From Dust is the latest title to hit XBLA from Microsoft’s annual Summer of Arcade promotion. From Dust is in the “god game” genre, however, with a different twist. In most games of this genre you have total control over everything. In this game the only thing you really have control over is the land. You can shape the land as you see fit. You can, for example, pick up some sand and deposit it across a river to try and make a bridge that people can cross. You can create lakes in deserts and build up dams to try and prevent a tsunami from wiping out your village. Everything else is out of your control. The main premise of From Dust is that you are trying to help some tribes people restart their civilization. You have almost no control over what these people do though. There are totems spread around each map and you have to guide the tribes people over to them. Once you successfully get enough of them over there they will build a new village. At the beginning of the game that is really all there is to it. As you progress though the game gets increasingly more difficult and complex as you are thrown challenge after challenge. Some maps will have time limits that you need to follow or something bad might happen. A tsunami might come and wipe out your village if you aren’t careful or it could be that volcano over there has ash flowing nonstop. As you progress you will learn certain spells that can help protect everyone. There is one that will protect you from a Tsunami and other natural disasters. Later on you will even get powers that will let you put out fires temporarily or suck matter into a black orb to destroy it.
The visuals in From Dust are pretty amazing. It is a very pretty game and has a variety of different environments. As you go through the game you unlock information about the Ancients and how life might have been like before everything was wiped out. The totems that I briefly mentioned above are a record of tribes that have been there. It is all that remains if a village should disappear and marks the spot where a new one can be rebuilt. In some instances it might even be possible to move a totem to a better location. Once you have met all of the requirements on a particular map you have to guide the tribes people to a passage so that you can move on to the next location. Each location presents its own unique challenge and the locations that the tribes people have picked won’t make it easy on you.
There are a couple minor nuisances with the game though. First off is that some of the controls seem to be inverted with no way to change it. That is a big mistake by the development team. The difficulty seemed to be a little uneven at times where you would be trying to achieve your current goal and then all of a sudden the difficulty ramps up. There is going to be some trial and error here as you figure out what works best with your current situation. The tribes people that you are trying to help really aren’t the smartest bunch . When you direct them to go somewhere they will go the way they want which is not necessarily the best way. You can’t even control the path they take which can be somewhat irritating. This is especially true if you have constructed a bridge for someone to cross and they refuse to use it, instead standing at the edge of the river and continually asking for help. Additionally, there are going to be some people that will get really confused by certain aspects of this title and a better tutorial would have been nice.
Overall my experience with From Dust has been a positive one. Despite the complaints above it is a fun title and it is definitely one that everyone should check out and one that I will return to play. This title does do a tremendous job of showcasing how brutal nature can truly be and the helplessness that you feel when you can’t do anything about it. If you are a fan of “god” games then I urge you to give From Dust a chance. It’s not really like any other “god” game you have played and it is a breath of fresh air. The environments look pretty amazing and you’ll definitely want to do anything and everything you can to protect your villages. There are a lot of downloadable titles coming out right now but be sure not to miss out on this fantastic adventure.