2011’s Xbox LIVE Summer of Arcade had a strong opening last week with Bastion. Tomorrow, the second entry in this year’s Summer of Arcade goes live: From Dust, Ubisoft’s “spiritual heir” to Populous. Created by Eric Chahi, creator of early 90s classic Out of This World, From Dust is at its core a strategy/puzzle game, solved by using a first-person god-like perspective to manipulate the environment as needed. Do From Dust’s god-like puzzles manage to keep the momentum that Bastion brought to Summer of Arcade going?
Resoundingly, yes. From Dust may be a change of pace from a game like Bastion, or the other upcoming Summer of Arcade titles, but I have a feeling it will end up being one of the top offerings of this year’s event. I’ve had my eyes on From Dust since my first hands-on with it before E3, and my hands have been itching with anticipation for the chance to control the world again. The first thing that will strike you when you start From Dust is the game’s beauty. Notice I didn’t say, “…the game’s beauty, for an XBLA game.” It is beautiful for an XBLA game, but it goes beyond that. It’s simply a beautiful game, without restriction, limitation, or classification. Water ebbs and flows so smoothly and naturally that you could simply sit there and lose track of time watching the world work. Lava spews forth from the bowels of the earth with intense explosions that slow to creeping rivers of molten rock before another explosion rocks the landscape. Grasslands, trees, roving animals, and more spring up and spread across the world’s face as you build villages and shape the land. When I said control the world, I didn’t mean in a Dr. Evil sort of way, you know.
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From Dust puts you in the role of…well…an ability, I suppose. You are an ability summoned by a tribe of Aboriginal-esque individuals who are looking to build a new home over an archipelago of islands while also seeking enlightenment from the Ancients. As the god-like ability, called the Breath, you have the power to absorb dirt, water, and lava into a limited spherical shape and to then deposit what you’ve absorbed wherever you like. This is the basic mechanic of the game that you will be using to solve your puzzles. Do you need your people on the other side of a river? Grab some dirt and build a land bridge for them. Need to empty a landlocked lake so your people can access a sunken totem in order to build a village? Methodically absorb the water and dump it elsewhere. Have a pesky volcano or lava outlet near your village? Absorb the lava and use it to build solid walls of igneous rock, deflecting the lava flow safely around the villages and fields. Throughout the game, this basic mechanic will be used to populate each island and move on to the next.
Beyond your basic absorption ability, you will unlock various other abilities as you progress through the game. These vary from direct modifications of your absorption ability to defensive and counterpart abilities that will be necessary at times to solve seemingly fiendish situations. Water can be jellified, which essentially solidifies all water on the map for a limited time, pausing the potentially dangerous natural ebb and flow. Fires can be doused for a limited time, which can save a village or wandering group of people long enough to implement countermeasures. Matter can be destroyed through the absorption ability for a limited time, coming in quite handy when you have an incoming flood of water that you just need to disappear. Your absorption limit can be increased for a limited time, meaning you don’t have to make quite so many trips to empty a landlocked lake or build a wall of dirt.
On top of the campaign mode, there is also a sort of challenge mode for each map, which extends the gameplay beyond the completion of the main quest. Even without the challenge mode, though, the campaign is both long enough, and satisfying enough, to easily justify the asking price.
From Dust is available tomorrow from the Xbox LIVE Marketplace for 1,200 MSP. If you don’t like strategy or puzzle games, then this game may not be for you. If you do like strategy or puzzle games, this may be one of the best games of that type that you’ve played in a long time. Summer of Arcade has another hit on its hands, and looking at the bigger picture, Ubisoft has one of the best downloadable games of the year in From Dust.
Good replay value
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