From Dust is a title the world has been watching for some time now. Labelled a “spiritual heir” to the mighty Populous, Ubisoft’s latest arcade title is a force to be reckoned with.
The narrative is a rather simple one – the player, as a “god” of sorts, has to manipulate the enviornments to assist the inhabitants of the world in their quest to revive the power of the ancients. These powers allow the tribe to manipulate nature itself. Powers are inherited via captured totem poles, but with so many obstacles in the way of success – strategy and timing can be key when manipulating the surrounding elements. Capturing all available totem poles means that the portal to the next area will open and the tribe are free to move on.
Speaking to Eric Chahi recently, Chahi revealed to TGL that the formulation of the game began with strong RTS roots – some of which are still very apparent in the current build. Using the “breath” tool, players can absorb various elements with the left trigger and release them with the right trigger. Although it may sound rather simple, it is in many respects a gameplay feature that runs deeper than most other titles out there. Players can combine each of the elements (fire, water and sand) to aid them; thankfully Ubisoft have made this as intuative and as fluid as a tap of the trigger. Combining certain elements will produce real results with, for example, the combination of lava and water resulting in the solidifying of both elements to create solid ground. This real-time engagement and interaction with the toplogy can literally change the face of the surroundings forever. Levels will change dramatically throughout the campaign as you really feel as though you’ve helped to shape the world.
From Dust aims to constantly have you guessing and adapting to the new changes in your surroundings. Some levels contain totem poles that are engulfed in dangerous liquids like lava or even water – so players have to strategically think about how to re-route the danger by re-routing nature itself. Knowing how each element reacts to another is key to completing each quest, so you can expect some trial and error when starting up first. Some quests require quick-thinking and the application of various elements, but some ask for an even deeper cognitive response and require an array of ideas both logical and brash. When totem poles are captured, players are granted access to various higher powers; one such power is “jellify water”, which as you may have guessed will literally turn water into a jelly substance - a saving grace in some circumstances. These super powers can dramatically change the face of not only the earth itself, but change the outcome of a set level. By combining higher powers, players can divert rivers, stem active volcanoes, create irrigation routes, establish dams and even change the entire eco-system of a region.
Graphically From Dust is a milestone in gaming, albeit arcade titles. Every element present in the game looks, reacts and almost feels palpable. From the stunning reactions and movement of water to the sheer threat of an impending tsunami; From Dust throws the beauty and carnage of nature at you like nothing before – it is about as vivid as you can get. Once an area is cultivated, players are treated to a real sense of interaction with this tiny world as trees blossom, plants cover the once scorced land and the tribe that faced extinction – is now cohabitating with nature.
The music in the game is also another meticulously crafted piece. From the haunting violin music which is used per loading screen to the dramatic slamming of drums when a tribe is in danger – Ubisoft have created an immersive and responsive composition that harnesses both the tranquility of a peaceful world with the slamming adrenaline rush of higher octane tracks.
While there’s clearly a winning formula here, From Dust does contain a few downfalls that are worth a mention. The AI of the tribe is poor. Take for example a totem pole that you wish to aquire. By clicking the A/X button and designating it to capture, the tribe will run along a set path – a path create by them. This can lead to very awkward moments due to some characters stuck in the terrain or even some characters running towards pools of lava (resulting in death) to reach a goal. On some occassions you’ll find yourself strapped for time with literally only seconds to spare and the AI could trip you up; which on some occassions results in starting again. Finishing an area, whether it’s the first or the last means players are once again treated to the same loading screen which depicts the tribe undeground and on the cusp of a reemergence into a new and unknown world. What’s frustrating about this is that although beautiful, this repetition could have easily been avoided.
Once an area is finished, it’s gone for good – which is a real shame. After spending sometimes an hour or two sculpting the enviornment to represent, in your mind, the perfect balance between life, the threat of danger and nature itself – all of this progress is lost once a new area is started which was a real surprise and a quite frankly a real shame. There’s also a couple of bugs present which don’t allow for a”quick drop” of the matter you are carrying. What does this mean? Well instead of clicking in both triggers to quickly drop what you are carrying and move on to an immediate danger, players are forced to release it piece by piece – which is very frustrating in certain circumstances. There’s also minor graphical glitches which don’t fully display the matter you are carrying which can lead to confusion but generally, none of these slight qualms, that we feel, will dramatically impede on the experience itself.
Ubisoft have also included a challenge room. This challenge room puts players to work against nature to resolve a set puzzle in the quickest time possible. More rooms are unlocked by completely covering areas in the main quest in lush vegetation – so players are encouraged to really spend more time nuturing the world instead of running from it. There’s also collectibles to be found, achievements to gather and leaderboards to compare stats with friends which all add to From Dust becoming one of our favourite games in recent years.
From Dust is an outstanding game. The team at Ubisoft Montpellier have created, arguably, one of the best Ubisoft titles to date. An absolute joy from start to finish; From Dust has to be experienced to be believed.
TGL Score 9/10
Format: Xbox Live, PSN, PC
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
Release Date: July 27th