Monday, August 1, 2011

From Dust Review

The second title from the Xbox Winter of Arcade promotion is a interesting title that provides something we have never seen before in a game. From Dust is a game where you play the God and are in charge of a small community of primitive villagers. Unlike previous games where you are in charge of the world such as SimCity and Age of Empires, From Dust doesn't give you the power to create good and evil and build up vast empires at the click of a button. You are a seemingly 'natural' God who has the ability to use sand, water and lava to your will in an attempt to move villagers from totem to totem until the next level unlocks. An unique experience that takes the SimCity experience into the early days of human life is something I haven't previously seen before.

Starting the game opens with the creation of the mystery god figure you control that is called The Breath. A small orb figure that can move around the landscape at speed is responsible for moving earth at will to raise mountains and create land bridges, diverting rivers and creating inland lakes, creating solid rock from molten substances and allowing for the creation of villages and forests. Being The Breath and saviour of these people also means you must keep these villages safe from all too frequent fires, volcano eruptions and landscape changing tsunamis. Being an evil god is frowned upon in From Dust and you won't achieve anything by dumping a large amount of water on an adventuring human except delaying the end result.


A landscape that changes in layout but never in appearance is at risk of becoming a bland and boring spectacular to control for hours of levels. One aspect where From Dust flourishes more than the forests protruding from villages is the physics engine behind the game. Picking up a ball of water and dropping it on the side of a hill will force the water to roll down until it ends up in an indent in the landscape. Grabbing sand and placing it in the water to create a bridge may be unsuccessful if the force of the water is powerful enough to wash away the clumps of sand you deposited. Natural disasters from the landscape altering tsunamis to the powers totems allow you to perform, such as jellifying and moving water, look beautiful and is certainly one of the best aspects of this game. The realistic movement of the elements in your control is outstanding and it is a real shame that this game is focused towards timed challenges in order to avoid a natural disaster, rather than one of exploration where you can experiment with your creation tools.

This game is visually pleasing and the excellent graphics for a game that is constantly changing and evolving as you progress is quite remarkable. The constant beauty of this game really provides it with an edge against many other similar games, also making it one of the best looking games on the Xbox Live Arcade. The soundtrack compliments the action in the game with a peaceful, almost soothing theme. That is until some sort of natural disaster arrives and the full effect of the incoming disaster sparks a change in music and tone. From Dust is a pleasing title that easily stands up to retail titles in it's presentation and graphics.


Sadly though, From Dust fails to completely match the presentation with solid gameplay. The developers have tried to incorporate a story into the game which I found lacked little meaning and added nothing to the overall experience of the game. The clip is always the same as well, with villagers appearing out of a hole and a narrator talking in an ancient language and subtitles appearing at the bottom of the screen. If they were going to add any kind of story, it needed to influence the game more than being a simple reason to open another level. Having this game as a level based experience rather than a watch and grow formula used by other games where you are the god was a brave decision. The levels are quite fun in the beginning but it does become old after a while. Continually adding new features to the game does throw the strategies and gameplay mechanics around, but some people will not finish the game simply for the fact that the objective is exactly the same.

Apart from the Story Mode there is a Challenge Mode which have 30 challenges that take a couple of minutes to complete, testing your skills at manipulating the environment to victory. This mode is the most exciting in the game and I found myself coming back to it to try and get a better time. Challenge mode really compliments the main game and adds much needed variety to another Winter of Arcade title that has gone without any multiplayer modes.

One problem that becomes evident soon after the inclusion of constant natural disasters in From Dust is the sharp difficulty spike. Working against the clock is something that isn't needed in a game like this, where peaceful and an almost zen like setting should rely on creation rather than destruction. Knowing an incoming disaster to absolutely destroy any progress made and not protected by a totem's power means you are often rushing to get things done. It will get frustrating to see villagers constantly killed and levels repeated over and over because you aren't able to finish before an almost too frequent bush fire or eruption halts your progress. While special powers and disasters are excellent additions to this game, they are used better in challenge mode compared to the main game. In real life we never know when natural disasters are going to occur, it should be less frequent and have that feeling of unknown when playing From Dust.


Despite the short comings of the main story mode, From Dust is a great game that has successfully managed to take the creation game into the earliest days of civilisation. Breathtaking visuals and one of the best physics engines I have seen in a game like this makes From Dust a spectacular to watch. The ability to use your powers in natural conditions as well as 'god-like' uses from special totems makes for a fun and interesting game. This game won't please everyone though and the sharp difficulty curve once you get into the game will throw off many players. From Dust is a commendable Winter of Arcade title that provides a fun and pleasing experience for those willing to give it a go.

Graphics - 9.5/10
Sound - 7.5/10
Gameplay - 7.5/10
Overall - 8/10