01 August 2011

From Dust: Review (XBOX360)

Developer, Ubisoft Montpellier's From Dust is a God game simulator. One of few that I've heard of, the game already stands out. Using the power of breath, the player controls earth, water, lava, and vegetation in order to create a hospitable environment for the tribe - ultimately providing them with a sanctuary and the memories of the ancients.

The game paces itself, choosing to not introduce everything at once, but rather slowly have everything build on the previous knowledge from other areas. The game comes in strong and never lets up, offering challenges from beginning to end with increased frustration. Giving a time limit to have the tribe learn how to protect itself from water before a tsunami hits, it offers the player the first glimpse into what lay ahead. From here the strategy involved in protecting the tribal villages only becomes more intricate. The main mechanic of the game is simulating actual environments (albeit in fast forward). The spread of the fire, the flow of the lava and water, the erosion of rock and soil - all of these are the key elements behind the game. Everything works as it should (aside from tsunamis, which seemingly just appear out of nowhere). The lava flows naturally and eventually turns to stone when met with massive amounts of water; Lava, soil, and water can be combines in ways to make a very strong bridge; etc. Some levels seem easier than others, but the game extends the play for a while with challenges (with just as much frustration as the game itself). As for the camera mechanics, the ability to zoom in and out, as well as offering an overhead view really help with navigating the land.

The game is also visually impressive. Not only is it beautifully rendered, but the environment offers a much welcome change from the environments in other games these days. Although some levels may seem devoid of color, the game encourages populating the world with vegetation for an achievement. The many colors give this creationist game an aesthetic appeal that most sixty dollar games can't even deliver. The palette suits the story and mood of the game. The camera allows for a zoomed out view to admire your handiwork from afar, as well as an extremely zoomed in view, following a single tribesman throughout their trek across the land, revealing the level of detail attended to. The story isn't delivered directly, but is rather mostly delivered via text of memories. While there is a story to be had, it's mostly back-story. It doesn't really go anywhere, though, and rather just stays right where it began as far as any sort of plot devices are concerned.

From Dust isn't without its flaws, however. The AI is a little shoddy at times, choosing to ignore paths to objectives for more obscure routes, endlessly shouting for help. The game also takes a short time after something has been added to process a path for the tribe, causing a trial and error strategy to be necessary at times. Sometimes the path just doesn't appear, which can occasionally be remedied by creating a new path, resetting the objective, or just killing the current AI. As mentioned before, the tsunamis don't act like they should - they just form at the outer edge of the map and come full force, as opposed to pulling all of the water from the coast-line to build up (which would normally pull away some land on an island as well). Furthermore, a single player game with no substantial story is always a turn-off in the modern gaming era (the game is objective driven). Ultimately this game could probably be stretched out to a week-long experience of an hour or so per day, so it's maybe a ten hour investment to complete everything - definitely a substantial amount of time for only 1200 MSP ($15.00). While not a perfect game, From Dust certainly breaks the mold of monotony and offers a level of freshness and uniqueness that is wholeheartedly appreciated.

+   Interacting and battling the environment to guide tribes that you have little control over offers unique gameplay
+   The graphics and aesthetics of the game levels offer beautiful environments
+   Challenging, but not overwhelming story and challenge modes
+   Great camera controls allow you to navigate easily, as well as admire your handiwork from close-up or afar.
+   Fair and sensible achievements.
+/- Mostly great physics and simulation mechanics.
-/+ Somewhat broken AI is the reason behind a bulk of the gameplay frustration.
-    In this age of gaming, a single player game without a good story is like a multiplayer game without an active community.

Score: 83%

-Dave Thorne

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