From Dust Review

By Jake Gaskill - Posted Jul 28, 2011

It is hard to appreciate all of From Dust's successes without actually playing it yourself. There are some noticeable A.I. and control issues for sure, but the environmental-based design and vibrant presentation offer something so refreshing that, if you're open to it, you can't help but be swept up by it.

The Pros
  • Refreshing and unique strategy experience
  • Stunning elemental and environmental effects
  • Physics-based design = tons of replayability
The Cons
  • Villager AI not the brightest at times
  • Framerate and texture issues

From Dust Review:

Part Lemmings, part Populous, part environmental simulator, From Dust, the new downloadable title from Another World creator Eric Chahi and his team at Ubisoft Montpellier, is about as unassuming as a game can get. After all, it’s a game that, at least on the surface, is about picking up dirt and water and messing around with lava flows. But beyond these deceptively simple mechanics likes a game that drips with a perfectly realized sense of wonderment, isolation, and out-of-time-ness that truly sets it apart from the current and upcoming flock of 2011 games (Look out Journey!).
 

 

Be Kind To Your People

What’s particularly striking about the tonal and thematic elements (rebirth, enlightenment, survival, mysticism, etc.) at play in From Dust is how perfectly they (assumedly) mirror what the creepily masked tribes people must surely be feeling as they struggle against the elements on their quest to reunite with the spiritual wisdom of their lost ancestors. As their world-shaping overlord, aka The Breath, it’s up to you to ensure your people’s survival by harnessing the elements and using the ever changing world as pallet on which to play out your geological puzzle solving.

The primary campaign plays out over a series of maps designed to take advantage of a number of different elemental factors, but each plays out according to the same overall structure: find totems, build villages, protect the villages long enough to open a portal to the next map, repeat. There are hidden memory runes scattered around the maps that serve as secondary objectives, shedding more light on the villager’s culture, rituals, and beliefs. There are also knowledge stones that grant your villages permanent powers (protect from water and fire) that supplement their selectable powers (evaporate all the water on the map, ability to generate endless amounts of dirt for a limited amount of time, turn all water into frozen jelly etc.).

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With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility

In order to set up villages and acquire these powers though, you have to give your worshipers a safe and stable path to them. Considering you’ll be battling lava flows, tsunamis, wild fires, exploding trees, and torrential downpours, this is never a simple proposition. Thankfully, the game’s primary mechanic lets you pick up a pulsating orb’s worth of matter (water, lava, earth) as well as certain trees in order to shape the world and keep your villagers safe, or safe long enough to advance. Need to get your little guys to a distant island or across a raging river? Grab some lava and build a land bridge, but be careful you don’t start a wildfire. Or find the source of the river and use some earth to divert the flow to another part of the map. It’s up to you.

In later stages, you’ll be tasked with spinning several plates at once, which can create some particularly hairy situations. For instance, one map has a volcano on one side and a periodically overflowing lake on the other, while another features incoming and outgoing tides on both ends. So not only do you have to carve out a walkable path for your dudes, but you must also make sure the villages have proper protections around them as well, and while that can seem almost impossible at times, because the game is simulation based, there’s always a logical solution.

Still, there were plenty of times when the AI would map out a path that was unnecessarily perilous for my travelers, forcing me to rework my carefully thought out plans to accommodate their puny, human brains. This can be especially troublesome on later maps where it can force you to have to restart a map after 30 minutes or so of battling. The controls can also be a bit imprecise at times on account of having to use the thumbsticks to “paint” terrain, an issue that should be rectified on the PC version (coming out August 17)

 

It's Like Your Own Lost. Not Really.

What truly makes From Dust’s world molding special are the liquid physics. The seas undulate and ripple with striking realism, and lava slowly crawls its way down mountainsides with the perfect amount of viscosity, and watching them interact on such a large scale and with such detail is spectacular. The final stage is especially draw dropping in scale as you are granted unlimited power over water, lava, earth, and plants in order to create a map entirely of your own design. There’s nothing quite like causing a towering mountain to rise out of the ocean or watching as a volcano you’ve created under water slowly build itself into an island before your eyes. It’s so much fun in fact that there really should be an option to just be able to play around in an endless sandbox like this one upon completion of the game.

Another upside to the simulation structure is that there are multiple ways to solve each scenario, so there’s plenty of replayability too. You can power through the game in five to six hours if you really buckle down, but it could easily be double or triple that if you feel like creating Rube Goldberg-ian solutions to each map, or, like me, you just feel like staring at the gorgeous world laid out in front of you, occasional texture pop in and framerate stutters aside.

Once you’ve finished the campaign, there are also 30 one-off challenges that are more focused than the campaign maps, and range in difficulty from scenarios that take 10 seconds to beat to ones that take 10 minutes or so. There aren’t any time limits, but you are timed, and there are leaderboards for those looking to prove their lava-wielding might to the world. It’s certainly apparent in the campaign, but these challenges really drive home the complexity and skill behind the game’s technological wizardry.
 

 

There's Something Special About Playing God

It is hard to appreciate all of From Dust’s successes without actually playing it yourself. There are some noticeable A.I. and control issues for sure, but the environmental-based design and vibrant presentation offer something so refreshing that, if you’re open to it, you can’t help but be swept up by it.