From Dust ReviewOmar Elaasar
From Dust is the latest game from creator Eric Chahi, creator of Another World. Like his previous games, From Dust manages to pull off some interesting moments in very subtle and unique ways. However, like his previous works, it carries similar flaws, which may be hard for many players to overlook.
In From Dust you take the role of the Breath, an ancient force with god like powers over the elements. Your primary focus is to help a group of guide a group of tribespeople reach the land of the Ancients. In order to do this you will need to assist them reach various totems by manipulating the elements to change the landscape around you . As they reach the totems they will build villages around them. For each village you will gain a variety of abilities which vary from amplifying your powers, to creating infinite amounts of earth for a limited time.
At its best From Dust is enthralling, unique and even beautiful. The physics at play are gratifying to watch, even when you are not manipulating them. The possibilities for emergent play can create dramatic moments and vastly alter the playing field among the course of the stage, whether because of your direct interference, or because of various phenomena such as volcanic eruptions or heavy rains, and floods. The audio that accompanies it is sublime, a combination of tribal beats and offbeat instruments such as the didgeridoo and is a welcome break from the Hollywood style orchestrated soundtracks that are common in modern games. Indeed, music plays an essential part in From Dust, as the tribespeople enact musical rituals during events such as building a village or repelling hostile elements from a village. This approach to sound continues with the various sound effects and alerts of the game so that even common actions such as absorbing and releasing matter, or navigating the menus are given musical qualities.
Its shortcomings, however, can nag at you and chip away at the experience. While you can use various methods to manipulate the camera, rising to a birds-eye view, or dropping closer to the earth, there never feels like an ideal angle. The set distances are functional and you'll easily fly through the environment, switching between the two to suit your needs. Even with a dedicated button to follow a certain villager the viewpoint still results in a lack of intimacy or attachment to any of the villagers. As the game seems to be more in line with the Sims, rather than SimCity in how it approaches these characters, its surprising to find that as you play it will be difficult to care about any of them. Actually, you may find yourself quite livid with the villagers from time to time, since on more complex terrain the AI can regularly find itself stuck due to its horrid pathfinding and will pester you until you help them. This could have been possibly solved by allowing you more control over the movement of the villagers. Of course that brings its own set of problems, not the least of which is that it would make the AI seem more like militaristic units than (incredibly dense) villagers. During moments in the game this lack of control stems to the control scheme itself, where it will seem that the game has a need for precision that the controller simply cannot provide. No where is this more apparent than on certain unlockable challenge maps. Simply put, the challenges often require you to be faster and more accurate than a controller will allow. There are a few entertaining challenges to had for sure, but more often it feels like a mode tacked on to satisfy some arbitrary requirement.
These flaws arguably only highlight From Dust's approach to game creation. From Dust is a game willing to go back to its literal and figurative roots. It is a game that for some will feel backwards, or even archaic. At the same time its more forward looking and innovative than many recent releases and provide a more "organic" gameplay experience to contrast with the highly scripted experiences commonplace today. It feels crafted rather than built, and as such its flaws show more prominently. For those willing to put those flaws aside they'll find a compelling and unique game that even feels a bit introspective at times. A welcome refrain from the many bloodbaths we've come to expect.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.
Omar Elaasar is an hobbyist artist, writer, and game developer, and is dedicated to playing obscure games in order to maintain his status as a most pretentious hipster.
About the Author: Omar Elaasar
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