The second title to be released in this year’s Xbox LIVE Summer of Arcade is Ubisoft’s From Dust. This game was designed by Eric Chahi, who created one of my favorite games on the SNES, Out of this World.

In From Dust you control the breath, which is what they call your godlike abilities. While playing the game, you are not actually a god, but you play as the breath for the ancients. The goal of each campaign level is to build a town at totems, and use their abilities to be able to gain control of another totem. The levels start out with 1 or 2 totems placed in the most crazy spots, but most of the levels have a total of 4 totems. As you build a town at the totem, you gain a new ability to use with the arrows on the d-pad. Each level also has inherent natural disasters, which makes it difficult to be able to control all of the totems, and not lose all of the tribesman living at a totem. Once you control each totem in the map, an exit appears, and once you get enough tribesman to the exit, the level is over.

Throughout many levels, there are also 2 abilities you can find that protect your village. These abilities will automatically repel water or fire from your village.  In total, there are 12 levels, and each level will take about 30-45 minutes to complete. When you control a totem, and a town is built, a forest starts to grow. This forest will start to cover all areas with dirt on it. Each level has a secondary objective of covering it completely in foliage.  Unfortunately, foliage likes to burn, and if lava ever gets to close to the spreading forest, it will quickly engulf your village in flames. Lastly, in many levels there are memories which are usually somewhere very difficult to get, and are a secondary objective to complete if you like achievements, or want extra challenge maps.

From Dust - Screenshot

The core mechanics of the game are played by using the RT and LT to lift and drop elements. The elements you can control consist of earth, water and lava. The lava turns into stone, and allows you to build tall mountains, while the water allows you to remove water out of the land and into the ocean, and lastly the earth allows foliage to be grown.  While you are sucking up the elements they appear as a giant ball, which you can then move around and place them wherever you like.  As you collect the totems and grow towns, you gain additional abilities. These change based on the level, but include a wide range of abilities. An example of this would be evaporate, which removes all water from the level, or infinite earth, which allows you to keep dropping earth down on the map. Each ability has a recharge time, which varies depending on how powerful that ability really is.  Most levels require the use of some, or all of these special abilities to be able to complete them.

There is no multiplayer in the game, other than leaderboards, which are only for the challenge maps. These are usually short challenges that you have to complete, and are timed. These times are then posted in the leaderboards where you can compare your fastest completion times against friends, or everyone else who has played that challenge. In the first challenge, there is a fire burning down the foliage, and your only goal is to put it out before it burns down your town. The foliage is surrounded by water, so all you have to do is use the breath to pick up the water, move over the fire, and then drop the water. The challenges get increasingly more difficult as you progress, and in total there are 30 challenges, which are completely separate from the campaign, though as you complete each level in the campaign, new challenge maps open up.  Also, completing the secondary objectives, growing 100% foliage, and collecting memories, will unlock even more challenges.

From Dust - Screenshot

There are a few problems I had with the single player game, and they mostly evolve around items the gamer does not have control over. As you move your tribe to a new totem, they have to hike over to it to build a new village.  Their path is shown, but you cannot change this path.  If you make a shorter path available, they may take it, they may not.  Often times they will even walk right into approaching lava, and just die.  I wish I could give waypoints to the tribe, but it seems like they wanted to make that part of the game as simple as possible.  Another issue I have with the game is the camera angles.  When playing the game you have two options, a close up option, which shows off all of the beauty of the game, or an overhead view.  When you are in the overhead view, your cursor moves much faster, which makes it the obvious choice for playing the game, but because of this, I never got to admire much of the beauty in the game, unless I stopped working on completing the level, and just admired it.

Overall From Dust is a very decent XBLA game and lives up to the previous SoA titles of past years.  Will it be the weakest or strongest title this year? I doubt it, but only time will tell.  I really enjoyed this game, even if it was more of a puzzle solver, then a god game.  I did not get as attached to the characters as I did to Out of This World, but not many games can compete with that classic.  I would recommend this game to anyone that likes a mix of puzzle and god games.  From Dust is a very unique title on XBLA, so much so that I have to recommend downloading the trial just to experience it.  I played the game for around 8 hours, which consisted of 100% the campaign, and all secondary objectives.  I played many challenges as well, but probably have about another 2-3 hours left to complete all the challenges in the game.  The game is well worth the price of admission, if the game appeals to you at all.

From Dust - Box Art
Title : From Dust
Format : XBLA
Developer : Ubisoft Montpellier
Publisher : Ubisoft
Release Date : 07/27/11

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*Ubisoft provided with a promo code for a review copy.