From Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return
“This man/woman can build villages, gain knowledge and play music” is what you will be told if you zoom in on any of the little masked individuals who rely on your godly ways when playing ‘From Dust’, and I mean any of them. I have tried on numerous occasions to see if I can get a different result, possibly along the lines of “This man is the chief and can remove a birds head with a spear from thirty yards” or “This Woman is married to all the other men in the tribe and can make a meal from sand, sea water and bug-shit” but my attempts have been futile. This begs the question as to why the feature to zoom in and see this information is even in the game, it’s almost as if it was supposed to be part of something else that never got finished, and that pretty much sums up From Dust as a whole.
When you play From Dust you will find yourself moulding landscapes so that your tribe can capture enough totems left by the ancients in order to move on to the next area. You will defend your little ethnic stereotypes from tsunamis, divert lava flows, grow forests and raise lands, then four hours later you will complete the game.
I am not usually one to bemoan the shortness of a game as not having to trawl through many hours of gameplay to reach final satisfaction can be a boon sometimes but From Dust doesn’t provide you with this feeling of satsifaction. There are 13 levels to complete and most take around 30 minutes or less and will probably be achieved on the first attempt. There are also challenge levels available, for some reason more than the main storyline, they are a completely different play dynamic, usually asking for a single objective to be completed in an extraordinarily tight time limit or against formidable conditions. After these have been completed or ignored that’s pretty much it, at least there is a sandbox mode so you can create your own fun… Wait, there isn’t?
At the end of the game you get to use new immense powers that allow to to craft the landscape of your whim but it’s still just another ‘level’ and to be honest the area you get to use is so small and the restrictions are such that it doesn’t take long before you realise Minecraft may be a better option.
As you cannot directly control your tribe other than summoning them to a totem or collectable the challenge from the game is in how the various elements interact, as they will continue to do so even when you are not looking. The sand will be washed away by tides or the walls of a cliff will be eroded by lava and so forth potentially putting a previously safe village in jeapordy. The mechanics of this are very impressive and it all looks suitably fluid and lovely but because of this you just keep wishing there was more of it.
You may also start to notice some baffling inconsistencies such as why your tribes-people are able to swim around after being pulled out to sea by a bloody great tidal wave but need you to raise the very land beneath their feet land so they can cross a tiny stream and will stand there rudely shouting at you until you do so.
So much could have been done with such a nice idea and the game is fun but you are just left wanting more while mulling over how Populous, despite being about 45 years old now, had more depth and substance.