From Dust Review for Xbox 360

New Soul in a Strange World

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.

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

It also sounds as good as it looks with soothing ambient tracks in the background and music that was no doubt inspired by tribal tunes from North and South America and West Africa. It all fits in nicely. It also helps that From Dust uses Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, which actually aids in locating troubled villages or sources of water or fire occasionally.

From Dust Screenshot

In addition to the 13 main missions, there is also a Challenge Mode that features 30 levels that players can tackle if they’re feeling particularly inspired. Each level features its own set of rules and limitations, such as only being able to use one element, and will pit players against the clock in a race to save the tribe from annihilation. It’s a fairly straightforward way to approach a mode like this for a game in this genre, but it’s sure to provide hours of replayability. Having already taken a glance at the leaderboards, it’s clear that this mode will be sure to attract completionist and competitor alike.

This sort of game is pretty common on the PC, but there hasn’t been a console game like From Dust in quite some time. That’s part of what makes it unique. It’s a game that’s pretty, controls well, and offers enough of a challenge to keep most players occupied for a while at a fraction of the cost of a full retail release title. The only real problems are a few minor A.I. issues that can easily be overlooked and a camera that can feel clunky once in a while. It offers believable gameplay (aside from the “Breath of God” bit), easy to learn gameplay mechanics, and loads of replayability via Challenge Mode.

I can’t say enough about the graphics. They’re simultaneously beautiful and menacing. 3.2 Control
Controls are easy enough to master though the camera is a bit clunky. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music and sound effects are great and fit the atmosphere perfectly. 3.9 Play Value
Aside from the story mode, there’s enough to keep players interested for a while. 3.6 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.

Review Rating Legend
0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid 2.5 – 2.9 = Average 3.5 – 3.9 = Good 4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
2.0 – 2.4 = Poor 3.0 – 3.4 = Fair 4.0 – 4.4 = Great 5.0 = The Best

Game Features:

  • Ground-Breaking Technology – Play in the sandbox of one of the most advanced real-time nature simulations, where everything you see and interact with evolves dynamically, offering a constantly renewed experience.
  • Unique Art Direction – Discover a large variety of environments: Tropical islands, volcanic landscapes, deserts, and so much more.
  • Rich Story Mode – Explore 13 breathtaking territories of emergent gameplay. Master the natural forces at play on a mysterious archipelago and help a primitive tribe to recover the lost powers of their ancestors.
  • Confront Mighty Nature – Protect your tribe against Nature’s most devastating attacks. Face down tsunamis, wildfires, earthquakes, volcanoes, and torrential rains.
  • Master Godlike Powers – Control the forces of nature to sculpt the world in your image. Hold back lava, stop raging waters, empty lakes, grow forests, and raise mountains!
  • Live Up to the Challenge – Race against the clock on 30 additional maps in Challenge Mode. Each scenario is a puzzle-like challenge where time is of the essence.
  • Online Leaderboards – Compare your Challenge Mode scores with the community on worldwide leaderboards.

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