Game of the Week: From Dust

Particularly good.

Were you to describe the entire spectrum of gaming using a graph or chart of some description - and that is the sort of thing the internet tends to do, so I'm not ruling this out for the future - you would probably struggle to place our Game of the Week further away from the other thing I've been playing over the last few days, however you chose to label the axes.

Tiny Tower has occupied more of my time than makes any sense. The amount of time that would make sense is however long it took for me to realise that the only thing that elevates it beyond a raft of other microtransaction-driven cutesy management games on social devices (in my case the iPhone) is catchy muzak and its 8-bit graphical affectations.

It's a game a bit like Sim Tower, where you earn funds by stocking businesses and residential areas in a 2D skyscraper and then spend those funds on expanding upwards. But everything deliberately takes ages to complete so that you are encouraged to spend real-world money on Tower Bux to speed up the processes. You can't stack processes either, so you have to keep going back to tend them, loading the app and tapping on a few floors to cycle restocking or engage tenants.

It's like a sink perpetually refilling with washing-up, where you can reduce your elbow grease by throwing some money down the drain after the Fairy liquid. And of course once you do spend 69p or whatever to bridge a gap, you feel too invested to just stop playing, so you get into the cycle of going back to Tiny Tower on your phone to do your chores and occasionally losing patience (usually while drunk or on the bus) and spending another 69p.

Tiny Tower reminds me of an article I read in a PC magazine years ago (it might have been the lovely PC Zone - even if it wasn't, big shout out to PC Zone!) about a chap who loved Railroad Tycoon and played it all the time, but one day discovered a cheat that gave him loads of money. He tried not to use it because it spoiled that sense of gradual progress and eventual achievement that is so key to any management simulation, but of course it was such a simple keyboard shortcut that whenever a rival railroad threatened his or he was a few quid shy of a locomotive he reached for it. The game was never the same.

Tiny Tower is a game designed to be exactly like that distorted version of Railroad Tycoon: always asking for just a little bit more than you can have right now, and never really enjoyable on its own merits. In fact it's worse than that, because without the microtransactions it would be a cheap, unfulfilling procession upward into joyless clouds of wasted time.

From Dust

Our Game of the Week, however, is a perfectly pitched management simulation - a god game, to be more specific - and whereas Tiny Tower is nothing without you, and even less when you reject its micro-extortion, From Dust is a world that is almost indifferent to your presence, and will not be tamed unless you continually adjust its variables through the divine intervention of your triggers and analogue sticks.

Mesmerising new From Dust footage

Your goal in any level is to guide tribesmen to ancient totems scattered around the geologically unstable map, around which they will construct little villages. You then need to protect them against the raging primordial elements - helping them to reach little prayer stones that teach them to stem the tidal waves that periodically wash the landscape clean, holding them at bay like Moses and the Red Sea.

Your only tools are the ability to lift and deposit sand, water and molten rock, and a few unlockable powers that evaporate or otherwise manipulate the elements, but for me the beauty of the game is the way the world gets on with things all around you, flooding and burning and sinking and rising as you shovel and caress the terrain to galvanise the green shoots of your nascent civilisation.

"It's elemental stuff, nothing less than a video game creation myth," wrote Oli Welsh in our 9/10 From Dust review. "If god games should inspire awe, then From Dust towers over the petty, hand-to-mouth, human agenda of its predecessors."

After the shelf-stacking cynicism of Tiny Tower, which aspires to do nothing more than waste your time and money, it's nice to be reminded that video games can make you feel like this as well.

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