How God looked down upon its people, and smited them with poor AI
So summer comes along and game developers forget gamers exist. Microsoft’s solution to this drought is Summer of Arcade. A yearly assortment of Xbox Live Arcade titles, giving you a reason not to venture outside.
Ubisoft’s, From Dust is one of these titles, the aim is simple; adventure across the land with your tribe, build settlements, avoid the elements, and move on. Each area is its own little sandbox - a little slice of island paradise - more than likely plagued with tsunamis, flash flooding or it’s own lava flow. Using ‘The Breath’ players can collect sand, water or lava from the world, re-purposing these materials to make sand dunes, put out fires and create walls of rock.
Both technically and artistically, From Dust over performs. Waves realistically crash and roll with foaming surf and fluid movement, lava slowly crawls down the shallow cliff sides, but barrels down steep plains. The sea reflects with just the right amount of bloom and the greenery renders so beautifully that you could almost feel bad when it inevitably ignites. Audio, whilst sparing, sets a perfect tone, of one part adventurer on an African safari to two parts journey into the unknown.
Seeing your tribes men expand around the map, with foliage and animals around them on what was once a bleak and baron patch of sand is truly satisfying. You won’t find yourself failing often - as this requires loss of your entire tribe - though you’ll more than likely be restarting levels when you find yourself trapped with no route to continue.
The first few hours, as you’re learning the ropes, whilst receiving new powers to play with and guiding your Lemming like tribe around the map - feels different, even original - then the pattern is broken. No longer giving you new toys to play with, such as generating infinite sand or swallowing up multiple elements at once, gameplay just becomes frustrating.
From a measured challenge, based on planning ahead, From Dust turns into a mad dash to protect your settlements against a timer, counting towards freak weather. You’ll stop experimenting with powers and the environment and just send your men to their doom in the hope a few get through before the next round of meteorological mayhem.
Poor pathfinding of your tribe doesn’t help either. Your men on occasion will refuse to pass hazard-free ground or retrace their steps only to make the same mistake.
Story is largely presented through text, rather than being integrated into the action. The ‘Memory of the Tribe’ explains details about the world you're playing in, details which could have made the world richer and more alive if incorporated into gameplay.
Additional challenges, which similarly to the final levels focus on timing; saving a village from fire, migrating across perilous terrain or similar boring tests, all of which feel like filler.
From Dust starts with such an original concept, though disappointingly wonders off from its core which made the early sections so satisfying. Under the bad decisions there is good gameplay, just a shame that poor story telling decisions, frustration and poor AI makes this game a grind at its end.