Developed by Free Lives and published by Devolver Digital, Terra Nil is a fascinating city-builder that tasks the player with transforming a barren wasteland into a beautiful verdant oasis filled with biodiversity.
Terra Nil is unlike any city-builder that you’ve played before. In fact, I’m not sure if I can even classify it as such, as many of the typical settlement strategy game trappings are absent in this environmental-strategy game. Instead of building up a production economy and satisfying villagers, in Terra Nil, it’s your job to revive and balance mother nature in the polluted wastes of the planet you’re on.
You’ll accomplish this by cultivating the land with Toxin Scrubbers and Irrigators while promoting diverse flora and fauna to propagate and thrive in your new world.
Relaxing Reclamation of Nature
If there’s one thing to be said about Terra Nil, it’s that it’s relaxing. Unlike other city builders, where the wrong move can catapult your society into decay, in Terra Nil, things are a little more chill. The soothing audio as you grow grass on your fields and the captivating piano soundtrack make you feel like you’re outside on a sunny day.
Even in the game’s more hazardous sections, where you’ll need to clear away radioactive fallout from the misguided species who resided here before, the fun never feels like it’s pressing you to finish a task by a certain time. Instead, players can take the time to thoughtfully figure out the most efficient way to reclaim the lands and set up their world.
A Slight Learning Curve
Because the game is so different, it might throw you for a loop at first. This isn’t about building the most effective grid structure or honing in on your urban planning skills. Things are a bit rougher around the leaf edges here, and so players will initially need to adapt themselves to a mindset where their main goal is to actually promote biodiversity rather than strip-mining the planet for all known resources. This also means that straight lines aren’t always obtainable.
However, once you start to pick up these new concepts, which are clearly outlined in the game’s tutorial section, it becomes a lot easier to move through the campaign. The game has four different levels or biomes, each with two regions players can unlock by finishing the game’s final mission. On each level, a new mechanic is introduced, which eases the players into the game’s core concepts.
At the end of each game, players must remove all known traces of themselves by recycling their equipment. I found this to be somewhat tedious because of the implementation, but I guess cleaning up after yourself is hard to make fun of unless you’re PowerWash Simulator.
Metaphorically speaking, it’s much like unlearning some of the same habits gained from a history that hasn’t necessarily treated our planet the best. From the decay and what was left behind, it might serve as a commentary on our own impending environmental crisis.
I Wish There Was More
Terra Nil is a wonderful game, but it feels somewhat short compared to other city-builders. At around 12 hours of gameplay, I felt like I did everything the game had to offer — discovered every animal species, mastered each biome, and made the world about as biodiverse as possible. Without spoiling the ending too much, there’s a part of the game where you think you might be traveling to a new planet to fix, but it never actually happens.
With the game’s procedural generation, it feels like it could have been extended a bit more, and it left me wanting more to play. Because of the length, my first campaign almost felt like an extended tutorial since every new biome introduced a new mechanic. This adds to the abrupt feeling when you realize there’s no more content to play.
A Fun, Relaxing, and Unique Take on the Genre
Overall, Terra Nil felt relaxing and rewarding. Not only does it push an environmentally-friendly message through soothing gameplay, but it also stands alone as just a fun game. In a world where killing things is often the objective in a game, being able to grow things and promote life is actually a wonderful change of pace.
Terra Nil flips the city-building settlement management genre on its head and replaces efficiency and clean lines with colorful plant life and organic bays of coral reefs. If you go in wanting a city-builder that focuses on production lines, you’re not going to be happy, but if you want to try something fresh and new, I highly recommend Terra Nil.
Terra Nil Review
Terra Nil is a relaxing environmental strategy game where players must reclaim a barren wasteland by reinvigorating nature and promoting biodiversity. With a charming soundtrack, pleasant & colorful visuals, and unique and engaging gameplay, this indie title is certainly worth checking out.
Terra Nil is on Steam.
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PC Review Copy provided.