From Dust is no god game

Title From Dust is no god game
Author Tom Chick
Posted in Game reviews
When July 28, 2011

From Dust does an admirable job with a seemingly simple task that has confounded videogames for a long time. Namely, the physics of dirt and water. Some would consider this a god game. I consider it SimArmy Corps of Engineers..

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This seems overly harsh. I'm sure a big part of my difference of opinion is that I have less of a relationship with previous god games than you (presumably) do. It's true most levels start with impending disaster to be averted, but once I got past that first hurdle (typically by getting the "protect me from water and/or fire" kites), I could slow down and take my time, diverting rivers and lava flows, enlarging landmasses, etc. I felt like much of the first half of the game was pretty puzzly, particularly the first one where you get evaporation, but certainly by the time I got the matter-destroyer spell it felt pretty sandboxy.

Oh, and I'm not finished yet, btw -- I have the last 2 levels to go.

As for your technical issues, it's true that the console is somewhat of a hindrance, but I didn't find myself terribly aggravated by it. And despite the blurriness and level of detai issues, I found the game to be nigh-breathtaking, mostly in its ability to show me such a dramatically changed world from when I got there.

[Minor Spoilers for anybody who hasn't played]
I was particularly taken with the level I just finished -- the one that starts you on a tiny rock in the ocean with a volcano and a water source. Watching the volcano grow from a tiny spurt of fire at the beginning to the towering crag at the center of a vast, foliage-covered island was great.
[end spoilers]

I don't know that this is something I'm going to buy again on PC, and I'm going to be disappointed when I find that finishing the game doesn't unlock a sandbox mode with a random world generator, but I found this to be a more significant experience than I was expecting. Maybe I should go try Populous.

Tom, I'm a bit shocked! Usually my opinion is so close to yours. It's like you know exactly what I want to play and recommend it to me! But... this? Heavens to mergatroid, no!

I really like From Dust. The controls would definitely be better suited to a PC but the fact is we live in a console-oriented market these days so some compromises must be made. Which sucks, because we all know that the PC master race is infinitely superior to the console peasants, but let's not get into that right now.

That being said, I don't see how you could consider the graphics anything less than stunning. As you said, the tsunamis are an incredible sight, though I consider them such even now, after having played through a series of "avoid the tsunami" challenges. I find the lava and water effects to look absolutely gorgeous, and the solid terrain is no less impressive. The entire game has an aesthetic that speaks to me in much the same way that Shadow of the Colossus did, and I regard that game as the best of all time.

Beyond that, I find the experience of the game to be the truly telling part; sure, it's not Black and White or Populous but I don't think it's trying to be; it's an entirely different beast. Where Black and White and Populous were about the villagers under your control, From Dust focuses entirely on the world the villagers exist in and your ability to manipulate it. Even the powers they can get, like Repel Water or Evaporate, are entirely built around allowing you to manipulate the world even further. It's not so much that From Dust fails where Populous succeeded, it's that it approaches the subject from a different perspective and gives you a different focus.

I agree that the purpose and background of the villagers could be better expanded upon and that the random animals that appear could and should have a bigger impact on the game as a whole, but I don't think that detracts from the experience From Dust offers. After all, we had no idea what the story of Shadow of the Colossus was until we experienced it and, even then, all we have are educated hypotheses and some intellectual debate about what really happens. It's because of that ambiguity that From Dust appeals to me so much.

I spend most of my time playing the game altering the world until it works to my liking. I get to the point where I know I could easily reach the end point of the level and then proceed to screw around with the terrain. In the level High Tide, I spent an extra twenty minutes making sure the dams I built were to an acceptable height. In another level, I covered every inch of rock I could find with sand, just to make the island look more habitable.

I think there's a bit more to this game than meets the eye and I'm not sure where your hate for it came from. Of course, I trust in the Chick and am sure you have your reasons. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoy it and hope that others don't write it off so easily!

