This GTA-style game is brilliant on the Steam Deck

Rustler running on Steam Deck
(Image credit: Alan Martin)

A month after giving in, the Steam Deck is everything I hoped it would be. 

But rather than helping me deal with my sprawling gaming backlog as I assumed it would be, Valve’s handheld gaming PC is actually pulling me in different directions, tempting me to sections of the backlog I didn’t even know existed after years of Humble Bundles had inflated my Steam library beyond all recognition.

What We're Playing

Welcome! This column is part of a series in which members of the Tom's Guide staff share what they're playing and enjoying right now, with the goal of helping you find great games that you may have missed. Be sure to check out our previous entry, where we talk about Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores and how it's DLC done right. 

So yes, I am slowly working my way through The Ace Attorney Chronicles as promised. But I’m not going as fast as I expected because I keep getting distracted by short(itsh) games just perfect for the medium. 

The latest? Rustler — or Grand Theft Horsey as it should more aptly be named.

But if you’re picturing San Andreas with horses — Red Dead Redemption 2, in other words — you’re barking up the wrong tree. Rustler isn’t an ode to the modern GTA games, but their decades-old forebears. It’s a top-down medieval romp that instantly transported me back to the late 1990s when the original GTA blew my teenage mind.

The original Grand Theft Auto

The original Grand Theft Auto (Image credit: DMA Design)

Me and my brothers must have put hours into that original GTA demo before eventually getting the full game. It gave you five minutes to commit as much mayhem as possible — carjacking fancy-looking motors, running down pedestrians and attempting to speed away from the cops. 

I say “attempting" because that car you stole invariably handled like a drunk on rollerskates, and you’d usually end up totaling your shiny new wheels against a wall.

Rustler feels just as anarchic, only with horsepower measured with actual horses — and no more than two. It’s a top-down open world where you can slay civilians, out-ride the police, and generally cause mayhem in a historically inaccurate world. 

Ye olde thug life

It’s funny, too. While the humor is extremely hit-and-miss (it undoubtedly proves that you can have too much of a good thing with its repeated Monty Python references) and often puerile, it doesn’t take itself too seriously just as Grand Theft Auto didn’t in 1997. 

It has that absurdism that the original GTA games have, as you catapult round-Earthers through the air to help them see the errors of their ways or slap a hired bard to change songs without Grand Theft Auto’s infamous car radio stations.

Rustler running on Steam Deck

(Image credit: Alan Martin)

It’s probably not for you if the original GTA games weren’t cutting-edge in your lifetime. Like the games it's indebted to, it’s quite clunky in feel and often frustratingly difficult to control. Sometimes that adds a fun slapstick element to proceedings — other times, it’s just annoying, especially as mission quicksaving is a bit inconsistent.

Still, as Steam Deck games go, it’s pretty much perfect, even if it does suffer from noticeable framerate drops when you hit the towns. I found the end-of-game jousting sessions nigh-on impossible without a mouse, too, so had to switch to my desktop in order to add it to my completed pile. 

Still, you’ll complete the whole thing, sidequests included, in under ten hours. And the short nature of the missions makes it perfect for quick sessions in between work breaks.

Some people question the Steam Deck’s futureproofed-ness as its specs already seem to come up wanting against brand-new AAA games. For me that misses the point. I’m certain there are hundreds of low-spec gems like Rustler sitting in my Steam library just waiting to be discovered. 

Without a Steam Deck, I’d never have given them a second glance, and that makes it worth the price of entry alone.

Rustler is also available on PlayStation, Xbox and Switch.

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Alan Martin

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.