Its not often that we get to play God lately in our games, and even rarer, that we actually get to feel like one. From Dust has players assume the role of the breath, a force of nature that can be either malevolent or noble to its worshippers, as they struggle to survive in the hostile environment of this strange world, and regain some of their lost culture in the process.
Playing primarily as a squiggly line of nigh omnipotent power, its up to players to guide and protect their tribe of followers, helping them to once again embrace the traditions and ceremonies of the past that have become lost in the sands of time.
Right from the get go, From Dust makes you feel godly. The environment is a sandbox of malleable and transforming terrain, which you can shape and destroy to your hearts content, with new abilities that are unlocked as the game progresses. Camera viewpoints keep the visuals high and lofty, meaning that your tribe really does resemble a bunch of scurrying ants.
Hitting the Left trigger allows you to scoop up the terrain into a gigantic orb, and hitting the right trigger allows you to dump said matter, with which to form new paths, or crush your followers. Transforming the world into an Eden for your followers forms the crux of the gameplay, as helping them to uncover and populate around scattered totem poles will unlock the stage, allowing you to move on to the next part of the world.
While you are busy terraforming the world and growing your tribe numbers, various natural disasters occurs, from tsunamis to violent volcano eruptions. You’ll have to create paths across this hostile world for your followers, allowing them to reach totems that were left behind by the ancients, so that they may learn new songs from their lost heritage in order to complete the defences needed for their villages.
Uncovering totems will also increase how effective your breath is on the world, granting it additional capabilities beyond the mere scooping and dumping of matter. At later stages, you’ll get to jellify water itself, while rolling up and cooling down the magma in order to create natural dams and paths for your tribe.
They may not be suicidal, single-minded human-beings, but your followers tend to have the mindset of a retarded lemming, sometimes getting stuck and calling for help, when a single, tiny stream hinders their process, as they tend to occasionally ignore the carefully constructed path that you have so benevolently crafted for them. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it is especially annoying, considering that some levels have time-limits in place.
There’s a fantastic soundtrack present in the game, mixing ethnic and tribal sounds, into a kaleidoscope of music that feels fresh and unique, while keeping up with the pace of the world as you transform it. Energetic drum beats collide with melodic didgeridoo sounds, creating a sometimes otherworldly effect that reminds you that this isn’t the earth we’ve all become familiar with.
Spreading some green scenery around you also starts to fill up a meter, a side-objective in most cases, that will also reward players with unlockable memories of the world, while such fragments can also be discovered by setting waypoints for your tribes people to run into them.
While the visuals aren’t anything to write home about, for a downloadable title, they’re more than up to the task, and it can be mesmerising at times to watch how your random geological rampages can scar the earth, causing the tides to flow in different directions or to watch your hastily constructed dam break and spill its contents onto the tribesmen below.
Likewise with the controls, the actions are simple and easy, with the analogue sticks controlling the breath as he weaves his magic on the landscape, effortlessly rearranging the geological features around it. The camera however, causes a few problems, with your all important followers sometimes being almost too difficult to spot, and the only alternative is to zoom in on them, with no middle ground between the two views.
While there’s no doubt of its God Sim influences, From Dust plays out as a more subtle take on the genre, with actions that have repercussions on the world around you, instead of just one poor follower who has somehow brought your digital wrath down on him. Its open to replayabiltiy, as going through a level again may reveal some hidden extras that you missed before, while the challenge modes will give you brutally difficult objectives with strict time-limits and conditions, enticing those players who want to see just how good their god skills are.
Its a simple, yet subtle design, with the analogue sticks being more than capable enough to move the Breath around. Redesigning the planet feels fun and intuitive, while your actions have a definite impact on the world around you, sometimes to the chagrin of your followers. While the game may work better on the eventual PC release, at least the developers have endeavoured to create the best controls possible for the console version.
Design and Presentation: 7.5/10
Nothing genre defining, and yet, there’s a certain magic in the air when you’re admiring the world, as you begin to finally appreciate the insane natural clockwork of nature itself. The occasional AI hiccups and annoying camera angles do knock the score down slightly.
While you can beat the game in a few hours, there are more than enough extras and challenges left after the end credits roll, and transforming the planet is an addictive experience that easily justifies the points tag attached to it.
From Dust is a beautiful experience, giving gamers a different game that doesn’t rely on violence or bullets to solve a problem, but seeks to rather give players a sandbox environment where overwhelming power gives way to subtle influence in order to change the world.[Reviewed on X-Box 360]
Last Updated: August 1, 2011