The first thing that piqued my interest when reading about From Dust is that the game was created by a gaming legend, namely Eric Chahi. Most of you are probably too young to remember Another World (also known as Out of this World in the States) but the game was truly revolutionary for its time. Released back in 1991, the game was made almost entirely by Chahi himself (a far cry from the army of developers used to create AAA titles nowadays). The graphics and atmosphere were ahead of its time and the game was as a result critically acclaimed.
Fast forward to 20 years later (now I feel old!) and we have another game that dares to break the mould. Does Eric Chahi have another instant classic on his hands?
There isn’t a really deep story here but since there aren’t many games that allow you to be a God of a Pacific Islander culture, it wins points for being unique.
The best way to describe From Dust is that it’s a mixture of Lemmings and Populous:
Like Populous, you have god-like powers at your command, being able to lift water, earth, lava and vegetation, and place them wherever you like. Like Lemmings, your goal for each level is to secure a safe route to the exit for your minions (who are villagers instead of lemmings). Lose too many villagers to drowning or being burned to a crisp, and it’s game over.
So From Dust is essentially a puzzle game where you co-operate with your villagers to tame the world of its hazards and eventually create a safe way for them to reach an ominous tunnel (which leads to the next level). Before you reach this tunnel however, you’re required to colonise new settlements and you can only do so at totems. Sometimes, these totems are situated in really stupid places (like in the middle of a volcano) so this is where it starts to become challenging. Vegetation such as “water trees” can help you stop any forest fires that break out from any lava flows, protecting your villages from being burned down, but then it may have to worry about flooding instead.
Building settlements at the totems may seem more trouble than its worth, but doing so will unlock extra powers that enhance your ability to sculpt the terrain. Amplify Breath for example, allows you to collect more earth, water or lava, Infinite Earth allows you to create sand out of thin air, and Evaporate lowers the water level across the entire map. Also, by building these settlements you are able to have a village elder bring back knowledge – the most important being Repel Water in my opinion; this ability allows the villagers to protect themselves from flooding and tsunamis.
The combination of puzzle-solving and possessing God-like powers makes the game fun – in fact I’ve probably not had this kind of fun since playing Populous II. The only reason the game doesn’t get a higher score however is that interacting with the villagers can sometimes be a chore – so much so that you may be shouting at your screen when they keep hollering at you to smoothen a hill so they don’t need to climb up it. Or because they’ve been washed away to a rock and they need a way back to the main island. As you can imagine, having ten or more of these villagers crying for your help at the same time can get quite annoying.
Also, annoying AI aside, the game is actually rather easy and I was only really challenged on a couple of the latter levels.
Sound in this game is of a minimalist nature. Background noises consist of things you would hear in an archipelago; villagers talking and going about their business, the thunder of volcanoes erupting, and the sound of rushing, giant walls of water wiping your villages into the ocean.
Your villagers give different shouts to alert you when they’re in need of attention, usually because they’re unable to get to their destination or when they’re screaming because their huts are on fire. It’s also reassuring to hear the sound of didgeridoos playing since this means your villagers are using divine powers to protect their homes from tsunamis.
No complaints with the music – there’s actually not much in terms of music besides the inter-level cutscene which is appropriately cinematic and fills you with wonder.
The graphics are quite exceptional in this game considering you’re able to zoom in right down on your villagers, yet also zoom out and view the entire island they live on. Watching the volcanoes create new islands right before your eyes is fascinating and the water effects are beautiful. The only criticism I have (and this is thanks to the game being a console port) is there is no anti-aliasing so the graphics may seem to have one too many jagged edges.
Replay value is a decade or two behind the times. You only get a few levels to complete before the game is already over. Depending on other secondary quests you do within the levels (e.g. retrieving artifacts or populating the entire island with trees) you are able to unlock extra tidbits of game lore; however it’s not really enough to warrant a second playthrough of the campaign in my opinion.
Finishing the levels does unlock some extra challenge maps which are fun distractions but again there aren’t that many and you’ll likely complete them very quickly.
While I didn’t experience any serious issues while playing From Dust, I still chose not to give a perfect score for polish. Yes, I’m aware there was some furore when Ubisoft apparently went back on its word and included its draconian DRM scheme (which requires you to be online all the time) but most of the anger was directed at Ubisoft breaking their promise. I’m not going to debate whether that is the case or not, but the fact remains that you are being required to login to play what is effectively a single-player game. There aren’t even any online achievements to justify the need to have an online presence!
Score - 7/10A short but cheap game for the puzzle fans and megalomaniacs.
If you want to get the game, you can get it off Steam.
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