Format reviewed: Xbox 360
Other formats available: PS3, PC
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Price: 1200 Microsoft Points (£10)
It’s been a long time since anyone’s had a serious stab at the God game genre and who better than 90s gaming visionary Eric Chahi to take up the challenge? We’ve seen the screenshots, witnessed the tech demo, now From Dust is here.
OK, so we asked ‘Who better?’, and you probably all said ‘Peter Molyneux!’ because he is, let’s face it, the *ahem* godfather of God games, what with Populous and Megalomania being two rather large feathers in his hat. Still, Amiga classics Another World and Flashback creator Eric Chahi will do just fine for us.
From Dust has you hovering, deity-like, above a landscape. There never is a God of sorts mentioned, Chahi wouldn’t be so obvious about it, but you can safely assume that you are some kind of higher power, looking down from a first person perspective.
Your tool of interaction between you and the land below is ‘the breath’, which is basically your cursor; snaking across the land as you control it with the left stick, positioning the camera with the right stick. Holding down the left trigger will ‘hoover up’ whatever is below the breath, as long as it’s moveable. These substances are earth and water to begin with.
The breath fills to capacity like a huge balloon and holding down right trigger sends the contents pouring out wherever you choose. The laws of physics will retake effect and water will sluice away or pool, depending on its surroundings.
Earth too will act as it should, cascading down a mountainside or piling up, assuming an appropriate angle of repose (yes, this reviewer has studied soil mechanics), as and when its environment calls for it to.
So why all this mega landscaping? Well, there’s this tribe of folks, you see, who need to get to an ‘exit’ of sorts and there are a few things they need your help with, like the flowing river they can’t cross, or the 50ft tsunami wave that’s approaching, threatening to wipe out them, the villages you helped them build and everything else along with them.
It’s not all hand holding, though, and you can guide these gentle folk to knowledge stones, where they can learn magical abilities, which they subsequently share with wise elders. Handily, this first power is Repel Water, which comes in useful for protecting your villages when that tsunami does eventually turn up.
It is, at least at first, hugely impressive. For a £10 XBLA game the graphics are gorgeous. The physics aren’t bad either and the sound effects are subtle and understated, which suits the ‘nature’ theme perfectly. There’s no denying that From Dust is also a therapeutic experience in the early stages too.
The objective in any of the game’s 13 levels is to occupy each village in your given area, so as to activate the exit, which you guide your tribe to so they, and you, can move on to the next level.
It’s on these later levels, from about six onwards, where things start becoming less of an expertly paced, enjoyable challenge and more of a headache.
The tsunamis we could deal with, the volcanoes too were great fun features to introduce. Hell, we even enjoyed both of them at the same time, and the clever way in which we could employ one to cancel out the effects of the other.
Unfortunately, Ubisoft Montpelier’s level designer seemed to run out of ideas at this stage. The introduction of fire and water trees (don’t ask) smacks a little bit of desperation, plus arbitrary time limits dropped in for no good reason, just serve to make things harder for the sake of it.
Micro-management comes more into focus with each passing level until you get to a point where any single aspect of the game (including seemingly harmless rainfall) can have your increasingly desperate villagers screaming out for help as their impending doom and ‘me first!’ attitude only serves to annoy.
There aren’t many of them, you see, and more than couple of mini disasters on any of the game’s half hour-ish levels will decrease the population to below acceptable levels, requiring you to start over again.
Ironically, the best way to enjoy From Dust in these later levels is to ignore the requirements of game progression and just enjoy the thing sandbox style, such is the skill with which the mechanics have been crafted. It’s just a shame that a better game couldn’t have been built out of it.
In some ways an unmissable game that deserves to be played, and there are enough eager micro-managers out there to ensure From Dust’s deserved success. Definitely try the trial demo first though, as it could be all you need.
Review by MarketZero