As someone with a minor God complex who loves to control the fate of millions, From Dust was immediately intriguing to me when I first saw a video about it last year. Since its recent release, the PC has been receiving a bit of bad press due to some irritating DRM on the part of Ubisoft and rightfully so. Originally developed for Xbox 360 by french designer Éric Chahi, the creator of Out of this World (better known as Another World outside of North America) From Dust was a game I was initially hyped about due to it's apparent similarities with games such as Populous, not to mention my interest in the engine behind it which focused on realistic physics as a backbone for its game play. So despite the troubled port to PC, how does From Dust fare as a game?
AND IT WAS GOOD
Mechanically Sound - From Dust contains some very unique game mechanics. In what feels like a blend between a god game and a puzzle game, From Dust has the player controlling The Breath; a tool with the ability to directly manipulate water, earth, fire, and other objects such as trees as you progress through the game.
Unleash Nature’s Wrath - The game's presentation is stellar. Lava spills into water forming rock, sand pours in a pile and sinks into water, and tsunamis and the rising tides can quickly lay waste to a shoreline village. The physics are absolutely astounding to witness; it is in this chaos that the powers of nature are explored, and in their unpredictability, the can be a spectacle to watch as the game goes through the motions.
Going Somewhere - From Dust is deceptively simple in what it sets out to do. The player is given the very straightforward objective of transforming the landscape in order to allow the passage of tribesmen to several totems scattered around the map where they can erect villages, and ultimately, move on to the next stage. Having a goal helps keep the game on track and prevents it from falling into the trap of becoming directionless.
This God Is Pleased - I was really impressed at the simple joy From Dust provided; it was one of the things that compelled me to keep going with the game. It’s probably the only sandbox style game I have played where it literally feels like you are a kid playing around in an actual sandbox, and this is initially very fun.
Quest For Fire, Sand, Water... - Offering around ten hours of game play all the way through, From Dust is a brisk experience with plenty of opportunity to return to previous levels in order to explore the physics system further for the more creative players out there.
AND THE HEAVENS SHOOK
An Agent of Chaos - The primary issue I took with the game play in From Dust is that the unpredictable nature of the elements makes the game very difficult at times, not due to player incompetence, but rather because results cannot be easily replicated. In multiple attempts of a level I would find that doing the same thing a second time around that previously resulted in failure would often bring success.
Some Elements Don’t Mix - Sometimes From Dust feels torn between its desire to be both a god game and a puzzle game where problem-solving is the goal. To offset the chaos that ensues, the player is given a number of power ups that can help to further manipulate the world to his or her advantage, but I still can't help feeling like the developers spent a lot more time designing a fantastic engine, and not enough time creating interesting game play with it. While it is nice to see a game like this attempt to be simplistic and straightforward, there is so much potential in the engine that using it to accomplish mundane tasks just feels wasted.
Many Imperfections - From Dust is also marred by some technical problems which did not help my experience much. It has been widely reported that the game is greatly lacking in customization issues, a point that may even be a deal breaker for PC users who love to push their machines to the limit. Rarely did it rise above thirty frames per second for me during my play through, and the textures and effects were unimpressive to say the least.
Out of Control - I am usually willing to overlook the things that I just mentioned, but I can’t let the relatively clunky control scheme slide. Manipulating liquids and sand is a lot of fun, but is made less so by the direct port of the console controls. I am using a mouse and a keyboard; let me take advantage of them! With The Breath being locked to the ground, it makes mouse control feel sluggish and awkward. On a console I can understand this decision, but it doesn’t seem to make much sense on the PC. There is the option to use a controller, of course, but that is not my preferred method of control and I wish they would have been a little more creative in that regard.
From Dust is a game which oozes with potential, and though it appears to accomplish what it set out to do, I simply was not entertained for very long by the game. It felt to me as though the missions themselves were more a nuisance than something which drove me to play the game. I stayed for the physics, the uniqueness of the engine, but the game play itself didn’t pull me in the way I would have liked it too. It's definitely worth a look if you aren't expecting it to be another expansive god game, it’s certainly well constructed and I appreciate that it stays on track with a point rather than going of on a tangent, but it didn’t offer me anything that I felt made it worth going back to play again.
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