It takes something special like From Dust to pique my interest in real-time strategy. No disrespect to the genre, but the old molds of warfare and build-you-own metropolis never held my attention.
And yet, I might be persuaded to stick around for From Dust, a downloadable game that will launch this summer for the Xbox 360. The game cracks the real-time strategy mold by letting you play as a god, rather than play God. "The breath," as From Dust's swirling selection icon is known, carries out the will of an ambiguous supreme being, whose job is to lead lost tribesmen as they search for ancient artifacts.
To guide these people, the breath can shape the surrounding land by gobbling up one type of terrain and depositing it elsewhere. Hold the right trigger over a bed of sand, and it swirls up into a giant ball. Hold the left trigger, and the sand disperses on the ground.
In a demo at E3, I had to lead the tribesman from an isolated island to a rocky shore containing an ancient musical ritual. To bridge the gap between land and shore, I had to create bridges by dumping sand from the surrounding islands. It's a tricky situation, because all the while, the waves are lapping away your bridges, and a clock is ticking down to the arrival of a deadly tsunami.
If a tribesman reaches the ritual, he'll sprint back to his village, spreading the knowledge to other communities along the way. Upon returning, he teaches the tribesman a chant that fends off the tsunami, allowing them to continue their search for the past.
I didn't see a lot of From Dust at E3, but I'm intrigued by what I did see. And from someone who steers clear of strategy games, that's saying something.