Friday, September 09, 2011

Review: From Dust

The 360's Summer of Arcade seems to be getting better with each passing year, don’t you think? Truth be told, Ubisoft’s From Dust has been at the top of my wishlist for some time – and suffice to say, it’s been engrossing enough to stop me spending as much time as I’d like soaking up the rays outside. The fact that From Dust is responsible for my slightly anaemic complexion over the past few weeks goes some way to explaining how great this game is.

In a nutshell, this downloadable gem is a puzzler with some good old manipulation of the elements thrown in for good measure.

Anyone who remembers Peter Molyneux's first foray into God games with Populous in 1989 will know what to expect. Basically, you control a God-like entity called The Breath that has the ability to suck up earth, water or lava and deposit it somewhere else.

Effectively this gives you the ability to change the landscape, clearing land for villages, creating new pathways and generally helping to keep your nomadic followers alive by protecting them from the elements.

Your tribesman must be led across volatile landscapes towards sacred totems, where they can settle and build a thriving village. Five people are needed to activate each one so the route must remain open until they've all made safe passage. Problem is, the elements are against them and floodwaters and fires are among the hazards that they have to overcome. By absorbing matter, you can significantly improve their chances of survival. Once all the totems are reached and the dwellings and vegetation is thriving, an exit portal opens up - often in another perilous area -and The Breath must lead them to safety and the next level.

Time is not your friend in this game and often you're under pressure to expand settlements or divert the flow of rivers before the people meet their doom.

Earth can be moved to flatten the land, water can be absorbed to protect your tribesmen from drowning or to extinguish wildfires, whereas lava becomes solid rock when deposited, which provides some rather handy barriers from floodwaters.

The aforementioned totems and some special stones pop up every now and again earn you some additional powers too. Some provide the ability to repel an incoming tsunami, for example, while others allow you to temporarily solidify – or jellify - water (helping to divert waterways) or completely evaporate water, allowing safe passage across previously tricky terrain.

Levels vary in difficulty, some completed within a few minutes and others taking absolutely ages to fathom. Onscreen guidance is reasonably helpful, outlining the basic aim of each map but once it’s gone you’re very much left to your own devices and many levels will require a degree of experimentation to determine the best solution.

Beyond the many levels in the story mode, there are also around 30 challenge maps that pose smaller puzzles, often using only one of The Breath’s many powers. For example, one level may need you to quickly absorb water to protect your roaming followers, while another requires raging fires to be doused before they reach a nearby village.

Overall, it's a really enjoyable - albeit slightly repetitive - game and well worth a download. It can be a little frustrating using the clunky control pad, which doesn't always provide the accuracy you'd like... Perhaps a future patch allowing Kinect compatibility could add another dimension to the control system – and make you feel even more Godlike too?

And it also doesn’t help that the AI is also sometimes annoying – you'll often see your tribe take a different route from the one you've carved out, which leads them into trouble!

Minor niggles aside though, the charm of the game and its addictive, “just one more go” gameplay make this a frontrunner for one of the best arcade games of the year. For old school Powermongers or Mega-Lo-Maniacs, this new take on the God game genre will bring back many happy memories.

*Reviewed on Xbox 360