Wednesday, January 25, 2012

-REVIEW: From Dust-
you won't see it coming

From Dust
Developer: Eric Chahi/Ubisoft
Release: $14.99

Why do you always have to treat people like money, sir

Life is bitter. Any sweetness life imbues upon our senses is not actual sweetness, but in fact the absence of bitterness. A cold drink on a hot day is a respite from the heat, a warm hug on a winter’s night is but an escape from the cold. Peace is not a state which one claims as its own, it is simply the result of the elimination of chaos. Life, bitterness, sweet, nothingness.

Everything comes From Dust.
Eric Chahi’s reputation precedes him: a visionary of style, a master of design, an innovator of this old-yet-new medium known as “games”. His first title, Another World, is now known as a masterpiece in each: its minimalist aesthetic promoting accessibility and emphasizing character over complexity, its do-or-die difficulty epitomizing the soul of tight, gapless level design, and its austere contextual storytelling exemplifying a clarity of purpose and a deep understanding of narrative mechanics. What does one do with such a reputation?

Apparently, one makes a slide puzzle.
From Dust is an environmental simulation. You are a disembodied spirit with a dubious physicality and morality; a deity with enough strength to move mountains, but not enough grace to pick men out of a fire (you may drown them readily, though).  You lead a group of the most devout, most fertile people known in the universe, as no matter how many calamities befall them they continue to believe and procreate with supernatural fervor.

Your goal is to usher them through various difficulties, helping them migrate from land to land, claiming (or reclaiming, it seems) ruined totems, long-neglected shrines, and many, many volcano-ridden desert oases. And all along the way you are chased by an infinite number of impeccably timed tsunamis.
At your disposal is an otherworldly telekinesis, these devotees, and your brain. Each level is more or less a living puzzle, inexorably approaching some uninhabitable state of existence which you attempt to hold back with these three tools. This is the game. No more, no less.

The question as to whether it fares well is oblique to say the least; a title with a long-standing pedigree and an impossible expectation, a title with space for but a single idea and the heart of a well-tread creator, a title that cannot possibly escape the bitterness of inevitable disappointment. Everything comes, From Dust.
As the bitterness surrounds your people, your hand can only do so much. The tsunamis will never stop crashing down, eroding your carefully shorn mountain ridges. The volcanoes ceaselessly vomit up the earth’s bowels, displacing your carefully crafted valleys. The springs will never run dry, carving their way again and again through your thoughtfully built plains. Life is bitter, life is sweet.

Let life run with death on its feet.
From Dust ambles on the outskirts of our definitions of gaming. It is not active, yet far from passive. It is not engrossing, yet far from boring. It is not a story told, yet it is a story waiting to unfold. As a game, its dull glow illuminates little, cast amongst a sea of screamers, bombasts, and ludological white dwarves. As anything else, it shines bright, illuminating the truth that awaits the naïve, the truth meets the cynic with a smirk and a sigh, the truth that lies beneath what thin realities we pretend to inhabit.

Life is bitter. Sweet is nothingness. Everything comes From Dust.