Review: From Dust – DRM Aside

From Dust game screenshot 3
Review: From Dust – DRM Aside

Platforms: Steam, PC

Game Name: From Dust

Publisher: Ubisoft

Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier

Genre: God Games, Sandbox

Release Date: 08/17/11

Developer Summary

From Dust is the latest original game concept by Eric Chahi, creator of the cult classic, “Another World / Out of this World”. Immerse yourself in a world as exotically beautiful as it is dangerous! You control the destiny of a primitive tribe against the backdrop of a world in constant evolution—a universe where mighty Nature reclaims…

What We Think

UPDATE 08-24-2011: Ubisoft has announced that in two weeks they will supply a patch that will remove the need for online authentication and alternatively are offering a refund.

From the editor: [First let’s address the elephant in the room: Ubisoft upset a lot of people after promising to play nice with DRM and then seemingly went back on this promise by forcing Steam buyers to sign up for a secondary account with them, and requiring an online connection to be able to run the game (despite the fact that Ubisoft claims it is only needed for the initial game start up, but effectively obliterating the possibility for a true offline mode.) Add to which (or maybe impassioned by this sour taste left in their mouths) people reported that the port to PC was glitch-ridden and all kinds of frustrating in terms of video settings. May be so.

In a nutshell, From Dust has launched on the PC with a very bad reputation, which is a terrible shame for the developers who have put together a game that, at least on XBOX 360, was a stellar outing.]

On to the review proper:

From Dust is an enticing game by Ubisoft Montpellier for the Xbox Live’s Summer of Arcade for 2011. As it followed the great game of Bastion, one can only wonder on how it holds up. With the recent flood of crafting games such as Minecraft or Terraria one could easily confuse this for a crafting game. This is actually a “god game” that allows you to modify terrain; using elements available on the level such as dirt, lava and water you can craft the land to protect your villages and their people.

Vegetation is released around villages once they are built which grow on dirt as long it is connected to current vegetation. Vegetation will unlock more “memories of the tribe” which help explain the game. Plants are a bit more complex, there are 3 different types of plants:

  1. Phoenix-plants which periodically bursts into flames causing vegetation to catch fire all around it.
  2. Water trees which soaks up water and reacts to heat by spewing out all of it’s water to cause a flood effect.
  3. Exploding trees which react to heat by exploding, this creates a crater in which liquids can easily be directed into.

Beyond all of this are your powers which certain villages in the game grant you. From level to level a village can provide you things like the ability to pick up more of one element, the ability to create an infinite amount of dirt in a small period of time and so on. The only downside is that if you lose this village you also lose this power and must set out to restore it.

If you thought that wasn’t enough then you would be correct in your thoughts as the developers even added in-village knowledge which means a village can gain the knowledge to hold back water or/and fire and lava making them difficult but not impossible to flood with water, melt with lava or catch on fire. The other villages gain this knowledge when they have been established and the knowledge is passed to them from a messenger whom must make it to the village before it is too late. This can make for an exciting race between man and element.

Proper coordination of land and water displacement leads to the above vegetation patterns that in turn leads to population of the territory by wildlife. As these otherwise seemingly insignificant feats are accomplished and certain lore and unlockables open, at times, the benefits of good landscaping seem somewhat incidental.

The sounds of the game blend together with the feel of the villages. The African and Pacific tribes strongly influence the design of the people and it shines through for the better. The art style blends with the god game genre and I certainly hope to see more god games with the same influences. When the horn blows from a village to inform you that the village is in danger it is followed by a great dramatic song that almost makes me want to keep the incoming flood or fire there, as evil as it may seem.

As the game progresses it shows more of its physics engine with volcanoes and tsunamis. The game has only about 12 levels, the first few which you can sail through (though admittedly the first tsunami that looms as the countdown timer ticks down is rather frightening in the best way and turns this into something of a puzzle game), and various side-quests that include challenge maps, but, and perhaps this is to its credit – it just doesn’t feel like enough. The game has a lot of potential for user-made levels but I do not currently see a way to trade or create scripted levels as of yet.

Furthermore there have been complaints of the mouse controls not being up to par with PC port although after a while I didn’t notice much of an issue. I also heard that because that it was a port that the graphics didn’t work with a good portion of PC’s but people must expect a degree of “console-like” controls because this was initially released for the XBLA summer event. With respect to these facts the game seems to stand strong on its own.

All told, From Dust is an exciting venture into the god game sphere. At times I found myself simply crafting the world and trying out variations far beyond what the goal demanded because the physics and visuals are a true marvel to interact with. The graphics are a reflection of the very latest computing has to offer, the sound design is incredible, and the element of ancient wisdom certainly works to lend another layer of intrigue. If you can forgive the various marketing and consumer relations missteps, From Dust is more than worthy of your attention. If you can play it on an XBOX 360, you may feel more like the gods of gaming are smiling down on you.

From Dust on Steam

From Dust for XBOX 360 at XBOX Marketplace

[xrr rating=”4.5/5″]