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Cian Hassett
27 Jul, 2011

From Dust Review

360 Review | Great balls of sandy brilliance!
Who has the best job in the world? A man perched atop a fluffy white cloud, with a big beard, who goes by the name of God. You mightn't believe in him and nobody can blame you, but free your mind and think, wouldn't it be cool to have total control over your surroundings? Damn right it would. That's why developers are still making games like From Dust, a spiritual successor to Molyneux's Populous from way back in 1989, before a lot of us were born. It really is a delightful little game, and also one of the most visually impressive and technically ambitious adventures on the Xbox Live Arcade. From Dust is a gift from above.

Don't take the word 'gift' literally, because that implies you don't have to give anything back. Obviously, you do - 1200 MSP (AU$20) to be precise. Still, it's great value for something that you can spend a silly amount of time with. It would be easy to describe From Dust as a glorified tech demo, but it really is so much more. You're getting an experience, a sense of intrigue and mystery, a thought provoking journey that makes you wonder about the origin of our species. Short cut-scenes and haunting orchestral music create a memorable atmosphere, presenting you with a truly unique solo package. There aren't many other contemporaries, definitely not on this platform anyway. Apologies for the elongated introduction, because really, From Dust is a very simple concept with basic ideas.

Don't frown brother, look on the bright side.

Don't frown brother, look on the bright side.
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And that's a good thing; it allows you to create a personal world using one central idea. The gameplay involves moving a snake-like cursor across the land, pressing the left trigger absorbs matter, pressing the right trigger releases the contents. What makes From Dust so incredible to look at, aside from some beautiful art design, is the fact that everything reacts in real time. The first hour of gameplay doesn't go too far beyond consuming balls of dirt to create bridges and walls, but you're quickly introduced to newer, more varied substances and different forms of environmental enemies. Seeing the power of water, how it erodes, how it kills, how it changes the landscape with beautifully lush flora, how all of this happens right before your eyes – it's an amazing achievement. When you eventually come across the moving worlds, you really begin to appreciate the delicate details and how all of the elements come together in harmony.

Of course there is a structured story behind the wonderful technology. The emphasis is on structure because the one major fault with From Dust is an underdeveloped plot. A good amount of work has gone into creating a peculiar tribe with their own language and rituals, but it could have been exploited with a bit more depth. Since you're not playing it for a gripping tale, From Dust is more about challenges and exploration. You'll enter a new world with a few people; from here you need to click on a 'Totem' to repopulate, building villages, and you'll need to access each one before moving onto the next area. Geographical obstructions are the most prominent blockade facing the people, so you'll have to fiddle around with your abilities to let them run wild. If you're feeling extra motivated, you can search for hidden stones, revealing different histories.

At this stage you're probably thinking, that's all very plain isn't it? Well, not really. When you're knee deep in mud, surrounded by the constant threat of tsunamis and raging bush fires, From Dust takes on a greater sense of urgency. You'll have to time movement carefully so that Mother Nature does't wipe out an entire civilization, and this is helped by the aforementioned Totems, emitting special powers to open up a window of opportunity. Some of these powers include the ability to jellify water or a more extreme option, completely evaporate all of the liquid across the land. They're all time sensitive so you might have less than a minute to reach your goal. As you progress through the 'story' (supplemented by bonus challenges), you'll discover more tools to manipulate the worlds and exploit From Dust's technology. Just stick with it until you reach the volcanos, that's when the gameplay really improves and grows increasingly complex. Flaming trees can be picked up and planted to control rivers, plants bursting with water can be placed strategically to defend against fires, continuously changing the world with every press of a button.

It really is magical in places.

