Even if From Dust existed as nothing but a tech demo, we’d still enjoy just toying with its amorphous and reactive sandbox. Taking on the role of an almighty deity, you must watch over and care for a small tribe of men and women, helping them to remember their cultural identity as they travel across distant Pacific islands.
You do this by moving the very earth – great clumps of ground can be hauled into the air and clutched as a swirling brown-yellow sphere. Blue pools of water can be siphoned and deposited in a new location, the liquid filling whatever space it is released into.
Molten lava can be poured across mounds of grey stone where it hardens into new cliffs of igneous rock. Even if this is all we were asked to do, we would still enjoy From Dust.
But we’re not, and that’s partly the problem. To pass from one level to the next your tribe must erect small villages at several totems dotted around the map. These totems can bestow time-limited powers, such as the ability to turn water into a solid, jelly-like substance or release an endless supply of earth onto the map below.
If this sounds at all like Populous or Black & White, dispel those notions from your mind. From Dust is a puzzle game first and foremost, the challenge being to traverse the environment rather than conquer it.
But there are some ideas reminiscent of strategy games like SimCity; some levels will feature natural disasters like tsunamis, floods and volcanoes that must be avoided and managed in order to progress. No giant space robots, though, unfortunately.
For the most part, From Dust works, but there is often the feeling of being a caretaker rather than a god. Emptying pools of water or trying to create paths for tribesman who can’t find one themselves makes the experience of being an earth-shattering deity feel quite trying.
But when From Dust’s organic, tactile puzzling makes you feel like creator rather than custodian – when you’re truly moving the earth rather than just tending to it – From Dust’s sandbox reveals a puzzler that’s at once unique and empowering.