From Dust Review
We’ve been looking forward to Ubisoft’s From Dust for some time. Not only is the concept unique compared to other games, but the art style is better than most downloadable games. The focus that Ubisoft Montpellier has given to the visuals is ridiculously unreal; you’ll find yourself getting lost in the majesty as stuff you pick up settles into the terrain in real time. That brings up an interesting question—is From Dust more than just a flashy presentation? Is there actual depth when it comes to playing as a god?
Well, there is, but it would be in your best interest to pack some patience when you start this game. Not only is being a god tricky when it comes to completing each part of the story (and the additional challenges), but the ineptitude of your tribesmen is equally as tricky. They summoned you—a god known only as The Breath—to help them reach totem poles and expand their civilization. Easier said than done, since they’re pretty helpless. Each one has a description, but they come to a halt when it seems like anything gets in their way. They’re even afraid to approach a body of water.
While it’s a slight letdown that these tribe-folk don’t help you over the course of each mission (even when you send them off, they can get lost or stuck), From Dust’s control scheme isn’t so bad. You’ll manipulate pieces of a land in each stage, building bridges and guiding these lost souls to their next totem marker. It takes a little getting used to at first (Actraiser this ain't), but the controls work moderately well as you pick up objects and use them to interact with the earth. They aren’t the most precise in the world (and this may frustrate those with agile hands in later stages), but they’re functional enough with a game controller.
Now, about that real-time morphing effect we discussed earlier—it’s beautiful. Not only does From Dust feature some crafty level design, but it also has some weather effects that shift into each one almost seamlessly. Desert globs flow into the sand, right down to the tiniest of particles; water shifts when wet land forms beneath it; volcanoes explode with great ferocity. Watching this as it happens is almost like taking in a terrific nature special, except that you get to play around with it. Granted, you shouldn’t forget about your objectives, but being able to terraform these worlds as you see fit is a welcome delight. If you ever built a sand castle as a kid, you may just say, “Screw the tribe,” and try your luck again here.
Along with From Dust’s main story mode, there are also 30 additional challenges in which to complete. These range from downright infuriating (the most precise of controls are needed to keep your tribe from perishing) to cakewalks, particularly with the opening stages. Still, the progression set-up is a welcome one, and the ability to record your best times on Xbox Live—through interactive leaderboards—works just fine by us.
Again, though, From Dust won’t be everyone’s speed. There’s a steep learning curve here, and you’ll have to put up with some really stupid tribesmen in order to get the most mileage out of it; seriously—they’re afraid of frickin’ water! Some might be abundantly bored within the first hour, but those who stick with it will be rewarded with some interesting challenges and even more beautiful terrain. It’s up to you to decide if you’re up for the journey.
We do like how Ubisoft tried something different with From Dust, though. It’s not often you see a major publisher take a flying leap like this with something really “out there”, if you will. While the little flaws may have you wondering if it’s worth the trip, you at least owe it to yourself to try it—even if it's only to see the terraforming effects. Seriously, can you imagine how good these would look in a typical action game? Ubisoft Montpellier should keep this on hand for their next project.