplay-changing mechanics. You can, for example, learn how to reload a crossbow on the run or summon a horse.
The open-world in Rustler is not impressive: it has only two cities with narrow streets and adjoining areas. The rules are the same as in GTA: breaking the law increases the wanted level, which can be knocked down by repainting vehicles or collecting wanted ads. Special wagons trigger professional quests like delivering and rescuing the wounded.
The local kingdom has no charisma like Liberty City or Steelport. It doesn’t even have a name. But from a gameplay point of view, it shows itself perfectly: new locations open up as you go, and there’s always somewhere to go in the chase. Over time, you even get the opportunity to buy a place to live.
As for the guards, everything is ambiguous. You can get away from them on horses, of which there are several types in the game: each differs in speed, stamina, or amount of health. But the police can’t catch up with only the fastest one, which can be difficult to get. As a result, all other transport options become useless, and the guards seem too strong: they can catch up while you’re looking for the next ad, paint shop, or the right horse.
Jutsu Games has created a compact open world that satisfies basic player needs. Minimalism is noticeable throughout the gameplay, which the developers have approached with much more care than the narrative.
If in the story they tried to cram in more relevant and (more often) irrelevant elements, in the gameplay they tried to implement the basic mechanics of the inspirator so that they work, do not interfere with the player, and fit into the budget - no more. One does not want to scold for such an approach. Especially when you consider how many games because of the exorbitant ambitions of the creators do not meet the expectations of players.
Rustler seems to work well: an unimpressive combat system and monotonous playlist are excusable for a small indie game. But the lack of any bold narrative ideas is harder to justify.
Rustler loses itself in trying to make fun of everyone around it. It is especially frustrating to see such a game in the indie sector, which is loved precisely for its original and risky approach, atypical of AAA projects. “Medieval GTA” turned out to be… normal. Local humor can be quite tolerated for the sake of carefully adapted mechanics Rockstar, but the game Jutsu Games can not offer more.