From Dust Hands-On Preview - Playing God... Again
Written Monday, July 04, 2011 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Over the past 5 years, the Xbox Live Arcade has become a driving force behind Microsoft’s success, with the likes of Twisted Pixel and co. lighting up the stage and convincing the more powerhouse publishers that success can be found in such a service. It’s a service that has played home for increasingly more and more unique and wonderfully diverse titles… Titles that once may have never been sampled by console gamers. Ubisoft’s latest God-sim, From Dust fits all of the criteria needed to be a success on the platform, with a unique premise, some top-notch visuals and stunning physics, a ton of originality, and most importantly, it’s a hell of a lot of fun too.
When code for Ubisoft’s latest title landed in our laps in the office recently, we were shaking with excitement. After we sampled its delights at last year’s Gamescom, it was hugely anticipated here at X360A towers and fortunately it didn’t disappoint. Its premise is rather simple: you are God, the Maker, the Breath, whatever you want to call them, and it’s your job to guide a bunch of natives through treacherous environments to basically seek enlightenment and meet up with the rest of civilisation.
In order to achieve this, it’ll be your job to take the natives through 13 territories, set up shop and create villages at various totems located around the level, before you can grant them safe passage to the level’s exit. Sounds simple, right? Well, yes it is, but the world is a lot fiercer than that and will throw many roadblocks and obstacles at the player to ensure that you’re always suitably challenged.
The game’s opening level, which will form 1 of the 2 demo levels that you’ll be able to sample before you unlock the main game when the it releases, is a tutorial of sorts and it won’t be long before you’re safeguarding the natives from the dangerous world and guiding them to safety.
You essentially have one main tool at your disposal to help you manipulate the world and guide the natives to safety, and that’s the ability to pick up a certain amount of land/water/whatever and move them to other parts in the map. Yes, that’s right, the path to safety or to the game’s totems is often blocked by water and these little suckers can’t swim. So that means you’ll be moving mounds of sand to create bridges or lifting water out of small pond areas surrounding village totems to ensure your natives can accomplish your goals.
As things progress though, the game throws more and more obstacles and potential village ending risks your way, and this really comes to forefront in the second level when the game tells you to prepare for an impending tsunami. In order to protect your village then, you must safely guide a Shaman through the wilderness to one of the environment’s artefacts – in this case, the Repel Breath special power – and back to the village.
Guiding the Shaman and the natives across the level to set up the village at the level’s second totem really lets the game’s physics shine through and it’s clear that a lot of work has been put into making the water effects one of the game’s strong points. So whether you’re trying to divert a waterfall to another part of the level or attempting to build a dam so your followers can have safe passage, it’s truly awe-inspiring stuff. That kicks up a notch when the tsunami rolls into town and your Shaman and the villagers start to chant and create an invisible wall to protect them from the natural disaster. After the tsunami has done its damage, the terrain and environment seems to have changed drastically, with much faster flowing water, but you still have work to do if you want to setup that second village and get it protected before the second tsunami kicks in. In true finish-with-a-bang- fashion though, it’s not going to be that easy and moments before the curtain drops on our demo, we see a volcano erupt in the distance, meaning you’ll be fighting nature on two fronts if you are to save both villages.
For players who want a much lengthier experience, each level will have various challenges and something called the “Memory of the tribe” to work towards after all the totems have been captured and turned into villages. Before these challenges are unlocked though, players must fill the vegetation meter on the left hand side of the screen, meaning that there is enough connecting ground that is habitable for the game world’s vegetation – something that grows naturally. This will bring wildlife to your habitats as well, but although we did catch a glimpse at the wildlife, unfortunately for us, such aspects of our game code was locked, so we weren’t able to sample its delights.
With 13 territories – the two of which we saw looked stunning with physics that put most full retail games to shame – challenges to work through in each level, Memory of the tribes to unlock, 30 additional scenarios in Challenge Mode and the promise of more devastating acts of nature – like wildfires – From Dust is shaping up to be an iconic downloadable title. Not only is its gameplay unique, original and addictive, but it’s also a hell of a lot of fun. It’s a game that’ll make you think, allowing you to exercise a bit of free-thinking to save your villagers and once combined with that fun and addictive element, you have the makings of a downloadable title that you really can’t do without. It’s that good!
From Dust is scheduled for a July 27th release on the Xbox Live Arcade.