Another natural occurrence you must take into account is foliage. Each village spawns a small circle of soil and vegetation, and this vegetation automatically spreads to all nearby dirt-covered land, providing there is some water nearby. If it spreads far enough, you unlock new challenge levels and descriptions of in-game phenomena. However, if any part of your forest comes in contact with lava, it catches on fire and doesn't stop burning until you extinguish the fire or it consumes all its fuel (and any villages in its way). Fire can also be started by fire trees, one of a few special plants that can help or hinder you. The tree of water releases a stored torrent that can extinguish fires or drown villages, while the explosive tree provides your only tool for manipulating rock. Gaining the ability to pick up and replant these trees opens up new strategic possibilities, but it isn't always easy to position your cursor directly beneath them, especially when the explosive trees have done their thing (they grow back if replanted).
6330073NoneThe mouse buttons afford a good amount of control over the flow of substances.
There are three ways to maneuver the Breath around the world, each with its own shortcomings. If you use the mouse, you lead the Breath along like a snake on a leash. When you stay in the central area of the screen, the camera remains static and you can move the Breath with precision; when you move toward the edge of the screen, the camera begins to move and you lose precision control. You can also use the WASD keys to move the Breath and the camera as one, but the scroll speed makes this better suited for moving large distances than manipulating substances. A combination of the two works relatively well, though you'll likely feel that there must have been a more elegant solution. You can also use the Xbox 360 controller, but the controls are a bit touchy, and it can be quite difficult to make fine movements. This isn't always an impediment to success, but it does cause problems when you need to micro-adjust a path that the AI doesn't like or remove a pesky puddle so your villagers will agree to travel to a totem.
Getting to know the humans' movement patterns can help mitigate the pathfinding and fine-control issues, but some levels hit you with environmental upheaval that you simply can't anticipate. There is usually a warning when a tsunami will hit, but what about the spring you unearth that drowns your village? Or the volcano that suddenly claims a hillside and sets off a vicious wildfire? Adapting to these unforeseen circumstances is sometimes frustrating, but it also contributes to the unpredictability that makes From Dust so engaging. Consequences you didn't expect or slow changes to the landscape that turn into imminent dangers force you to adapt quickly and find creative solutions. Though the pacing is uneven, offering too many static levels and a few drastic difficulty spikes, From Dust's Story mode does a great job of teaching you how to mold the world and testing your prowess and adaptability.
Challenge mode provides a fun proving ground for those skills. It consists of 30 levels that last a few minutes at most and set specific victory conditions. The purpose-built maps offer a wider variety of unique puzzles than appear in Story mode, though the quality is a bit uneven. Some are mere physics showcases in which the solution is exceedingly simple; some are brutal races against the clock that demand precise manipulation. The ones that require you to think beyond your first instincts and really flex your understanding of the From Dust world are the best, though each offers at least the small pleasure of seeing what the developers have concocted. Making your way through all 30 is indeed a challenge (and first you must unlock them all in Story mode), and online leaderboards that track your times provide surprisingly effective fuel for competition. You may have solved a challenge one way only to find out that other players completed it with drastically better times, indicating that there is more to the level than you might have guessed. The key here is that you earn bonus time for completing your actions early and letting events run their course, so finesse and simplicity are paramount to scoring well.
A tsunami looms large over the village, but the right song can keep the torrent at bay.
Challenge mode provides a great complement to Story mode, and together they make for a satisfying amount of content. From Dust doesn't offer the heady feeling of omnipotence, but it's a lot of fun to have to contend with the greater forces of nature as you try to exert your influence over this raw, lovely world. The churning sea, the flowing lava, and the burgeoning forests create a vivid sense of life that is amplified by the light percussion, ambient music, and lively animal vocalizations. Though this PC port suffered some bumps in the transition, and the gameplay can still be uneven and finicky at times, it's definitely worth taking up the manipulator's mantle in From Dust.