From Dust Review
From Dust Box Art
System: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Dev: Ubisoft Montpellier
Pub: Ubisoft
Release: July 27, 2011
Players: 1
Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p Mild Violence
New Soul in a Strange World
by Patriel Manning

From Dust is a game that puts players in charge of guiding a nomadic tribe in search of their origins through a series of perilous environments once populated by their ancestors. You'll encounter volcanoes, torrential rainfall, and wildfires standing in the way of progress. While these might seem daunting, players have an advantage over these natural disasters, as they wield the "Breath of God."

That's right. In From Dust you'll be able to use this force to collect various elements from the environment and employ them to solve puzzles, help the tribesmen find resources, and establish villages. Initially, it's all fairly simple stuff: use dirt to make land bridges or stop the flow of water and that sort of thing. However, the gameplay quickly becomes more complicated because the environments themselves are alive. Things are constantly changing, though not in a totally unpredictable way; they're running on a believable, if not altogether realistic, simulator. This means that when lava flows into the ocean, it slowly extends the borders of the island, just as you'd expect if you paid attention in geophysical science. The game assumes you're intelligent enough to handle all of this while at the same time establishing a safe environment for a society to flourish.

From Dust Screenshot

In each of the 13 main areas, the goals are simple: establish villages at each of the totems (there are up to 4 per area), tame the environment, and spread plant life. Doing all of these things will enable the tribe to regain lost memories, thus advancing the story. In addition to wielding the Breath of God, players are granted special abilities that are associated with the totems in each area. In order to keep players from feeling too godlike, there are some limitations. Each of the powers associated with the totems have time limits and must recharge so you can't abuse them. However some of the powers can be combined, so while you are limited you're never left feeling boxed in. The tribesmen themselves can also acquire their own powers by sending a shaman to collect them from special stones that are scattered throughout the environments. They'll be able to stop tidal waves in their tracks and put out fires once the shaman returns. All you have to do is guide him there.

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And that's where the problems begin.

It's worth noting that you're never actually in direct control of any members of the tribe. You can tell them where to go, but they'll decide how to get there and they don't always take the best route. The problem comes when the route they've chosen leads to unnecessary dangers or implausible passageways. At one point, I had a group that decided it would be better to scale a 50 foot cliff and cross a river of lava than to just take the easy way around. This wouldn't have been a major problem if resources had been abundant, but it became a tedious exercise in trial and error in this instance. At other times, there would be a clear path to the destination but the shaman would wander off, nervously looking for another pathway. This sort of thing doesn't happen often enough to ruin the experience, but it can get irritating. The camera can be a bit clunky at times as well, but doesn't ruin the experience either.

From Dust Screenshot

In fact, it's almost a sure thing you won't notice any of this for the first half hour or so because you'll be so distracted by the visuals—the game is absolutely gorgeous. The color palette ranges from paradisiac to menacing. And while the game is made to be played from a bird's-eye view, it still looks decent when zoomed in. The frame rate remains steady despite having a lot of on-screen mayhem, and I'd be confident in saying that the game looks good without adding the qualifier "for a downloadable title." It looks good, period. There were times when I stopped playing just to watch a tidal wave rip through the area then wait until the waves died down again. That said, there were a few jerky animations here or there from the tribesmen, but all in all the game looks stunning.

From Dust Screenshot

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