It really is magical in places.
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The concept remains the same throughout, and From Dust is all the better as a result. You don't necessarily need to appreciate the genre to enjoy the adventure, it's the technology that resonates strongest. Frustrations will occasionally arise out of the inhabitants persistent refusal to traverse a hill, the inability to select specific groups and move them individually is annoying, and there are times when you'll get bamboozled with defending all of your villages. Otherwise, it's a very polished title with a ridiculous amount of potential in capable hands. The main missions are short bursts of fun that steadily amass into larger, more difficult challenges. So you'll be playing From Dust into the early hours, no question, even after the relatively standard length of the campaign. It's easy to get distracted and lose track of time while playing with the fancy water effects, but maybe that's an indication that we need to get out more…

From Dust could be destined for cult classic status; hardcore fans will find the simplicity off-putting, newcomers will bemoan the lack of a fully fleshed out narrative. However, both demographics will undoubtedly be gobsmacked with the technology, beauty, and customisation that From Dust delivers so incredibly well. If you're looking for something new and different to fill the gap until the blockbuster games start rolling in once more, then look no further. From Dust is one of the best games on the Xbox Live Arcade, and a prime example of how to intertwine gameplay with a spectacular engine. Miss out and play the martyr if you like, but remember, the big man is always watching you.
The Score
A wonderful new addition to the Xbox Live Arcade that suffers from small irritations more than anything else, but it's still a beautiful experience. 8
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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28 Comments
2 years ago
oh shit this is out? I know what I'm doing this arvo.

Also kind of disappointing that there's no Kinect functionality, it seems like the perfect game for it.
2 years ago
Great review, Cian! It's nice to see that they really followed through with what they wanted to achieve.
2 years ago
Woah, where did this come from? I believe it's scheduled for release on the PS3 and PC, so I'll be picking it up there. Nice review icon_smile.gif
2 years ago
Looking to pick this up later today. Great review:)

Only thing i would like to know is how hard the game overall is? I heard the game started relatively easy but got much harder by the end game. Was this your experience as well?
2 years ago
i played populous when i was 7 yrs old and loved it. then again i loved all bullfrog games, syndicate, etc etc. theme park? i cant even remember. prolly pick this up on ps3 icon_smile.gif
2 years ago
matt30822 wrote
Only thing i would like to know is how hard the game overall is? I heard the game started relatively easy but got much harder by the end game. Was this your experience as well?
I think you just answered the question! icon_razz.gif

The first three or four levels are extremely straight forward but it gets a lot more difficult towards the end. The worlds get bigger and throw more obstacles your way and you really need to start thinking. I can't remember exactly what it was called, but there's a level where the centre moves up and down, and since its filled with water, Totems can be submerged if you're not careful. After that one you're faced with rising tides and...well, you get the picture icon_wink.gif

So yes is the answer.
2 years ago
Is there an option for just mucking around or playing random scenarios?

Or is it just a series of pre-defined missions?
2 years ago
Just missions and challenges unless I missed something. But you're free to do what you like inside the levels, you're not forced to move on, so you can arse around with the physics as much as you like.
2 years ago
Thanks for the response icon_smile.gif Been needing to play a challenging game for a while.
2 years ago
2 years ago
Great review, I've been looking forward to this for a while being a huge Black and White nut back in the day.

Shame Ubi delayed the PC version till mid august though.
2 years ago
grim-one wrote
Is there an option for just mucking around or playing random scenarios?

Or is it just a series of pre-defined missions?
I've heard there is a bit of a sandbox mode when you finish the game.
2 years ago
Is this out yet?

I can't seem to find it on the Xbox site or through the Games Marketplace on my Xbox?

If it's not out, when will it be?
2 years ago
I don't know how XBL stuff goes here in Australia compared to the US, but it is reported as out July 27th.

It's next month for PC and **** knows when for PS3
2 years ago
Yeah I checked the Winter Arcade page here and it says the 27th, but it doesn't have a link like the other titles.

Also if you search the Australia Xbox site for "From Dust", you don't get any results for it.

Strange.
2 years ago
I often wonder how some people make a living out of reviewing games, when they're glorified trolls or just haven't a clue...

Jim McGobshite

Brainless BigPond
2 years ago
Yup, it's up there now.

