Surviving human nature in Facepunch’s endurance test
Rust is strange as only unfinished games can be. A naked figure on the horizon might suddenly appear headless, or distort in bizarre contortions. A bear might disappear through a wall, never to be seen again. Kill a deer and you’ll harvest chicken breasts from its corpse. Server wipes have frequently obliterated everything that Rust’s players have built, lending everything a sense of impermanence – particularly your own existence, which is usually short-lived.
A survival game with a Lord Of The Flies twist, Rust takes place on a large island decorated not with palm fronds and azure waters but with sparse trees, rocky hills and player-created wooden structures. It’s rich with wildlife, though, with pigs and deer that can be stalked through the tall grass. Crude zombies used to roam these lands, too, looking for the light of a campfire at night. But Rust has no need for artificial threats – even the replacement red bears and wolves are plugging a gap – since the players provide enough danger themselves.
You might imagine that a first day in Rust consists of gathering, building a shelter, a spot of hunting and a night huddled by the campfire in your makeshift home, but usually things are different. You might be imprisoned inside the corrugated iron fort of a sadist posing as a Samaritan, or marched naked at gunpoint to the towering wooden palace of bandit kings. Alternatively, none of this might happen, and you might get stuck in a frustrating cycle of spawning and dying at the hands of better-equipped survivalists. It all depends on the server, and who you play with.
Death is such an inconsequential thing in Rust, just a natural by-product of life on the island. It’s only when you start to build up collections of clothing and weapons – either scavenged from the backpacks of rivals or cobbled together from the resources of wood, stone, metal, animal cloth and fat – that you start to feel like death is anything more than a momentary but inevitable inconvenience. Crafting is very basic, and will doubtless benefit from more items and a more appealing interface when Rust is closer to completion, but it takes a lot of time and perseverance to assemble advanced kit. Finding it on a corpse feels like winning the survival lottery.
Every time you die, you respawn with nothing but a rock and a torch. There are persistent elements: whatever you’ve built, stored in crates, or learned from the blueprints hidden in irradiated structures dotted about the island will remain. Someone can always come along and steal your stuff, however, which makes base fortification one of Rust players’ chief obsessions.
Most servers are anarchic free-for-alls where loose groups compete violently
You don’t have much of a chance on your own, and while most Rust servers are anarchic free-for-alls where loose groups compete violently over meagre resources, others are home to fascinating social structures. Take the 50-person team working together to build a tower so tall that the game breaks, or the two large settlements carrying out protracted campaigns of guerrilla warfare.
There’s much to see as a tourist in Rust, but the people who are getting the most out of the game at the moment are those who are leading clans, founding settlements, and carving their own niche out of its rocky landscape. They have conquered Rust’s strange imperfections or turned them to their advantage and become self-made masters of this wilderness. Like DayZ, Rust can be proof of the tendency to anarchy in player-defined social spaces, but also of human ingenuity and communal spirit. This survivalist fantasy is the perfect environment for the adaptability and cunning that got us to the top of the food chain in the first place.
TOP Rust’s island is beautiful in an understated way – the light diffuses gorgeously across the sparse landscape, and you learn to live by the position of the sun. ABOVE Encounters with other players rarely go well for newbies, since you spawn without so much as a shirt on your back for protection. (Indeed, one of the most popular mods removes the modesty-trousers to reveal avatars’ full naked glory.) RIGHT The zombies looked and felt out of place in this otherwise naturalistic wilderness, an imposed threat where none was really needed – so it’s just as well that they’ve been patched out, even if they have been replaced with bears
TOP Buildings right now are all made of either wooden planks or corrugated iron, and can tower stories high. It’s easy to imagine how more complex crafting could change the look of the game. ABOVE Home is where your sleeping bag is; the only way to control where you revive after death is to craft one and place it in your makeshift base. Otherwise, you will spawn out in the wilderness, with little hope of ever making it back