Dazzling visuals and satisfying gameplay aside, From Dust is too shallow to outlast it's brief campaign.

User Rating: 7 | From Dust X360
I had only learnt that From Dust existed around three weeks ago when looking over impending releases on Xbox Live Arcade, but I was immediately intrigued. Controlling the elements to guide a tribe through natural disasters in a god-like scenario sounded like an ambitious idea, especially for a downloadable release, and as time passed the game looked increasingly promising and following good critic reception I decided to purchase. There is no doubt in my mind that From Dust is a great game - the concept, the environmental puzzles and the visual panache are all there in abundance, but unfortunately these are sometimes offset by fundamental flaws, such as imprecise controls, troublesome AI pathfinding and an overall brief experience.

Upon immediate observation I found myself in awe of the flowing magma belching out of the mountainous volcanoes of several scenarios and the gushing streams and lakes of others. It's certainly hard to dismiss From Dust's visual panache. The game looks fantastic. Even the nomadic people that will be guided by your hand through the campaign look very crisp for their infinitesimally small size - even on closer inspection. At the start of each campaign mission I found myself gazing across the map, and even while each new scenario loaded I paused with anticipation of what the environment would through at me next. It sets a new visual standard for XBLA titles, which is accentuated by the fantastic physics engine that replicates both flowing magma and water equally with aplomb.

That compliments the intriguing puzzle-come-god gameplay. Each map is a puzzle, where you have to figure out how to get from A, to B, to C in the form of totems at each destination which provide a sanctuary from hazards of both water and lava. However the AI when moving between points can get stuck far too easily or take an obviously longer route than what is available. It's not a huge hindrance, but can effect whether you get through the scenario alive, or not. Having to work out each individual map doesn't really face with you a huge challenge though, but the concept and gameplay that accompany it are fun for the most part. Having to pick up lava and form a wall to protect an oncoming tsunami is mightily satisfying, knowing that you have adapted your environment to help your little nomadic tribe to survive and move between totems to finally progress to the end of the level. The world of From Dust can be unforgiving however which leads to niggling flaws where the sometimes bothersome controls would mean that instead of creating that wall you wanted with lava, you accidentally engulfed your small tribe in flames. It happens occasionally and can put you on the back foot, but it wont really push you out of the otherwise satisfying puzzle fundamentals.

Unfortunately this is not all that From Dust suffers from. The ramblings, singing and visuals draw you in to the world of your small tribe - but it doesn't really evolve. There is a complete lack of personality from the campaign which prevents it from being great. At the beginning of each campaign scenario you are given a snippet of philosophical dialogue, but there is no relationship between the tribe and the player which is disappointing. A meatier connection would have made progressing through the already brief campaign (the game can be finished in six or so hours) much more satisfying because the challenge does not compensate for the missed opportunity. But there are however powers that are continually handed to the player that give a sense of growing power throughout. These evolve from merely sucking up more lava, to creating an entirely new world to call your own. They help solve the given puzzle and are fun to utilise but aren't particularly deep, and they don't evolve into something greater in terms of their power. This flaw is compounded in the last mission, which is poor in terms of a conclusion to story of the tribe overall. Furthermore the "Memory of the tribe" that is available via spreading vegetation, trekking to small, knowledge totems etc. is more contrived if anything else. It doesn't bestow any new information about the tribe, just feeds you seemingly random philosophical jargon that, for me, barely registered along with the story arc itself.

However big a flaw this may be, the core gameplay is still fun and intriguing, and the fundamental idea of manipulating the environment to solve puzzles still helps suck you in. After completing the campaign, there are also leaderboards and challenges that could create a healthy degree of competition between friends, but it just offers more of what the campaign was about - only with it now being timed. While it does have some niggling flaws with controls and pathfinding, and an overall lack of progression in the brief story mode, if you're into games that offer something different from the norm then From Dust is a recommended purchase.