From Dust seems like the most unlikely title to come from a studio whose recent library is made of blockbuster franchises. With series like Assassin’s Creed, Splinter Cell, Prince of Persia, and Rayman in its arsenal Ubisoft shows no signs of slowing down. But when the company released its downloadable title From Dust the game made a big splash by separating itself from other action-oriented titles the studio usually scribes to.
In From Dust, players manipulate a series of islands in order to save a nomadic tribe from environmental disaster. With a spherical cursor, the user controls certain types of matter–namely soil, lava, and water–in real time. Lava cools to form solid rock, vegetation propagates in soil and spreads naturally once a village is built, and moving water quickly erodes terrain. Fans of Populous, Black & White, and Flower will immediately feel right at home with its omniscient style of gameplay as players manipulate the given terrain with almost mercurial precision.
Aesthetically this game looks gorgeous. The water and lava effects are fluid and smooth. It should also come as no surprise that the inspiration for the game came from when creative designer Eric Chahi visited an active volcano in Vanuatu nearly a decade ago. His subsequent passion in vocanology led to the development of the game. Once again From Dust is one of those games that’s extremely difficult to classify. One might call it an environmental simulator as players never directly control or communicate with the inhabitants themselves. Indeed the game will give you a new-found respect for nature without bashing you over the head with heavy-handed environmentalism.
Although the game’s release was marred with pervasive bugs and glitches, the long-since patched interface here is solid with a learning curve which any player, regardless of gaming experience, can pick up and learn. While the main campaign is short it’s no less breathtaking in its breadth, immersion, and feel. There’s a moment of transcendence when you complete a mission and realize the archipelago you started with has completely terraformed as a result of your actions and influence. But before you think this game is a meandering walk through the park, player beware. You will fail a lot as you dodge tsunamis, extinguish wildfires, and divert lava flows with breakneck speed.
As of December 2011, From Dust has sold over 500,000 copies leaving its mark on video game culture as one of the best downloadable titles of 2011.
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