Serving as the second entry in the Xbox Summer of Arcade promotion, From Dust is a god game at it’s core. Similar to Black and White, but intensely more in depth and some of the most intriguing controls I’ve seen in a XBLA game.
The premise is simple, you are guiding an ancient culture through the task of gaining back a lost power from the ancients. There are totems on each island you travel to, you must build a village at each totem in order to open the exit to the next territory. Simple as it sounds, it’s never really easy to do. There are several things that stand in your way. Everything from over flowing rivers to out of control volcanoes. When starting the game you are given an ancient power known only as “The Breath”. With this power you can take control over nature to help your people reach their goal. As you play through the levels each totem you build a village at gains the breath a new power. Rather it be something as simple as the ability to absorb lava all the way to being able to jellify water so that you can cut a path is a river for your people to make it across an otherwise impossible pass.
An early level in the game has you settling on an island that is being ravaged by tsunamis. You must make a path for a villager to go to the top of a mountain and gain a new knowledge of being able to block water, or the tsunami will destroy you village and force you to restart. For the most part every level has preferred way of doing the tasks at hand and doing them efficiently, but one of the charming aspects of this game is the fact that you can try and complete the level any way you see fit. Rather it’s building giant dams to keep water out or simply making several walkways made of sand. There are always options when playing. The is where the intriguing controls come in. All while trying to figure out eh puzzles that you must solve to push your people in the right direction, you must also worry about the villagers themselves. The AI on the villagers can be irritating at times, as they tend to want to go certain ways to the objective that makes it hard for them to reach where they need to go. They need the most miniscule things, such as having to have sand on a slope before they can climb it. Sounds like a tiny issue till you have 20 seconds till a volcano erupts and you people are stuck in the lava path with a lack of sand on the map.
The graphics are absolutely beautiful. Being that nature is not only the star of the game, but also the enemy and the hero, the game does a great job of portraying everything about it. The water effects are great and the sand and lava all have the features you would expect when talking about one or the other. The tribe even looks pretty good. You have the ability to hit LB when close to a tribe member and look at them up close. Even in a game where you’re not focused on what the people look like and set in such a huge setting there has been no short cuts taken when it comes to the characters of the tribe. One of things that I liked is at the first of the game after receiving the breath, it’s really fun to see what all the resources look like when you pick them up in a giant ball. Of course you eventually move past the crisp graphics and except them just a=s in any other game, but as you progress through each level you see more and more nature set pieces that are just amazing.
The games soundtrack does a great job of making you feel like the task you are trying to perform are urgent and you come to find out that sometimes they are. The music featured in the game sounds very tribal, and can be calm and soothing when nothing is going on and can be just as intense when something is getting ready to happen. You can base the speed you play as well as the task you do just on how the music changes. At the end of each level you are treated to the tribe chanting and singing before they head for each exit, which is a really nice feature to have and it ads lots of character to the game. Even the resources you pick up to use as needed have distinct sounds that are as real as you would imagine they can be. The lava cracks and snaps from the heat and the sand sounds dry and dusty.
There were no short cuts taken on this game when it comes to quality. When I first heard the Summer of Arcade line up I though that this would be one of the weak games in the promotion. Really, this game may be the strongest one. There isn’t much wrong with the game other than a little trouble from the AI. I’m not a huge fan of the 1200 price point that Xbox has been slapping on a lot of games, but when a game is as high quality and original as From Dust I would recommend that anyone give it a try. Granted it may not be for everyone, but that’s what the demo is for. The game features one Avatar award and the full set of 200GS. I say this because I’ve never been a huge fan of god games, but something about this game moved me past that makes me want to keep playing. The replay value will probably be high as there is so much that can be done on each map. I can tell you now if the Summer of Arcade promotion keeps it’s momentum going after Bastion and this game, it could very well be the best Summer promotion to date.