Have to agree with you Cian, unfortunately it's not always a reflection of the game, but the gamer. Some people get it, some don't. It's one reason why I judge the game by how I feel about it, not how others do (no offense of course, that's a well written review right there!)
2 years ago
Cian wrote
I often wonder how some people make a living out of reviewing games, when they're glorified trolls or just haven't a clue...

Jim ****

Brainless BigPond
Whilst I don't exactly disagree with you, I could still essentially understand the angles that Jim and Joab were coming from. They're not exactly off-the-mark with how god games can be (mis)interpeted, but their respective quality of writing could stand to come up a few notches.

What I find odd is this isn't the first time I've seen you review a game and subsequently question reviews of the same game from other bodies for little to no reason. It really doesn't need to be done, especially if you're confident in your own capability and scope.

On topic however, as a massive Populous fan, I'd be keen to give this a go. Though $20 for something I'm either going to love or hate is an education in risk management in itself.
2 years ago
I'm really excited to try this game. Whenever I hear anything about it I just sort of want to jump up and down in glee.

B&W was so buggy, but I did really love it. It'll be nice to enjoy a newer version of the same concept.

Any game where you get to be in godmode can't be all that bad.
2 years ago
Fyuusii wrote
Whilst I don't exactly disagree with you, I could still essentially understand the angles that Jim and Joab were coming from. They're not exactly off-the-mark with how god games can be (mis)interpeted, but their respective quality of writing could stand to come up a few notches.

What I find odd is this isn't the first time I've seen you review a game and subsequently question reviews of the same game from other bodies for little to no reason. It really doesn't need to be done, especially if you're confident in your own capability and scope.
Anyone who has played From Dust will know just how terrible those reviews are, but I understand what you're saying.

Now, on the matter of Jim Sterling. I've complained about him many times, especially after this disgraceful review that should never have been published. Take a website like PALGN, completely independent and I'm going to guesstimate that 50% of the reviews here come from out of our pocket. There's no real bias involved because we do all of this as a hobby more than anything else.

But Jim is a special case, or at least he'd like to think so. The man is a glorified troll and when good, credible independent websites like ourselves work hard to produce fair criticism, seeing him give decent games bulls**t scores gets really annoying. For me it does anyway.

I have a short fuse when it comes to bad gameplay, I have an even shorter fuse when someone on a HUGE website gives unjustified scores and does a great disservice to this industry on a regular basis. I've given out a few scores that should have been higher, some that should have been lower, but I've always approached games with an open mind. Fuck, I even played through Phantasy Star Portable 2 and I absolutely hate that Japanese RPG crap. And I gave it a seven.

See where I'm going with this? Sterling is narrow minded beyond belief, and near impossible to please unless something is universally outstanding. He's a nightmare because he destroys independent criticism, basically.

The greatest crime of all would be to ignore his ignorant work, so that's why I bitch and moan about him regularly. As gamers, we should all do it a bit more often.

Anyway, I'm going to watch Captain America now. Bye.
2 years ago
Cian wrote
The greatest crime of all would be to ignore his ignorant work, so that's why I bitch and moan about him regularly. As gamers, we should all do it a bit more often.
Honestly, doing anything bar ignoring a self-proclaimed troll I would see as playing into his or her hands. I personally feel, as gamers, we could stand to complain less; a f#%ktonne less. However, that is a matter for a different thread and another day.

In this instance, I did thoroughly enjoy your review. After all, it's made me want to buy the game.
2 years ago
this game is a rare gem in an ocean of rubbish arcade games. u feel that its creation meant something to its developers and as gamers that matters because it didnt try to do the whole 'marketing figures tell us that shooters are big right now', instead it was made as a work of art, not a 'lets just copy everyone else and get big bucks'. it shows qualities that most game studios NEED to learn again, if they ever did.
2 years ago
Banefire wrote
this game is a rare gem in an ocean of rubbish arcade games.
Screw that, the arcade games are some of the best games on x-box at the moment.
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