Terra Nil Isn't A City-Builder, It's A Nature-Builder And It's Great

Instead of building a city get ready to fix the world and bring back animals, trees, and rivers to a wasteland

Gif: Devolver Digital / Kotaku

There are a lot of great city-building games. Some let you design massive and modern cities. Others focus on historical or even futuristic urban sprawl. And yet others fall into various sub-genres and categories. But none that I’ve played let you do the opposite: Build back all the nature that has died. That was until I played Terra Nil, a game developed around doing just that.

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Terra Nil comes from South African developer Free Lives, the same folks behind Broforce and VR hit Gorn. But unlike those games, which were fun and over-the-top action hits featuring comical gore, Terra Nil is a quieter, more relaxed game all about saving the world and bringing back nature. To do so you’ll need to manage your minimal resources carefully and clean up after yourself.

Terra Nil’s gameplay and perspective share a lot with city-builders and even factory-building games like Dyson Sphere Program. But the focus is entirely different. Your goal isn’t to build up a big town, but to use green energy and minimal man-made structures to bring back grass, trees, blue rivers, and even animal life.

You only have one resource to manage, represented in the game as leaves. Build a wind turbine and some fertilizing machines and you’ll use up some of that resource. But if you use the grass-seeder machine, you can quickly earn back all you used and then some, assuming you place the seeder in an optimal position.

Quickly the puzzle of Terra Nill became clear to me and I became obsessed with it. Trying to maximize how much green you bring back to the world, while using very little technology, is very satisfying. It’s also an easy dance to screw up. Focus too much on bringing back the wetlands and you’ll run out of resources you need to build up forests and recycling drones.

Image for article titled Terra Nil Isn't A City-Builder, It's A Nature-Builder And It's Great
Screenshot: Devolver Digital / Kotaku

Terra Nill smartly locks and hides away all of the buildings and tools you’ll use as you play. Only once you’ve completed goals, like raising the temperature of the area or covering most of it with greenery, will these later tools unlock. It keeps the game from feeling too overwhelming and makes it easier to know what you should be focusing on at any given point.

Currently, a demo of Terra Nill is playable via the ongoing Steam Next Fest, which ends June 22.

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I highly recommend downloading it and playing it. The mix of chill building, nature-healing, and wonderful music combine to create something very special that I’ve spent over three hours playing already. And this is just the demo. The devs have committed to adding more and more once the full game unlocks and I’m excited to play more when it finally comes out at some point in the future.

DISCUSSION

By
ghoastie

Damn, that’s a brilliant drawing-board concept for a game. The closest to it I can recall offhand is SimEarth, but even that one eventually pushed you towards intelligent life that clawed its way up the technological ladder.

I can already imagine a version of it that’s bleakly existential: “congratulations, you restored this thing you call ‘nature,’ and then it reverted back to a wasteland, because real nature is actually 99.999999% cold empty blackness and every arc bends towards heat death.

“Press any key to continue, until you can’t.