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Review: From Dust

by William Schwartz

Every once and a while I hit a gaming slump.  I look at my collection of finished and unfinished games, and I just don’t feel inspired.  The slow gaming summer tends to do that.  I just find myself slogging through “AAA” titles from my “unfinished shelf.”  Maybe it has something to do with the fact that dime a dozen “Modern Battlefield: Combat of Honor 7” FPS shooters dominate the scene these days.  Maybe it is because the rising costs of AAA titles force developers increasingly towards proven action oriented content (FPS and TPS).  The Xbox Live title From Dust rocked my gaming world.  Do yourself a favor, download the demo… or just buy it straight out.  Trust me, it is worth it.

From Dust is designed by Eric Chahi and developed by Ubisoft Montpellier.  As soon as I began my first mission I was instantly taken back almost 20 years to Bullfrog’s god game Populous.  A man by the name of Peter Molyneux led the development of that game.  You may have heard of him.  Indeed, From Dust is very much a spiritual successor to Populous.  I still remember the pleasure of flattening out land so my people would make better buildings, and I remember lovingly setting my destination cross deep in enemy territory so that my Knights would burn and destroy my enemy.  Good times.

Gameplay in From dust is as such: you use a overhead view of the land to direct your tribe of primitive beings across a land/level to an exit gate to the next level.  A simple concept really, but the land topography and good old mother nature makes this no easy task;  Great rivers and oceans flow and block your path; flash floods wash away the land; Wildfires rage through forests; Mountains erupt in red hot magma; and most impressive of all, all consuming tsunamis crash through the map with unrelenting force, often engulfing all but the highest points of the land.  You direct your people through the land, moving soil to redirect rivers of water and lava, building protective walls around villages, and putting out fires.  Through the levels your people must capture totems which give you greater power in which to manipulate the world and protect your people.  From Dust is very much a god game, but it is also very much a puzzle game with a world that constantly changes and evolves based on how you mold it.

The first thing that took me about From Dust was the water.  The rolling and crashing waves were astounding.  The first time I was confronted with the relentless wall of a tsunami my villagers were unprepared.  I was in awe as they were washed away screaming.  There was a beauty in the destruction as the vast wall of water approached menacingly, crashed in covering much of the map, and than gently flowed back out taking my helpless villagers with it.  The physics truly are astounding in this game.  Water and lava flows as in real life, and your redirection of such streams can have dire downstream effects.  As such, the appearance of a map can look very different in the end based on how you chose to mold it, making re-playability very fun and satisfying.  There is no RIGHT way in From Dust.

Graphics in From Dust are very impressive.  This does not look like your typical downloadable arcade title.  This game looks good, has great focus in art direction, and runs without much graphical glitch.

The gameplay was very much a breath of fresh air for me.  This game truly is like nothing else I played on the 360.  The puzzle elements are great, and the freedom of how you complete a level is very satisfying.  Sometimes the easy way is not the most entertaining, and I often found myself solving levels with entertaining methods.  Even failure could be fun… I am sure all gods redirect the flow of magma towards an unsuspecting village now and then for kicks.  I know I sure as hell did.

I know when I have found a good game when I just realize that I have played for over 10 hours straight, and it felt more like 2 or 3, yet I want more.  I essentially completed the campaign in one day, only breaking for meals and pit-stops to the bathroom.  The last games that I was this committed to were Mass Effect 2 and Portal 2.  My wife spent the entire time watching in wonder.  10 hours of quality, (often relaxing) fun, and original gameplay is pretty good for the 1200MS points this game costs (it is available for the 360 now, but won’t come to the PC or PS3 till later this month).  Add to that numerous “challenges” (basically a series of short puzzles) and this is a “world” of content that exceeds many modern 60$ AAA offerings.

The sound and video cut-scenes of this game are of high quality, but they do get a little repetitive, but never annoying.

This is a very stable game, but the original unpatched version of the game did terminally freeze on me two times over the 10+ hour campaign, requiring a reset.  There was also one point in the game when some sound effects mysteriously disappeared until I saved my game and re-loaded.  Finally, on one map I would send my villagers to their final destination, only for them to sit around the destination and not actually activate it.  I had to burn two such groups with hot lava before the third group actually did what I wanted them to.  A glitch yes, but burning my people with hot lava for disobeying my orders was an easy workaround, and a twisted fun god-moment.

As far as glitches go, this is not a perfect game, but such bugs were not game breaking for me, and were mere reminders that I should take a rest and stretch a bit.  Bugs can kill a mediocre game, and hurt a great game, but they felt few and far between in From Dust and thus did not alter my overall opinion or enjoyment of the game

The challenges add a lot of content, puzzle solving and leaderboard action to From Dust.  On the downside, the extreme time pressure that some of them present (incoming lava or tsunami’s for example), do expose the lack of precision of the console controllers.  Although the controller is more than adequate for most of the campaign, in the rush of the challenge mode it can be very easy to misplace a key exploding tree, or pile of dirt.  A mouse would do wonders, and to this day I wonder aloud why Microsoft has not released one for the 360.\

The Verdict

From Dust is a breath of fresh air in a time when sequels are abound and originality on consoles seems to be lacking.  There is a lot of content for your money here and the game is just fun to play.  It is also nice to see a game that is more about thinking than sharp reflexes.  For good value for your money, and something both beautiful and different, get From Dust.  You will be impressed.

"loved"
loved

From Dust

  • Available On: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
  • Published By: Ubisoft
  • Developed By: Ubisoft Montpellier
  • Genre: God game
  • US Release Date: July 27, 2011
  • Reviewed On: Xbox 360
  • Quote: "From Dust is a breath of fresh air in a time when sequels are abound and originality on consoles seems to be lacking.  There is a lot of content for your money here and the game is just fun to play. "
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