From Dust
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
Price: 1200 MSP
Platform: Xbox 360, PC

Ubisoft weren’t wrong when they described ‘From Dust’ as the spiritual successor to the classic Populous series. Both make use of the player being a god like entity to control the environment and help civilisations grow. While Populous was more of a Real Time Strategy From Dust works more like a Puzzle game.

You play as a Deity called ‘The Breath’ who has the power to pick up and drop certain environmental objects such as, soil, lava or water. Your main objective is to guide a nomadic tribe through hazardous environments and help them find a safe civilisation and help vegetate the world. The main campaign is split up into a series of missions where the main objective is to set up villages and find a gate which will allow you to enter the next mission. All missions follow the same structure but how you go about completing the mission vary drastically depending on what situations and hazards comes before you. There are many ways in which you can use your powers to manipulate the environment to help your tribe. For example Water can be taken away to protect villages from flooding or dropped on wildfires. Soil can be placed to form bridges and help vegitate the land quicker and Dropping lava will instantly cool down and form solid rock which can be used to block water or lava flows.

You don’t directly control the tribe but you do guide them to certain objects in order to find powers or new homes. The tribe can only set up camp at totem poles spread out all around the map. Once a camp is set up the land around it will blossom with wildlife and will continue to spread as long as there is soil and water nearby to help it grow. They can also grant you additional powers such as jellifying water, enhance the powers of your breath or infinite earth to name a few. All of which will help you complete the task at hand. Villages can also be protected from fire and/or water if a tribesman finds and collects power from the stones of musical knowledge and take it back to the village. Once told where to go a white line will tell you of their path with a red line marking an area they will get stuck or stranded at, meaning you will have to clear the path for them.

However the environment is doing all it can to prevent you from succeeding after mastering the basics of your powers you will have to fight off tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and often both together in order to help the tribe survive. Much of the challenge comes from finding the best course of action in any given situation and making use of all your powers on the fly. You will need to think carefully of where to divert water or lava because making a giant pool isn’t going to stop an ever flowing stream or you may need to transverse that area you divert the lava to later. The last third of the game will kick your arse as hazards get more frequent and dangerous even going as far as drastically changing the environment in an instant. Gameplay is only slightly dampened when you go to build a new village. The game has a habit of being picky when there is the smallest amount of water surrounding the totem which can be a pain if you’re running short of time before a tsunami or volcano hits. There is a bit of trial and error involved but there is no clear cut way to complete a mission. There is a certain sandbox element that allows you to do anything you see fit, this is very obvious very early on in the game as you are given much more time and space to do as you will. Though as the missions get tougher and more frantic it will become apparent that there are a few set ways to complete that mission. But the sheer variety and massive differences in the way the map evolves depending on the player more than makes up for this slight problem.

Outside of the main campaign you have a challenge mode which limit your powers and asks you to complete a task as fast as you can. These vary from protecting the village before a tsunami strikes to helping clear a path for the tribe to cross. These offer nice short distractions and make good and interesting uses of the games mechanics. There are also collectables in the form of memories of the tribe which are extra bits of information based on the games world. You collect these either by simply completing a mission, getting a certain percentage of the map full of vegetation or collecting special stones. These help add an extra layer of difficulty to missions and an excuse for completionists to go back. Though outside of this there is very little reason to go back unless you want to try and find different ways in which to complete a level. You can also if you wish go back to a previously explored level and continue to mess with it which almost acts as a sandbox mode.

From Dust looks great. The game has gone for a very minimalist approach despite the odd highlight and prompt, the game lets the environment do the talking. Map design varies from level to level, you go from such environments as a volcanic island, tropical island and a desert. All of which have a distinct look and feel different from one another and the fact you can change the appearance of any given level just adds to the appeal. One level for instance only consists of a few small islands and by the levels end you have a big and sprawling playground most of which was created by you. In short From Dust is a good looking game and not just for a downloadable title. The game has a certain charm and character to it.

The Final Word
From Dust is a great and pretty original little gem. The concept of changing the environment is an endearing one and works very well. You are given a lot of control of how to tackle each situation and even when the going gets tough the pay off is satisfying. It may not last you very long but it’s definitely worth checking out for those looking for something different. There aren’t many games quite like From Dust.

- MonsterVine Rating: 4.5 out of 5 – Great