From Dust Review

From Dust (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
Reviewed on PC
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
Publisher: Ubisoft
Released: August 17, 2011
MSRP: $14.99

When I finished From Dust‘s main campaign, maybe five hours after starting it, I sat back and thought about what I had just experienced. The god sim title that appeared on consoles nearly a month before its PC release was intriguing (at least at first), at times beautiful, and always enigmatic.

Trouble is, when all is said and done, I can’t say that I care one way or the other that I’ve played it.

In From Dust you play as The Breath, a godlike entity that’s kind of more like the Force than it is any sort of Creator figure. You protect a group of Men journeying… somewhere, but primarily your goal is to reshape the world in order to keep your Men from getting murdered by that world. These guys are pretty helpless, if not altogether stupid, and you’ll need to actually enact miracles to keep them from getting swept away by tsunamis or setting themselves on fire in lava flows, into which they’ll throw themselves without a second thought.

Each level of From Dust requires you to set up villages in order to gain additional powers. Villages go up around totems, totems contain abilities, and controlling all the totems opens the path to the next stage. There are also other objects that have the power to protect the villages from the dangers of the area around them — one protects against floods, for example, and another against fire. To set up these villages and get these protections, you need to send your Men to go to their various locations. This requires some intervention on your part.

See, your Men can’t cross rivers, or especially high rocks, or lava flows or other natural obstacles. Luckily, as The Breath, you can actually pick up elements and move them around by absorbing them into yourself. One mouse button sucks things up, the other blows things out — so if you need your Men to cross a river, you can suck up a bunch of dirt and drop it in the river to dam it. Then you can send your guys across before the water gets diverted.

Most the enjoyment in From Dust is derived of this ability to reshape the world, but while it’s interesting and a little bit new, it’s also ridiculous in its tedium. You’re basically building sand castles, in a sense, except you have no tools and you’re doing it one handful of sand at a time. Sometimes the game cuts you a break and lets you take bigger handfuls, but for the most part, you’ll be sucking and blowing constantly to set things up before your Men get themselves killed.

From Dust isn’t a leisurely reshaping of the world to fit your needs, either. It’s mostly a balls-to-the-wall race against the elements to keep everyone from perishing in a natural disaster. Some levels throw up a timer as soon as you start warning of an impending tsunami, for example — you’ll have that much time to clear a path and send a Man to collect the spell and get it back to the village before it’s destroyed. On the one hand, it’s a fun mechanic that requires you to figure out how you can alter the landscape sufficiently to achieve your goal when the landscape doesn’t want to be altered: rivers divert, lakes form and all kinds of other unintended consequences ravage the land. On the other hand, From Dust’s glitchy or maybe just badly made AI can often cause you to fail for no reason, as Men run into invisible obstacles and just plant their feet, or continue when they clearly shouldn’t and get swept out to sea or otherwise mangled.

That’s not to say the game is 100 percent unplayable — far from it. It’s just frustrating, probably more than it should be. For a god sim, you never feel exactly godlike (except for at the very end). Some of the environments and levels do feel fairly inspired, challenging and rewarding. A few of them set you beside volcanoes or in deserts with the task of spreading vegetation or combating fire, and these tend to be the better-designed stages because they actually reward planning and forethought. When the game is on, it’s on, but there’s also a lot about it that feels a touch haphazard.

I never got much of a chance to play From Dust in its console form, but given the choice between that and the PC port, I can’t think of a reason to recommend this weak PC carry-over. Graphically, there’s no improvement on the PC and the game chugs at a max of 30 frames per second for some reason. Ubisoft has saddled it with an Internet connection DRM. After some complaining from players (and much bad press), it seems the requirement to always be connected to the Internet in order to play has been reduced to just a connection required to start up the game, but still, it’s a requirement that’s more hassle than anything.

Apart from that, it’s just not a very good port. The AI is glitchy, yes, but there’s also nothing gained from having a PC control scheme. One would think that in a game centered around moving and placing things like lava to build stone walls and water to create lakes, the precision of a mouse would be welcome, but Ubisoft’s control scheme is highly inaccurate; you gain nothing from having a mouse in your hand. If anything, the controls of the game are less accurate than they would be if you were playing with analog sticks. This is a lazy port at its best and a crappy one at its worst.

From Dust looks more compelling in trailers than it actually ends up being in practice, and while it might hold attention for the few hours it takes to get through its campaign mode, there’s not much to draw players back. The game also packs several Challenge levels, but they aren’t much fun on account of even more reliance on the lackluster AI.

For $15, it’s hard to recommend a purchase of this one. If you’re dying to play From Dust, don’t say I didn’t warn you — but at least pick it up on Xbox Live rather than Steam. You’ll likely have more fun.

Pros:

  • Imaginative god sim with unique gameplay
  • Pretty environments
  • Reshaping the world can be interesting…

Cons:

  • …Until it gets boring, or worse, frustrating
  • Crappy port: there’s no reason to play this on PC over consoles
  • Ubisoft’s dumb DRM Internet requirement
  • Buggy, stupid AI humans who you have to save
  • Poor mouse controls
  • Challenge levels that are generally no fun

Final Score: 60/100

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1 Comment on From Dust Review

PAL-18

On August 23, 2011 at 12:59 am

This game is a total (bad) rip of Lionhead Studio’s series “Black & White”. “Black & White” is a lot harder, you have more choices (play good or evil), you get a creature to train (train it to be good or evil) and each level takes at least a few hours to complete. There’s also multiplayer. It’s not sold in stores anymore as its an old game, but there’s a demo available at http://blackandwhite2.filefront.com/file/%3B58562