Reader Review: From Dust

From Dust - it's a game that's getting mixed reviews in the best possible sense of the word. Some people love it and some people hate it. Today's reviewer, Dutch, occupies the middle range of this spectrum...

As always - best review each month receives a Blu-ray/DVD package courtesy of Madman.

Take it away Dutch!

From Dust I'll state this for the record: I have never enjoyed playing a god game, let alone any strategy game on a console. I've never played an instalment of the Populous franchise, and I didn't enjoy my time with Black & White. That makes the purchase of From Dust somewhat uncharacteristic for me, but I took the plunge on account of the striking art direction and - in all honesty - the fact that it's part of the Summer of Arcade promotion. In some ways the gambit has paid off, but shelve any illusions that From Dust is the first strategy game to work properly with a control pad.

Loved Breathtaking - From Dust is easily one of the most visually impressive Xbox Live Arcade titles available: from both artistic and technical perspectives. With awe-inspiring environmental effects, and a refreshing colour palette, players can literally shape the earth that their subjects tread on. The impact of the visuals is stronger still in the later stages, where you must protect a nomadic tribe from the combined threat of floods, volcanic eruptions, bushfires and tsunamis.

Man Vs Wild - The special abilities players are granted throughout the campaign are not only amazing to behold, but also enjoyable to experiment with. Using the "jellify water" ability, you can recreate some Old Testament stories by parting the sea and even stop a tsunami dead in its tracks. "Infinite earth" grants the ability to make mountains from nothing to impede the flow of flood and lava. Players are sufficiently empowered with planet-shaping traits to combat Mother Nature's unrelenting attack.

Brain bender - Some of the final levels of the campaign are genuinely perplexing. The solutions that I employed - some of which I'm ashamed to admit were not my own - produced some grand visuals and a sense of achievement not found in the average strategy game.

More than your money's worth - From Dust may be priced at 1200 Microsoft Points, but there is more than enough content to justify the cost. The package includes a lengthy (read: it took me about eight hours) campaign that spans thirteen levels of increasing difficulty and thirty challenge maps that task players with completing objectives with a limited set of abilities. Unlockable "memories," also afford some replay value for those who appreciate the game's chaotic brand of disaster management.

Hated Quiet, I'm trying to think - Even when you know the solution, things don't always go as planned in From Dust. This on its own is understandable, but it's nothing short of painful with tribesman screaming at you repeatedly for help. The sound design lacks the depth and impact of the visuals, and you'll have heard every sound the game has to offer after fifteen minutes of sustained play. Was it all a dream? - I'll try not to spoil anything, but the conclusion to the From Dust's story is far from satisfying.

The Lord commands you! - As glorious as it is to witness, From Dust suffers from some near-unforgiveable AI pathfinding issues. I can't count the amount of times that I had constructed two or more valid paths to an objective, only to have my subjects find a longer, more dangerous path or simply fail to acknowledge that one was available. Towards the end, this problem is even more apparent and frustrating. In some cases, my computer-controlled tribe created setbacks that - while easily remedied - led to another half hour of play. All of this could have been remedied if you could have some finer control over the tribe itself, but as it stands you can only tell them where to go; not how to get there.

One trick god-pony - As varied as the environments are, the way that you interact with them is ostensibly the same. I found the simplistic play mechanics to be exhausting towards the end, particularly when the land and people didn't always react in a consistent matter. When the game worked, I genuinely felt like a god. When it didn't, my anger knew no bounds; I would often drop lava on uncooperative villagers and swear like a sailor. From Dust made me a vengeful god on account of its sometimes cheap and repetitive gameplay.

The Verdict Many could be sold on From Dust based on visuals alone. The game looks magnificent when players enact god-like abilities to battle Mother Nature's fury. It's gratifying when it all works as intended and you manage to stop potential disasters at the touch of a button. More often than not however, AI pathfinding issues and other inconsistencies serve to cheapen the experience. I recommend From Dust to any fans of the god game genre, just be prepared for controller-throwing levels of agony and frustration.


