Designed by Eric Chahi, creator of the acclaimed Another World videogames, throughout its development From Dust has been touted as a spiritual successor to Bullfrog’s groundbreaking 1993 release, Populous. However, the game that launches today on the Xbox LIVE Arcade (coming soon to PlayStation Network and PC) plays nothing like the grandfather of ‘God’ games. Instead, the similarities come in the form of intent; From Dust is just as unique a presentation here in 2011 as Populous was nearly a decade ago.
The game begins simply enough, with the first humans creating you, and claiming you as theirs. While you may act as an all-powerful being above them, your goal in From Dust is always dictated by them: in contrary to many previous titles in the genre, never are you presented with the choice of working against your disciples for a different cause, your victory is permanently aligned with theirs. The goal in these early levels is simple enough – first moving men, then moving land, then growing vegetation and earning memories – but once the foundations have been laid your participation grows exponentially.
The player’s avatar is a simple line, bending and shaping with movement and the environment. The levels are typically of a small size, with the player able to move across the entirety of the map in just a few seconds – instead of the size however, it’s the contents of the landscape within that are important. The player has control of certain environmental types – sand, water, lava, etc. – and must use this ability to solve challenges presented to their disciples. The ultimate goal of the game is to collect memories which are made available via objects within maps, be propagating vegetation or simply completing levels. As the player makes totems available to their human tribes, they in turn will create villages from which more life will spread. These totems are effectively the checkpoints within each level, as the player must make paths available connecting each to allow their humans to move between them before being able to move on to the next level. Of course, moving to each further totem provides another challenge, and in later levels the player will be faced with the decision to attempt to reach the totem or a different object located elsewhere on the map.
Throughout the game the player will unlock new powers that can manipulate certain aspects of the environment, protecting or aiding your tribes in a unique manner. As interesting as this sounds, the powers are actually the weakest aspect of the game. Positioned as a limited special ability, the powers are realistically just another option at your disposal, limited in order to prevent breaking the difficulty. That’s not to say the powers are pointless in any respect, they’re simply not quite as special as the game might let you believe.
Despite the fact that From Dust’s greatest strengths lie in its seemingly simple design, the same amount of depth can be drawn from its visual depiction as the layers of its gameplay. It’s a game that doesn’t need to push the envelope, and yet still offers perfectly balanced clarity and intuitiveness in its imagery. Everything shown on screen is obvious as to its purpose and the potential result of your interaction, and the aural accompaniment offers just as many clues for those moments of uncertainty.
Innovation in the modern industry is typically limited to renovation, improving on what was once there and repackaging it in a new skin. From Dust goes beyond this, looking at everything it’s host genre has offered as scraping away what’s unnecessary, peeling back the layers to the original source and yet still managing to feel entirely modern. From Dust is a fantastic rendition of the God game that deserves the acclaim of it’s peers, and the respect of the modern console audience.