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From Dust

Adaptation is a natural way for a species to learn how to survive. Natural destruction, on the other hand, is nature’s way of forcing this adaptation upon us. From Dust is not content to let you populate its lands and co-exist with Mother Nature. As the topography shifts to your disadvantage once again and water pours out of hidden geysers, flooding a newly constructed village for the tenth time you begin to realise that, as far as From Dust is concerned, the world we live in hates us.

You are charged with the repatriation and subsequent colonisation of a series of ancient lands. Villages are constructed around great obelisks named totems and with each totem on the map occupied a new miracle becomes available to you.

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Mediation of your population is not directly under your control but merely under your general supervision. Whilst this may seem slightly lacking in dexterity early on, it slowly becomes evident that you must view the levels in a ‘big picture’ context, leaving the finer points, such as which route to take, to the fairly astute AI.

The true star of From Dust, however, is the exemplary natural physics engine. Water, vegetation, earth and lava all react realistically with each other and, if left to their own devices, over time the maps would alter on their own accord. Due to the complexity of the natural environments, graphically From Dust is perfunctorily basic and undemanding. Whilst this does not make it especially exciting to look at the natural tones of the rock and the sparkling clarity of the water do help to make a clear assessment of the land aiding you in identifying potential trouble spots.

Despite being a god, omnipotence is sadly not a part of your arsenal. Your basic powers stand as tools to lift basic materials from one place to another. This is usually enough to surpass most minor challenges and allow your tribe to progress to a point you designate. However, From Dust is not content with just minor challenges.

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Trouble usually comes in the form of either naturally occurring hazards such as freshly spewed lava or fast flowing water. However, map specific occurrences are also thrown into the mix such as tsunamis, earthquakes or fire producing plants. Whilst some of these miraculously unfortunate incidents do feel slightly cheap at times, especially in the downright dastardly final levels, they do add a great level of variety to the proceedings.

Transgressing these natural ambushes is a task that requires a delicate touch and the foresight of a deity. Reading the patterns of the land and having the patience to test strategy until discovering a formula that fits can take both time and the lives of a large proportion of your population. Real success stems from living harmoniously with your environment and not fighting against the elements. Redirecting the flow of a body of water to create a natural barrier against wildfire is much more beneficial than superficially extinguishing the flames with a miracle.

This is one of the major sticking points I have with From Dust. In the early levels, using the natural surroundings to help transgression is a rewarding challenge; however, as later levels become much more complex and dangerous, reliance upon miracles reveals a slight falsity in the game’s framework.

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As you progress and the environments become less and less hospitable, these miracles become essential to your tribes continued existence. The power to jellify water to allow safe passage or temporarily guard your villages from the onslaught of a tidal wave is certainly helpful in various scenarios; but the only way to ensure the continued fruition of our tribe revolves around altering the geography for good.

The rewards present in From Dust stem from seeing your best laid plans outsmart the will of nature despite what initially appear to be overwhelming odds. From Dust will remain with you as the solutions to natural puzzles reveal themselves in later reflection. This is a great testament to a game that becomes both profoundly difficult yet staunchly honest.

As water courses down solid surfaces it slowly bores away at edges creating snakelike rivers criss-crossing the land. Altering the flow of a river maybe a short term solution to your destructive woes, but as any good biologist will tell you, all the earths’ materials have to go somewhere, and in From Dust’s case that usually means trouble. The same can be said for tampering with the natural order of any of From Dust’s elements, and on more than one occasion you will feel like you’re fighting a losing battle.

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This really typifies the message which From Dust projects. The natural world is unfathomably more complex and diverse than man can comprehend and so fighting against it is like holding sand – eventually, it’ll slip though your fingers.

7 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in January 2011. Get in touch on Twitter @RichJimMurph.

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