From Dust Hands-On Preview

By Darryl Kaye on March 25, 2011, 12:21PM EDT

Ever since I saw From Dust for the first time at GamesCom 2010, I've been dying to get my hands on it. God games are nothing new, they've been around since the early years of game development, but there's something about From Dust that just instantly captured my imagination; it's just so dynamic and creative.

For those not in the know, From Dust is the latest game from Eric Chahi, the mind behind Another World and other such titles. It's a God game where nature is the main focus, as you have to help small tribes of people survive against the elements so they can learn more about their past.

At the start of the game, everything is lost. The tribesmen have lost all of their history, and they only thing they remember is a ritual called "The Breath". This is what brings you, the player, into existence and it's from here that you can start trying to aid them in their search for knowledge.

In every level, there are small objectives which need to be accomplished, like populating another tribe, or acquiring a new power which will help to protect the tribe. However, the ultimate goal of each level is to reach "the passage". You never have any direct control over the tribesmen though - they will make their own waypoints. Your task, is to help them achieve what they want to, and this is where the game becomes interesting.

In the level I got to play, there were three main tasks. The first objective was to help the tribe acquire a chant which would protect the village against tsunamis. On this specific level, a tsunami would arrive at a specified time interval, and without the protection, everyone would be wiped out. The catch, is that the passage to this ability is blocked by natural obstacles.

The chosen tribesman will try to make his way there on his own, but he will probably get stuck. Maybe he can't progress any further because there's a river in the way, for example. So it's your job to figure out how to get him across. You have a lot of control over the world, you can pick up and re-distribute many elements, such as earth and water. So, you could, for example, try to make a passage through the water for the tribesman. Or, you could attempt to divert the river completely. There is no right way or wrong way as long as the end goal is accomplished.

It helps to roughly plan ahead though, as by doing one thing, you could make the next task very difficult. If for example, you divert the river, you may make a massive torrent that you then will need to re-divert in order to allow progression to the next objective. You also have to consider that, once the tsunami hits, the environment will be affected, so all your hard work may be instantly undone.

You can make things a little bit better by allowing vegetation to populate the land. If you place earth on top of rock, and link it up with vegetation, it will propagate on its own. And doing this will mean that it's less likely to erode as quickly, which is nice.

What's great about the game though, is that once you've managed to get to "the passage", and the level is completed, you can go back into the level and continue playing it. You will get rewarded for making the land fully vegetated, for example, but just interacting with the world and playing around with it is fun by itself.

As you progress through the game, you yourself will gain different powers that can be used to help out your tribesman. One such power is the ability to turn water into jelly. It becomes solid, but it doesn't turn to ice. What this means, is that you can effectively "do a Moses", and create a passage through rivers, or you can stop a Tsunami as it's about to crash down on your village. It only works for a limited amount of time though, and when the time limit expires, the world will behave accordingly.

There are also other elements, such as volcanoes, which must be used to try and counter different events. And with a ton of different levels to play through, the possibilities are endless. Even if you play the same level again, you might not even do it the same way.

From Dust is easily one of my most anticipated titles of 2011. The level of creativity in both the game's design, and the amount of creativity it offers to players, is something that's unparalleled and after finally being allowed to get my hands on the game, I can't wait for more.

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