From Dust


Written by Chris Price
07 Sunday 07th August 2011

Anyways, divergence has arrived. Not only with Ignition’s fascination El Shaddai (pastel-shaded action game based on old religious text, anybody?) but now with the Ubisoft’s new From Dust. You’re back, as God (in all but name – don’t worry atheists, you too can get involved). And if Bruce Almighty has taught us anything, it’s that God is busy.

From Dust gives you a primeval world; a world of elements, of simple animals, of basic flora and fauna – and populated by a tribe of nomadic humans, descended from an ancient civilisation. Your representation in this world is a swirling arc that flits over the scenery, known as ‘The Breath’. The general task is simple – form safe passage for your humans from A to B, and encourage them to cultivate the land, and move closer to learning the secrets of their ancestors.

From the off, From Dust is simple, immediate and intuitive, instantly channelling elements of the heyday of commandeering puzzlers such as Lemmings and Populous. Use the joystick and X and A to drop a waypoint, direct your humans and scoop up land and water – terraforming land as they travel to enable safe passage to the exit from each level. Runes of ancient skills teach your humans mystical techniques of combating extreme elemental threats, and befit you with the ability to affect fundamental change on large swathes of land within a time limit.

Indeed, it’s this time limit element that drives From Dust ahead. Whereas the likes of The Sims requires you to mollycoddle your virtual human from adolescent to wormfood, here your tasks are to assist and drive within a defined environment. The omission of drawn out coercion of game environment is given an arcade-style metronomic pulse. Each conquered level allows return to spread more vegetation and experimentation with each landscape as to the best ways to tackle and grow the serene lush savannah, to fiery molten crags and rampaging tides.

From Dust might be forgiving, but it’s no push-over.  The world exists to a series of logical dynamics – build an uneven wall over a raging river and it’ll pool and eventually find a way over the lowest point. Build a fiery mountain range from lava near your human’s villages, and watch their huts combust.  It's a game world which defines limitation by your own knowledge, and challenges you to think around it, in a natural and digestible manner – and the ongoing domino effect of geographical alterations caused by storms keeps you altering your strategy on the fly. The humans are a little unruly, with controls being tricky at times (and you’ll often end up with the odd chap going rogue and getting stuck on rock at the game edge) but these are easily overcome.

I also found myself bonding with my little humans. As their enabler, when early on you assist them to learn the secrets of tidal defence, watching the oncoming storm rumble towards your island, only to be deflected is both an exciting and proud moment. It might not be the longest journey ever (the price tag belies a short title, with limited replay value) but it certainly can prove emotional at times.

And that’s what it comes down to – pride. From Dust is a unique, proud little game – so sure of itself that it infectiously imbues trust within the player. It’s a real-time geographical editing tool, with the adding pressure of ensuring the survival of your tribe.  Not since the first time I played SimCity has material micromanagement proved so simple, yet so effective. It’s a pick-up-and-play challenge, the immediately immerses you in the most exciting elements of being a Godhead, and dispenses with the pomp and circumstance, providing the tension of an arcade game, the management of realtime strategy, with the fragility of humanity – all combining to make a perfect little downloadable purchase.

From Dust is available now via download only on Playstation Network and Xbox Live Marketplace.

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