Author’s note: Since writing this post I’ve logged another 20 hours with Rust. Stay tuned for a second Rust Alpha post: To live and die in Rust-town.

Rust, currently in early access on Steam, seemingly came out of nowhere and took the internet by storm. At the time of this post, the game is only weeks old and already there are no shortage of let’s play videos, how-to guides, and scandals about people hacking the game. After reading a profile of the game on Kotaku, I decided to roll the dice. Since then, I’ve spent about five hours running around in a digital world that seeks to bring together the best elements of Minecraft and DayZ. The short version is that I like it; I like it a lot. Even though the market is saturated with survival games, particularly zombie survival games, Rust has the potential to be something really special.

Unlike Minecraft, where resources are literally everywhere, Rust is a little more sparse. In fact, my first in-game death came not at the hands of a griefer or a pack of angry wolves, but from simple exposure and starvation. Make no mistake, these first hours are the hardest and most frustrating part about Rust. Collecting wood is great for making a shelter, but it is absolutely rubbish as a survival tool. Even a crude hand axe requires finding and mining stone. Since stone, metal, and sulphur are all mined from the same resource nodes, ad hoc player towns tend to rise up around spawn points for these minerals. Therefore, my instinct to flee from any sign of civilization led me to the barren and lifeless quarters of “Rust Island,” thus ensuring my slow death.

Things started to change once I learned to camp in the shadows of mighty player warrens. I was able to kill a couple boars, harvesting their corpses for food, fat – which gets rendered into fuel – and hides. Doing that allowed me to make some clothing and a bow. A few rock deposits later and I had a quiver of arrows. And with those arrows, the worm turned. I hunted wolves, bears, and zombies with ease. Two wolves later and I had enough resources to make a sleeping bag, thus locking my spawn point to a single place on the map. From there, I ventured out on mining and scavenging sorties. Even though guns beat bows any day, I felt confident in facing the PvE aspect of the game.

It’s also worth mentioning that Facepunch Studios has done a great job in creating a genuinely beautiful environment. The sunrise and sunset effects are gorgeous. There’s a convincing sense of atmosphere during the game’s night cycle in that light becomes a double edged sword. It’s impossible to function at night without some light source, but blazing up a torch or a campfire sends out a signal that says “kill me and loot my corpse” to anybody lurking in the distance.

In terms of game play, Rust is impressive even as an alpha build. The environment is challenging to contend with, but not impossible once a player learns the game’s nuances. Crafting is positively effortless compared to Minecraft. Naturally, there are some areas where it is safe to expect changes in the coming months. We’ll probably see an agriculture or edible plant system coming into play. As well, the necessity of stone to the early game, compared to the inventory bloating nature of metal and sulphur, dictates that stone will have to become a bit more accessible. Frankly, I think I should be able to walk up to any mountain or rock outcropping in the game and carve out some useful fragments. If the developers want to keep stone a sparse resource, then perhaps they could see fit to give us some spears to bridge the gap between crude axes and archery.

Overall I like what I see. Even in its current pre-release state, I can easily recommend Rust for gamers intent upon tapping into their inner survivalist-troll.