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Games Review: From Dust

Shape the land, save the people!
by Gelo Gonzales | Aug 4, 2011
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If there’s something you should know about From Dust, an Xbox Live Arcade game, is that you haven’t had this much fun playing god since the days you spent throwing people around in Black & White, or sending tornadoes, and city-destroying Godzilla robots in Sim City 4.

                                                             "Lava-surfing? I'm in!"

Unlike those games though, the fun you’ll have here won’t be derived from those cruel, sadistic measures. In fact, you can say that the primary adversary in the game is Mother Nature herself, which we’ll get to later.

You play as an all-seeing, all-powerful god in From Dust. In a role that’s sure to satisfy the messiah in anyone, the game gives you the task to lead your villagers to the “promised land.” Now, you’re probably thinking “Hey, if I’m such an all-powerful god, then why can’t I just throw these people to wherever this game says the promised land is?” For one, as we said above, that’s awfully cruel. But the real reason is that your powers in the game are limited to manipulating the landscape, and the elements of earth, water, and fire.

In fact, you have no direct control over your villagers. Buy you can scoop up earth to build a bridge for them. You can fashion the earth into a dam that will prevent tsunamis from drowning your villagers. Or should a brush fire get out of control, you can douse it with some seawater. You shape the world they live in to make it more habitable, and build passages where there is none in order to reach totem poles where they can finally set up a real village. In one section, you can even pull a Moses and part the seas for your people to pass through.

                                                    "Less dancing, more passing through!"

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Now, once the village is populated enough, a gateway opens up to the next map, with even more challenging conditions.

The gameplay, much like the constantly changing landscape, remains fresh throughout the game, as you are given a slew of cool, new “powers” to play with from time to time. Some of these include the power to transform water into jell form or a tool to dry water up. And it’s never just for flash, as these powers play a huge part in helping you give your people more breathing room.

                                             And more free time to play the horn.

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Sometimes, we can't help but wonder just what these people did in the past to get Mother Nature in such a pissed, murderous mood.

From Dust, essentially a puzzle game, encourages the player to think of the best "landscaping" solution from  a number of possibilities. But it’s never as peaceful as cutting grass on a Sunday morning, as the seas, and the volcanoes waste no time in trying to get through the protection you put up for your people. It’s a constant tug-of-war that remains challenging to the very end.

As the situations get trickier, sometimes you’ll be at wits end. The game is no walk in the park. But the basic game play of manipulating the elements is so appealing, and so unique that you’ll be compelled to play on. Not that there are many of them to begin with, but it’s the best god game we’ve played in years, and also, a beautiful example of inspired, intelligent game design.

                                      Above: NOT an example of inspired, intelligent game design.

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From Dust is published by Ubisoft, and is now available for download from Xbox Live Arcade.

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