From Dust First Impressions

From Dust is a new game available for Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network and PC. It has been designed by Éric Chahi, whose last game came out during the previous millenium. In it, you are the ‘Breath’ and you guide a small band of people (protecting them is not paramount; if they die more magically appear) through increasingly hostile (is)lands. You can’t influence them directly but you can instruct them to head for a certain destination, collect items and build villages.

What you can influence directly however is the physical elements in the game world. Through a simple mechanic of picking up and placing down earth, water and lava you can reshape the land around your followers, carving out canyons, draining lakes and putting out fires. Through an amazing physics engine and simulation you can change the world and the world changes around you. Rivers carve out new paths in the sand, molten lava slowly creates a landmass creeping towards your followers, and tsunamis wash away all your hard work – destroying vegetation and sweeping away paths you built for your followers to walk upon.

The game is split into two main sections.

  1. A continuous ‘story’ where you guide your followers through lands of increasing difficulty on the patch to finding ‘The Ancients’.
  2. A set of ‘challenges’ which you unlock by completing the story mode and finding all the hidden bits and pieces in each story level. The challenges use the physics engine to construct clever one-off puzzles that you must solve as fast as possible and your time is posted on an online global scoreboard to compare with others.

I’ve nearly completed the story and I’ve played a few of the challenges. The challenges really show off the physics engine and it’s quite fun to see the result of a tsunami billowing around your protected villages. The main story is challenging in places, but nothing that repeated attempts at the level won’t fix. Incidentally that brings me to my biggest nit-pick, which is that the game forces you to watch a cut scene every time you restart the level. Considering these are ‘puzzles’ it seems a bit backwards to act like it’s some action adventure games.

Why should you get it?

I try to buy video games that bring something interesting to the medium. From Dust is an interesting take on the god-game genre and draws influences from Populous: The Beginning and Black & White. But what I really like about From Dust is it uses the latest and greatest technology to produce a fantastically interesting simulation and then bases an entire game around it. This could’ve easily felt like a tech-demo but Ubisoft Montpellier managed to avoid that feeling and produce an interesting and unique game.

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