'From Dust'


There are bad games, and then there are really bad games. Games that make me consider downing a fistful of hydrocodone with a tequila chaser. But every now a game comes along that reminds me that life can be wonderful and that there is hope. From "Dust" is one of those.

Back in 2010 at E3, designer Eric Chahi and developer Ubisoft Montpellier promised to provide a new and exciting take on the god-game genre that would allow players to manipulate a dynamic game world in new and exciting ways and watch as it reacted to them in an almost organic fashion. Happily, the game they produced, "From Dust," lives up to those promises.

"From Dust" is a god-game cut from the same cloth as "Black and White" and "Populous." While "Black and White" had players manipulating their followers and their settlements, "From Dust" gives players control over the earth and sea. "From Dust" begins with a small tribe of mask-wearing aborigines trapped within a land of storms and chaotic elements. They summon forth the Breath, a stream of golden flowing energy with the power to shape the land. As the Breath, players can draw up dirt, water, lava or plants and deposit them in other locations. To survive, the tribe needs the Breath to protect them while leading them to the giant, bonelike totems they build their villages around.

While players can do little to control tribe members other than telling them when to head toward a totem, it's still their job to make sure the little guys survive the trip. If a river blocks their path, earth can be scooped from one spot and then dumped in the river to form a bridge. The beauty of "From Dust" is that even simple actions might have unforeseen and terrible repercussions.

In "From Dust," players are faced with two enemies in the Breath's quest to protect the tribe. The first is the environment itself, as the world is a violent and chaotic place. Volcanoes send lava flowing across the land and start forest fires. Rivers wash away earth and people, rains flood and drown, and mighty tsunamis submerge and destroy everything.

The second enemy is the game's physics engine. Water and lava flow across the land in a rather realistic fashion, and damming one stream merely diverts it elsewhere. It's not uncommon to find that an attempt to divert the flow of a river to allow the tribe access to a new totem inexplicably sends the torrent of water straight into another village, destroying it.

Even the weather acts as an antagonistic force. Rain can flood rivers and burst dams, it can turn deserts fertile and cause forests to spread to the edges of lava flows - which, in turn, ignites the forest in a blaze that races across an island, killing everything in its path.

As the Breath, "From Dust's" story mode has players guiding the tribe from island to island in search of the Ancients, powerful beings who created the world and left the totems. Each map introduces new gameplay elements like trees that absorb water, set fires or explode, as well as new powers for the Breath.

Once a village grows around a totem, it provides the Breath with a new power - such as the ability to turn water into unmoving gelatinous goo, evaporate water and dry up rivers, or dump an infinite amount of dirt wherever you'd like. Special items that make villages immune to water or fire also can be found on each level, but the trick is finding them in time. Each island map has a theme such as water hidden in the desert or when fire and water collide, and one or two major threats such as periodic tsunamis and volcanic eruptions.

"From Dust" also includes a challenge mode in which players race against the clock to achieve a small yet annoyingly difficult objective. The one thing really missing from the game is the presence of a sandbox mode. It's not too disappointing, though, as once beaten, maps can be replayed indefinitely.

"From Dust" is an amazing game and a wonderful testament to creativity in game design. It's simple, complex and utterly beautiful - which makes it all the harder for me to mention its terrible flaws. "From Dust" was originally released on Xbox LIVE and its Steam and PSN versions followed a few months later. The version I played was the one released on Steam and it was little more than a port of the Xbox LIVE version. The Breath could be controlled either with the mouse or with the keyboard, but not with both as the camera focus was fixed with the Breath at its center. While merely awkward when played with a mouse and keyboard, it's a good indicator that "From Dust" was designed with a controller and thumbstick in mind. Also the Steam version of "From Dust" does include DRM that requires the game have a constant Internet connection. This comes after Ubisoft swore prior to release that it would not. This actually resulted in Steam refunding consumers' purchases.

While it's an utterly fantastic game, the DRM and console-port issues stop me from giving its Steam release a perfect score. So if you're a PC gamer and you're looking for a good god game in the $15 range on Steam, I recommend you try it, but only if you're willing to put up with restrictive DRM and a less-than-optimal control scheme.

However, if you own an X-Box 360 or a PlayStation 3, you won't have to worry about any of that crap, so I heartily recommend you buy it.

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Video Games: 'From Dust'