James cautiously tries out Rust, only to find himself hooked and hurling chicken breasts at people at 2AM before work.
By James Pinnell on April 3, 2014 at 12:14 pm
It started out, as many stories in Rust do, as violent, dark, creepy and volatile. I was naked, cold, and scared, armed only with a rock, dropped deep in the middle of a wide shanty town, neighbours literally blowing each other away with homemade shotguns, each brief muzzle flash illuminating another blood spray. I kept low and didn’t use my torches, instead dragging my naked body through the mud and away from the massacre. I later learned that these raids are a common, hourly, occurrence.
I also learned quite quickly that bears like to attack humans.
Rust is many things to many people, and to those who haven’t fallen into its grasp but instead look through a Twitch or YouTube window, it looks simply like DayZ mixed with Minecraft. To an extent, it is — the crafting and survival elements of the game are neatly in tune with its spiritual predecessors, but at the same time, is nothing like them at all. At its core, Rust is about primal survival. There are no NPCs, aside from wildlife. Your avatar regularly hungers for cooked food, gets cold late at night, and relishes the comfort of fire and shelter. During the day, you risk your life against the many unknown players who also seek the same limited resources, plunging players into decisions that many surprise even them.
Unlike DayZ, which very much relies on players to continue moving in order to stay ahead of death, Rust allows a sense of safety and fortification (however false and short lived) via its fairly buggy but still solid crafting system. Players can mine resources and build bases to house themselves or groups, which can range from the friendly to downright psychotic. In some areas, gangs of raiders roam from hill to town, blowing doors of forts with C4 and pillaging the hard fought goods from storage boxes inside. In others, loose alliances work together to secure areas allow for mutually assured protection, and to facilitate a stable existence.
This game has done strange things to me, putting me in positions that have changed how I play sandbox titles. I have always been drawn to group play, finding people and teaming up with them. But the turbulent period many face in Rust can easily be overcome by a friendly face — in most cases, players on their own will barely scrape together a small tidbit of wood and stones to forge a basic hut, easily robbed but big enough to build a fire. It doesn’t help that Rust makes sure you don’t cheat to find your friends — even with online maps, a lack of coordinates and very similar ground meant a 3 hour search for my cousin via Steam chat.
After countless deaths and one hell of a cross-country run, I set up shop in between a valley and a wasteland to become a mountain hermit. The contentious and violent field a few clicks away held enough livestock for hunting, minerals for mining and trees for felling that I didn’t really require any help. For three nights I toiled away, building my fort and stockpiling my resources. On the second night I was approached cautiously by another fellow, where we discussed the terms of my continued existence — if I played nice, so would they. I graciously agreed to the terms, promising that I would stay on my side of the field.
The third night was especially rough — the hunt for my cousin would ultimately force me to leave my mountain and trek through the unknown — losing countless weapons, resources and testing the patience of my new allies who came to my aid on more than one occasion. On one lucky moment I happened to find an airdrop — the game’s disturbing attempt to force a Hunger Games-style killing spree by parachuting valuable supplies onto a random area of the map. My delivery of explosive materials to my bodyguards was returned via a host of survival goodies. I realised then that it was 2AM. I was hooked.
Rust‘s complete lack of scope, its basic client and limited toolset create situations and positions that even DayZ would struggle to duplicate. The removal of zombies makes human nature both a mortal enemy and a gracious friend, continually putting players in positions where they do not know if they can trust a single soul. Any new player is surrounded by shirtless men and repeatedly barraged with voice chat houndings of “Friendly? FRIENDLY?”, hatchets in hand, waiting impatiently for the player to respond in kind. In most cases, I found the best of me would come out — 3 chicken breasts and 100 wood thrown in front of the newbie, enough for a small shelter and a day of sustenance.
Each server becomes its own ecosystem, its own experiment in the nature of who we are. Each world becomes a series of tribes, each with their own rules and ethos. Generally — when you cut out all the griefers, hackers, cheaters and maniacal admins, what is left is a pure snapshot of raw humanity. Players consistently profess shock and anguish on the main chat channel when they are killed or harassed, which would be unusual in most FPS games. I once watched an entire conversation debating the merits of what Rust actually is – a small subset of players complained about the lack of trust and the “shoot first” philosophy many people carry. Others exclaimed that survival is based entirely on self preservation and thus self defense.
But really, Rust is all about fear — fear of being alone, of dying, of starving. New players beg anyone they see for any sort of help, comfort and assistance after realising the rock, torch and medkit they spawned with was completely useless to their long term survival. In fact, it was my initial instinct to help a fellow player that bought me my freedom, and respect from those who controlled the zone where my base was situated. I’ll admit that I was fairly worried about even buying the title after the stories I’d read and the videos I’d watched. The game is still very raw — it’s riddled with bugs, especially when you are crafting. The UI is desperate for a refine, it’s easy to run out of things to do thanks to a lack of objectives, and it can become very easy to turtle.
Rust is full of potential. It’s a game where there are few natural enemies — where being clever, courageous and creative determines your ability to survive. I’m currently holed up in my two storey wooden shack with my cousin, after we finally managed to find each other on a road not too far from my hunting grounds. I geared him up and gave him the tools to be self-sufficient — and so after a week, I was no longer alone. But it didn’t feel right. Even though he was my real-world family, I felt unsure sharing the space I had built and created, unsure that he wouldn’t leave the door open or pillage my gear for himself.
I was shocked at these fleeting thought patterns. But then I smiled — this is what gaming is all about.