From Dust We Get the Amazing Powers of a God - Review

By Rich Shivener in Reviews
Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 11:00 am
From Dust, we get greatness.
Few video games put you in a god-like role that allows you to manipulate elements of the earth and enlighten ancient people. In From Dust you do both, learning an original mythology, "the Memory of the Tribe", along the way. It recounts, for instance, how "musical knowledge" once blocked tsunamis, and how raging fire trees fell prey to trees of water. But most importantly, it teaches you how an ancient tribe summoned the Breath, the omniscient character you assume. It's fantastic.

The second Xbox Live Arcade release in this year's Summer of Arcade promotion, From Dust takes you to what seems like the beginning of time, a surreal place controlled by little more than the powers of nature, where you will be worshipped.
As the newly summoned Breath, you help the tribe piece together the story of the Ancients, a mysterious group that, as the tribe shamans say, was in control of earth's life-shaping elements. Before it can fully solve the mysteries, the tribe has to repopulate 13 territories once controlled by the Ancients. Each territory is vivid and expansive, ranging from mountainous terrains with lava pits, to sandy islands with rushing waters. The tribe needs to thrive on each island, and as its savior, you have to manipulate the terrain so the tribe can build villages around totems. A passage to the next territory opens when the tribe populates around each totem.

In your most basic form, you, as the Breath, can absorb and release matter, be it sand, lava or water. Totems offer such additional powers as "Jellify Water," "Put Out Fire," "Evaporate" and "Infinite Earth," and accessing those allows you to pick up such plants as fire and water trees. All these can help the tribe establish new villages, spread vegetation and spawn animals. You get encouraging messages when they perform the latter two -- messages like "within the rustling of the trees, the wind and the long grasses, the shaman distinguished the voice of the Ancients. You have spread the palms across half this territory, revealing a new story from the Memory of the Tribe."

Take me to the river!
The puzzling part of all this divine intervention is that, while you can control the elements, you can't control individual tribe members, nor can you control how and when they move as a group. That is, when you click on the totem around which they need to populate, members move and you're shown how they're going to reach the totem -- but you can't command them to stop and reroute around, say, a lake or a jagged mountain. White arrows mean progress; red, blockage. Thus, you have to think about the consequences of your earth-altering actions: If I open this artery of water, will I block this totem? Will fires consume this village if I don't plant water trees around it? As a god, you're facing trial and error over and over. Villages are destroyed and resurrected as you work out the puzzles of earth. Sometimes all my villages were destroyed because I got carried away with my powers.

For lighter fare, challenge mode offers maps where you must save the tribe from natural disasters. These challenges often restrict your powers. In "Bail Out," you can only absorb and release water as a tribe races to repel an oncoming tsunami. In "Epic Tsunamis," you can use "Amplify the Breath" and "Infinite Earth" to raise two villages above multiple tsunamis. The challenges, ranging from fairly easy to annoyingly hard, are time-sensitive, and they unlock as you complete the Memory of the Tribe.

Overall, From Dust is a mystical game that conveys how influential nature can be on humanity. It's not a faith-based game, by any means, but it challenges us to consider the responsibilities of a god. Those can be scary, deadly, exciting and inspiring.

The Official Verdict: 4 out of 5

This review is based on an Xbox 360 version of the game provided by the publisher.

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