Terra Nil is an incredibly unique city-building ‘puzzle’ game developed by Free Lives and published by Devolver Digital. The game’s premise revolves around restoring the natural environment after civilization has managed to destroy it. Restoring the natural environment may seem like a daunting task, but the game’s mechanics make it surprisingly accessible. One of the first gameplay mechanics players are introduced to is placing a windmill on a stone surface to power their machines.
From here, more specialized tools like toxin scrubbers and irrigators are introduced, which are essential to restore continental, polar, and tropical zones. The scrubber removes toxins from the environment, creating a space for new life to emerge, while the irrigator provides the necessary moisture to jumpstart the restoration process until players unlock the ability to make it rain.
Other tools, such as the polyp collector, can be deployed in the ocean to cultivate a thriving coral reef teeming with diverse marine life. Atomic reactors can also provide electricity and heat in regions where windmills are insufficient. You really go through the entirely ecological restoration process, before leaving all of your hard work behind, and heading off to the next toxic wasteland, which although disheartening, is an exciting feedback loop knowing what the end objective looks and feels like.
While the game involves strategic placement of buildings, its gameplay is more akin to a puzzle game than a traditional city-building simulator. Each machine placement must be carefully considered to ensure maximum coverage of the land and minimal overlap, thereby avoiding resource waste. Furthermore, players must place structures in such a way that they can be efficiently recycled at the end of the day, taking into account the limitations of their recycling drones, no matter how advanced they may be.
What I found particularly impressive about Terra Nil is its emphasis on sustainability and the long-term consequences of human actions. Players must carefully manage their resources and balance economic growth with ecological restoration. For example, building too many industries without proper waste management can lead to pollution, which harms the environment and reduces the player’s overall score. Similarly, planting too many trees without considering their impact on the water supply can lead to droughts, which can negatively impact the player’s economy.
The game’s graphics and art style are simple yet beautiful, with a charming low-poly aesthetic that gives it a unique personality. The environments are intricately designed, with varying biomes, each requiring different approaches to restoration. The music and sound design complement the visuals, creating an immersive and relaxing atmosphere.
The game’s progression system is also well-designed, with multiple stages of restoration and a clear end goal. As players restore the environment and unlock new technologies, they can progress to new biomes with unique challenges and opportunities. The game’s final stage challenges players to create a sustainable ecosystem, where the environment is self-sufficient, and the player’s industry generates no waste.
If there’s any gripe to have with Terra Nil, it’s probably that the game isn’t really hard at all on any of the three difficulty levels. While some players may have appreciated more complexity and diversity in the game’s maps, Free Lives’ decision to keep things simple reinforces the message that saving the planet can be effortless if we choose to make it a priority.
The game’s intuitive interface and informative tutorial, coupled with a visually stunning in-game guidebook, make environmental restoration a smooth and engaging experience. The serene music and tranquil sound effects contribute to the overall relaxing atmosphere, and the moment of admiration after completing a restoration project is a well-deserved reward.
Overall, Terra Nil is an excellent game that offers a unique and engaging city-building experience. The game’s focus on ecological restoration and sustainability sets it apart from other games in the genre, offering players a chance to explore the impact of human actions on the environment (and it additionally gives a percentage of it’s profits towards environmental conservation charities, which I think is a fantastic gesture).
I highly recommend Terra Nil to anyone interested in city-building games or environmentalism, that’s additionally after a sense of relaxation in their gaming life.