Matthew Sawrey

a portfolio of videogame writings

From Dust

Differing from the usual god game template, From Dust grants you no direct control over the ant like populations you observe. Instead the world itself is your playdough, yours to mould, shape and contort to will. A sandbox of nature’s mechanics in which the interactions of water, lava, earth and life occur procedurally, dynamically and realistically (albeit grossly simplified and at an accelerated pace). Water cools and solidifies lava, lava scorches earth spreading wildfires, and earth is etched and shaped over time by the erosive force of flowing water.

These evolving landscapes can be fascinating to passively observe as they develop independently of any action on your behalf: One stand out stage revolves around a tiny seeping lava spot on the ocean floor that progressively constructs an ever expanding volcanic island. Whilst beautiful to observe, the ambivalence of this nature dictates that violent hostility is never far from view, with ground shaking eruptions and cascading tidal waves plaguing these primordial lands.

You are granted control of ‘the breath’ –  a divine glowing snake like force with the power to slide across any surface and uptake spherical volumes of matter, depositing them elsewhere. Using this ability you are tasked with safely guiding tribal humanity through a series of increasingly inhospitable landscapes as they search for the secrets of their ancestors and attempt to reconnect with the ways of the natural world.

Progress is dependant upon guiding these  tribespeople between multiple totems within each stage, awakening a portal to the next.  Populating totems unlocks extra powers, such as an ability to jellify all water, or to quickly extinguish wildfires.

Stringent use of these abilities becomes a necessity in safely navigating the unstable landscapes of latter stages. Which to the detriment of From Dust can become teeth gnawingly frustrating, in part due to the unpredictable nature of the underlying procedural physics. Although situating a stage within a volcanic caldera was never going to prove a pleasant stroll in the park.

A persistent secondary objective of spreading vegetation and eventually wildlife throughout each land grants access to challenge stages, adding plenty of longevity to the experience.

The eventual introduction of various trees as landscape modifiers feels slightly off kilter with the rest of your worldly powers, although they do add to the playground of options, lending a plethora of potential solutions with which to tackle each obstacle.

Control of “the breath” feels a little cumbersome and overly sensitive through the joysticks, whilst the triggers provide a nice analog method for the uptake and deposition of matter. Human path finding can be inconsistently troublesome, finding great issue with traversing the smallest humps of sand and yet no obstacle with scaling some steep rocky regions.

Critical to and underpinning the entire experience are the wonderfully impressive liquid physics, water and lava both ebb and flow with an appropriate viscosity and weight. Indeed whilst From Dust may be reminiscent of and purge much inspiration from Peter Molyneux’s 1989 god game Populous, it is in fact a different beast, born of technological advancement without which its creation could not have been facilitated.

It is not without its blemishes but the overall vision of From Dust ultimately overcomes them producing a thing of rarity in videogames these day – A unique experience. One of evolving natural environments and world shaping powers that blends impressive technology and artistic intent into one experience, and all of this from a downloadable title! A divine treat.

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This entry was posted on September 29, 2011 by in Review and tagged , , , , , , , , .
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