Great comments, John and Nick. I'm glad the game is working for you and you both articulated it nicely. From Dust has a certain undeniable poetry that bounces off me, but you two were obviously affected by that poetry. I fully intend to spend more time with it when it comes out on the PC (I, too, haven't played the last two levels and I only sampled the various challenges I'd unlocked), but for now, the control issue and the graphical compromises are just too much for me. Perhaps when those are addressed on the PC, I can get past the lack of a meaningful population and better appreciate the aspects that work so well for you two.

"Populous Minus" was exactly my thought when I read the first reviews of From Dust. It's fair enough to lead a tribe around, but if you aren't directly invested in their lives, beyond simply manipulating the elements, then that almost has to trigger a feeling of missing an important piece of the puzzle - At least if you've experienced those games.

The leading part sounds a lot like Darwinia, which I loved, but that was a game with a clearly defined enemy. It just seems a little tame to me to be fighting nature, maybe I'm too much of a "black hat/white hat person". Nature kills, but it doesn't have the great lines, or the carefully engineered brand of a super villain.

I don't have a 360, so I'm waiting for either a PC or PS3 release, but I've been looking forward to this game for a while. I've been reading the reviews online, and I really like this quote from Justin McElroy at Joystiq:

"But even at its best, the play is defined by restrictions, and it seems curiously out of place in a game about omnipotence."

A game like this that discourages creativity, doesn't give you an enemy to vanquish or a reason to care about the people you're trying to save doesn't sound like the kind of game I'd want to play.

It's weird. My expectations were successfully managed downward in the month running up to launch, so I'm actually enjoying it a lot. But certainly if you go into it expecting something like Populous or Black and White you're going to be very disappointed. And it does seem to be unnecessarily wasting its creative potential. But as a puzzle game, it has a lot going for it - the mechanic is unique and I love watching how my actions change the landscape. If they'd sort out the interface and AI issues, I'd say it was great. As it is, more of a B.

Why don't you knock it off with them negative waves? Why don't you dig how beautiful it is out here? Why don't you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?

I think Tom's word of the month is "poetry."

I grabbed the demo as I've missed a good god game.

Sadly I have no interest in the full thing. Boycotting Ubisoft aside, the game just isn't very interesting.

It's a bad sign if in your game, acting completely AGAINST the ethos of it is more fun.

Drowning my villagers was infinitely more enjoyable than actually doing what was asked. Scooping up water and dropping it on them then zooming in to watch them swim was hilarious.

There's nothing to see really beyond what's in the demo. I might keep it around in demo form for some villager torturing fun, but I'm certainly not ponying up my Microsoft Happy Fun Points for it.

Hey Tom, I don't know if you'll see this or not but I did a review of From Dust for a blog I work for. I don't know if you'd be interested but I thought you might like to see my point of view in a bit more depth. It's not my full thoughts on the topic but its a good start, and I quote you in the process.

Check it out if you're interested. Cheers!

I found this game to be much more of a puzzle game that a god game. Especially in later levels, things had to be done in a precise order or it was 'game over' - generally pretty quickly. And while I did enjoy the game, it wasn't quite what I expected.

I'm not much into the challenge modes, and apparently a sandbox mode unlocks when all the challenges are completed? Yeah, I'll never see it which is a shame.

I also had several freezing issues on the 360. After scouring the net, I don't seem to be the only one having this problem.

All in all, a pretty solid effort, but not something I'll be replaying.

Ha, you stole my line, Nick! But thanks for the in-text credit. :)

Great review Tom. Based on your views and some of the comments above I've pretty much written this game off completely. It's a pity From Dust's developers didn't take more chances, why emulate a God game and water it down with simplistic puzzles? It would make more sense to improve on Molyneux's formula from Populous and/or Black & White and make it your own.


It's better to tell it like it is than sugar coat the truth.

This just goes to prove that this imbecile has no taste in games. While I can agree that the XBLA version suffers because of the lack of a mouse, that's all I can agree with. Tom Chick, you're a pathetic whiny douche bag who has no business playing video games in the first place. Do us all a favor and break all your consoles and never pick up a controller again. People like you shouldn't be allowed anywhere near things like this. If I saw you playing a game I'd slap the controller out of your hands and then bust your fingers... each one in multiple places if necessary. Serious as shit.