Comments

  • I understand your points, but, thus far through my playthrough, I've never had any particularly bad pathfinding problems (okay, there was one, but after drowning all of my villagers as vengeance I got over it...(Also I'm a big god-game guy, so I'm used to that stupidity from villagers)), and I haven't found the gameplay repeptitive, because at least they keep introducing new ways to make the same thing interesting. Though I'm only up to the second last of the story missions, and all the challenges might change my opinion.

    I agree with the sound design though, and I wish the damn villagers would just shut up.
    Nice Review!

      Thanks, Blaghman. The pathfinding issues only really crept in from the ninth map and onwards. I was playing it late Saturday night and recorded an example if you're interested:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BsnxeErGR98

      The pathfinding issues are by no means a deal-breaker, but my word did they make me angry sometimes.

    I'd agree with this assessment of From Dust. I've enjoyed my time with it so far (I'm only up to the 6th or 7th level).

    The controls are somewhat clunky, there needs to be a middle level of zoom and maybe it's just me but sometimes where I think the cursor is for dropping down dirt, is not quite in line, this was particularly frustrating on one of the levels where you have to build a rock wall to block a tsunami and you have a time limit.

    Most of the time I end up having to repeat the levels because I kill all my villagers/village in a fit of rage after they do something stupid, or even if I did something stupid.

    All in all though, I'm enjoying the game and it was definitely worth the money. I haven't had this much fun in an Arcade game since Castle Crashers or Trials HD (I haven't played Bastion yet).

    Is there a sandbox/free form mode where you can just build and random disasters happen?

      Yes and no. As far as I can tell there isn't but the maps themselves serve as a sandbox after you have completed the mission objectives. Particularly later on there are some levels which are very minimalistic, allowing you to build as you will and counter the disasters as they happen.

      But if you want a complete map creator, as in creating the trees and placing volcano and river starting points, then no it doesn't exist.

      Personally I've found customizing the levels given to me was more than satisfactory for my creative side, and I've watched my brother do things with them I never even thought of.

        Cool, sounds like it should suit me fine then. :P

    Bugger, I was pretty keen for this on PS3, I may still get it. It's a shame about the sound design I'm usually pretty fussy about sound in games.

      Repetition is an issue, yes, but the sounds are pretty awesome as they are (at least, I enjoy them).

      Could it be better? Yes.

      Is it gratingly terribad? No wai.

        I only found it to be a huge issue in the larger levels where there is enormous potential for your AI villagers to walk into trouble. In some of the levels it is headache-inducingly grating.

        As with most of my observations regarding From Dust, when everything goes as planned you wouldn't notice the repetitive sound design. You might even say that it's good.

    Excellent question Michael. I would also like to know this, as it could increase the games longevity, or even perhaps custom scenarios?

    • Ok, so far as I can tell, you can go back to any mission area once you've finished it, and deal with whatever the game throws at you there, but so far as I'm aware, there isn't an actual "sand-box" mode. There might be one hidden away somewhere that I don't know about though...

      I haven't tried the challenges yet, but as there are 30 of them I think that's the kind of thing you referring to. The game is plenty long if you include those along with the 8-10 campaign levels (especially since levels can take up to an hour to complete)

        Thank you for the comments. Either way I'm eagerly awaiting this on August the 18th, unless Steam got something wrong again... Here's looking toward that day! *Cheers*

    there is something of a sandbox map in the last level. you can make your own islands, place water spawns etc. but you need to unlock each ability and once you used all of them it starts the final task which sinks the whole lot anyway.

    i came away from that "game" fairly irritable to be honest. as a tech demo it's astounding. as a game it is very thin. if the developer had perhaps split it into two kinds of game. one that allowed world building, and another for tribe building perhaps, it could have been a more engaging and entertaining game.

    sadly without even a proper sandbox mode it's a one sitting wonder for me. the first levels almost complete themselves and the last have to be impossible without memorising and building towards what comes next

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