For those few of you reading these articles that aren’t members of my immediate family, my Bastion review may have given you the impression that I was some kind of starry-eyed optimist about things. In fact, I’m more the typical nerd in that I hate pretty much everything. Bastion was one of those rare works whose craft can overcome my cynicism and surprise me for the better, but in general, I find most things I encounter to be poorly conceived and shoddily executed. On that note: From Dust!
From Dust is the brainchild of designer Eric Chahi (famous for his 1991 release Another World/Out of This World in North America), a spiritual sequel to the original “god game” Populous. You control the mysterious force known as “the Breath”, scooping up water, earth, and lava to build bridges and remove obstacles so groups of villagers can move around various islands. Why you actually do this is anybody’s guess.
The plot is as ephemeral as your avatar, each level opening with one or two sentences that vaguely justify the ensuing gameplay challenges. There’s a lot of catchphrases and symbolism that seems to hint at an overarching story that simply isn’t there. An in-game codex contains brief selections of backstory, but nothing that explains the story properly. Not that that would improve things, as a game’s story is not something that can be appreciated only outside of playing it.
When you actually get around to playing From Dust, there’s certainly enjoyment to be had. Manipulating the environment is deeply satisfying, especially when using some of the special powers villages grant you. For example, in certain cituations you can temporarily solidify water, allowing you to part seas and rivers and hope the villagers run through the path in time. You can also move around special plants that can burn, flood, or blow up the area around them, extremely useful in certain situations.
Unfortunately, the most basic obstacles can be compounded by the stupidity of the villagers. These are the kinds of beings that can drown in a few feet of water, or throw themselves into lava, or refuse to move over what seems like easily passable terrain. Add to this the fact that you have only the most rudimentary control over them, and more often than not failing in the game seems like it’s less your fault than the game’s.
Where From Dust shines is in its presentation. Its graphics are beautiful, creating sweeping vistas of rippling water and flowing lava. And although there’s no real soundtrack, the subtle sounds of the sea and gurgling lava provide a nice accompaniment.
Watching a gigantic tsunami sweep towards a village as you hurriedly pour lava into a protective wall, you can forgive most of the game’s faults if you approach it in the right state of mind. From Dust is nothing spectacular, and probably won’t be remembered long past its release, but it’s certainly an interesting experience. Definitely download the demo first, but do give it a try.
3 / 5 Melons
Note: At the time of this writing, there is a storm of controversy surrounding the PC version of From Dust, particularly its online-dependent DRM and port quality, or lack thereof. Potential customers are advised to further research the situation before purchasing.