With A Tagline Like “Grand Theft Horse,” Rustler Is Honest
There’s a saying that goes “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” and nothing rings true more than Rustler’s obvious homage to Grand Theft Auto. From its cover art that harkens back to the days of Bully, to the expressions of the various characters on said cover, the game screams “Rockstar Games.” One of the captions on the back of the box art even states that it’s a “Grand Theft Horse” game, which sure enough the player will be doing a lot of grand theft on several horses but we’ll get to that in a minute.
It’s not until the opening credit sequence does the influence of Grand Theft Auto fully begins to take itself into account, specifically the second game, as the game’s intro mirrors GTA 2 by the number. From the comic-book sequences to the real-life motion video showing what players can expect playing Rustler, Jutsu Games does a “Grand” job (sorry) at paying respects to the games that have influenced this medieval GTA experience.
An Up And Coming Indie Developer Creates Their Passion Project
According to what little information I could find, the developer Jutsu Games is a small Polish developer that had released a small handful of other titles including, ironically, a 911 Operator simulator where you decide the best way to respond to emergencies. I say “ironically” because the player is now the one committing the same crimes that they once tried to prevent.
As the player begins the game, a rap intro offering a very brief synopsis of the game followed by a quick pan of the starting location gives the player a way to ease into the protagonist known as Guy. Guy is your typical cliche protagonist as the punk who gets his ass kicked by life and random stragglers all the while drinking, smoking weed, and making ends meet by, well, committing “Grand Theft Horse.”
Rustler’s Jokes Are In Tune With The Times
The very first mission requires the player to steal a horse and go through a “Pimp My Horse” shop while evading cops on much faster horses. The “Pimp My Horse” is just as players expect, being the game’s equivalent to a “Pay n Spray” and the parallels between the two games have only just begun.
The mission title cards, the jingle that plays before and after a mission is complete, and the contents of the dialogues in-game are all callbacks to various GTA games. Guy can buy property and bonus safe houses to save his game, certain weapons replace stronger ones, and the icons also bear resemblance to the weapons featured in GTA. The characters don’t speak in “English” but rather a close cousin to “Simlish?” It’s literal mumble and jumble which adds to the charm. The player can also rack up a “wanted” level which can be erased with police bribes---I mean, taking down “Wanted” posters.
Some Things Are Done Differently From Grand Theft Auto
Some of the unique elements to Rustler sort of tend to miss their mark when it’s not directly referencing Grand Theft Auto, with the main offender being the controls. The way horses control in this game is not like cars, obviously because horses aren’t cars, so it’s expected that they would behave differently. The problem lies in the belief that I feel the developers never rode a horse a day in their lives. If they did, they didn’t decide to take creative liberty to not make it a stressful experience.
Controlling horses means you have to turn subtly and in advance, as sudden turns will cause the horse to curve at a wide angle, thus placing the player off their trajectory. While this isn’t a problem in normal instances, scenarios, when the player is trying to evade the police, become an issue as their horse physics collide with yours. This caused a situation when I was stuck between a wall and a cop. I couldn’t back up the horse, I couldn’t dismount, I couldn’t do anything because the cop refused to back off. I was pinned down and the less-than-smart cop’s AI wouldn’t even attempt to arrest me. In a horse race, the physics turned against each of the AI competitors, causing them to crash into walls and allowing me the victory after an earlier blunder myself.
Ranged Combat Is Convoluted Over Getting Your Hands Dirty
Combat is also a chore as it appears the enemy will attack relentlessly while you constantly have to watch your stamina. The game lets you know about a “guard” button and you better get used to it or else you will take unnecessary damage. “But why not use a crossbow?” you may ask. Simple, the crossbow has to be loaded with every shot. Every. Single. Shot. The reload animation is painfully slow unless you spend horseshoes, or skill points to increase the rate of reloading.
This wouldn’t be an issue if you could reload while moving, but you have to stand still to reload. If you’re on a horse, it seems you could reload without this being an issue, but to mount a horse just to reload only to dismount and fire again, it’s best to just remain on the horse. While this is meant to keep the crossbow nerfed as it is the strongest weapon Guy has at this point, the whole system is cumbersome. The rest of the game isn’t realistic, so why is this one mechanic the one where the player has to wait for a bow to be reloaded?
Despite these shortcomings, Rustler is an interesting take on the 2D top-down GTA perspective that one usually doesn’t see. Usually, it’s the 3D GTA formula that gets cloned and it’s obvious that there is love that is felt behind the project. The cheap price should also warrant a try at the very least. It’s crude humor mixed with interesting gameplay in its purest form, well, as pure as a GTA game can get.
Rustler is now available on PC, PS4, PS5, Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Xbox Series S.