From Dust Would Be Beautiful If It Weren't So Darn Annoying

User Rating: 7.5 | From Dust X360
As volcanoes spread their fiery wrath across one side of the map and torrential downpours flood the river basin on the other side, the desperate villagers march unfazed towards the large totem in the center of the world. Some of them are swept away in the floods, never to be seen again. Others are too slow, and are left burning in the lava as the stronger villagers push forward, never looking back. Finally, desperate and ragged, the surviving men and women reach the totem. They build a village there, a bastion of hope amidst the turmoil that surrounds them. It's a testament to the raw power of the human will. Even in this apocalyptic chaos, even after so many loved ones have died, these villagers have pressed forward towards survival and created something beautiful.

Now, they must spread their empire. They run towards the next totem, but a raging river blocks their path. Suddenly the Earth itself shifts, and there is now a dam where just seconds ago violent currents prevented further progress. Perhaps all of their prayers to the Gods have finally borne fruit? They march onwards, but time is limited. Storm clouds gather in the sky. If they don't hurry, the downpours will begin anew and their little dam won't be enough to restrain the floods. They scramble frantically across the sand. Halfway across the dam, the villagers stop dead in their tracks. What could possibly have provoked such a response from such intrepid explorers? Is it dangerous wildlife, or perhaps a raging fire? No, it's something far worse than that. Something that cannot be fixed so easily. The problem, it seems, is poor pathfinding AI. With nothing preventing the villagers from progressing to their objective, their AI has suddenly decided to just stop.

The Gods cry out in rage as their subjects stand obliviously in the face of death. The downpours begin. Frantically, they grab more Earth and drop it in front of the villagers, hoping that something will snap in their minds and allow them to continue out of harm's way. It doesn't work. The tiny dam slowly starts to give way. Powerless, the Gods can only watch as the villagers are swept away one by one, thrashing, kicking, spitting water, until they are pulled out into the ocean and disappear from view. The massive wall of water tears across the land, rising over the sides of the village and snuffing out all life. All of the villager's persistance has been for naught. The village is destroyed, the villagers dead, all thanks to some untimely pathfinding issues. Game over.

From Dust is a humbling experience that aims to remind players of the omnipresent power of nature. In the face of the game's numerous natural disasters, its human settlers are but ants caught in the maelstrom. It's inspiring when they succeed, but all too often they end up dead in an ocean somewhere because of the downright lousy AI. In the early sections of the game, which adopt a more easygoing pace, it's not much of an issue. A few dead villagers here and there isn't much of a problem in the larger scheme of things. These early levels allow you to mess around and have fun with the game's awesome Earth-moving mechanics. By pulling in the left trigger, you'll command the Gods to inhale, pulling up whatever matter lies under your cursor in an undulating sphere. Squeezing the right trigger will release the matter. Just watching the physics of it all is immensely satisfying, as elements such as dirt, lava, and water will all interact with each other realistically.

In the later levels, however, such precision and timing is demanded that the game becomes more of a test of attrition than a celebration of nature's power. As minor as the issue may sound, the lousy pathfinding really does kill the latter half of the game, dragging out what should be ten to fifteen minute levels into forty-five minute battles against lousy AI. Godly powers, such as the ability to repel lava from your villages or turn all of the water on the map into gell, help some, and look really stunning to boot. Some of these visual effects really need to be seen to be believed, as they're just beautiful. Still, it's not quite enough to make up for the needlessly punishing difficulty towards the end. If the purpose of this game was to celebrate nature in all its beauty and power, it could've succeeded with just a bit more AI tuning. As is, the game is interesting, gorgeous, and fun for the first hour or two. But as the game heads into its final levels, it becomes too frustrating. From Dust is still a good game, but it could've been so much more.
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