These days, people are excited about old Grand Theft Auto games, like Vice City and San Andreas, getting remastered for modern hardware. But before the series went 3D, the ‘90s era classic top-down GTA games were Rockstar’s quirky first stabs at an open-world crime game. Rustler, out August 31 on consoles and PC, is a similarly strange throwback to those simpler GTA titles, but it’s also set in a highly inaccurate medieval setting. Even with this change in scenery, Rustler does a good job of recreating the feel of playing those old GTAs, warts and all.
Rustler’s developer, Jutsu Games, is very honest about what this game is and what inspired the studio to create it. On its website, it openly calls Rustler “Grand Theft Horse” and directly reference GTA 2 as inspiration. And yeah, if you (like me) played a bunch of GTA 2 back in the day, then after just a few minutes it’s rather obvious what the team has made here. Rustler has all the hallmarks of those older GTA games featuring a top-down view, arrows on the ground to point you toward missions, and a variety of small, simple, but open-ended missions. There’s even a fart / burp button, and the police wanted system doesn’t use stars, but instead tiny animated heads. All of this is directly pulled from the classic GTA titles.
Where Rustler departs is its historically inaccurate medieval setting. You won’t be driving around in fast cars or shooting rockets at SWAT trucks in Rustler. Instead, everything is redesigned to fit the ye olde setting. So gone are the pistols and shotguns, in their place are crossbows, swords and spears. No sports cars or SUVs either, instead horses and horse-drawn carriages are your main modes of transportation.
At first I was worried that this drastic change would be too dramatic and make Rustler play less like a GTA game and more like a top-down RPG or Elder Scrolls spin-off. But that’s not the case.
Sure, this may look like a medieval world, filled with knights and castles and plague victims, but all the hallmarks of a classic GTA game are still here. Horses wearing yellow and black caparisons operate as taxis, and if stolen will let you complete cabbie side-missions. If the royal guards (aka the police) are after you, just take your horse through a local “Pimp My Horse” shop to get it dyed a new color, losing all your heat in the process.
Even the narrative and characters are very GTA-like. You have criminal bosses, shady drug dealers, partners in crime, and corrupt royal guards. Rustler’s main character, Guy, is like so many other GTA protagonists. He’s both tough—someone who will kill you at the drop of a heaume—but also unable to say “no” to all these assholes and creeps who keep telling him what to do. The Rustler devs even figured out a novel way to include in-game radios: Players can hire bards and then punch them to make them play different songs as they ride around the world completing missions or side activities.
I’ve played nearly five hours of Rustler so far, and while I appreciate how well Jutsu has translated the old-school GTA experience into a modern-looking medieval open-world game, I do wish it actually had lost a few elements in translation. For example, some missions can be a pain in the ass to complete as, like in old GTA games, the combat in Rustler can be annoying.
Some of the humor and writing is also bad. At one point my main character put on a dress and apparently that’s the whole joke. It’s lazy and while it feels like something you’d find in a Rockstar-developed GTA game, it’s another example of something from ‘90s GTA that could have been left behind. There are also a lot of Monthy Python and other pop-culture references. Some of these are subtle enough that you might be able to ignore them. Other times they get shoved so directly in your face and feel so out of place that even NPCs will reference how random some of these moments are, which doesn’t improve them at all.
Thankfully, you can skip past any and all dialogue, and as you complete missions you unlock skill points that let you upgrade a small tree, letting you take and deal more damage, which helps make combat easier to manage.
Rustler is a neat and appreciated throwback. While most devs, publishers, and fans are obsessed with chasing the 3D GTA games, the older 2D top-down entries in the franchise don’t get nearly as much love or attention. It even feels like Rockstar forgets these games exist some days. So Rustler is like a nice treat for people like me who still have fond memories of those older games. And while it’s true that Rustler isn’t the first modern game to try and recreate the GTA 2 experience, it’s the most successful, and its medieval setting makes it feel less like a clone and more like a unique homage. (Plus it runs and plays better than something like 2019’s American Fugitive.)
If you can stomach some of the lesser elements of the old GTA games popping up in Rustler too, there’s a great, creative open-world action game to be found under all the bad Monty Python references. I promise.
Rustler is out on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Switch, and PC on August 31.