REVIEW: ‘Terra Nil’ Is A Lofi Lesson On Nature (PC)

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Terra Nil - But Why Tho

Have you ever heard of a reverse city builder? Normal city builders, where you start with a basic landscape and build up to a bustling metropolis, I get. What about the opposite? That is the goal of Terra Nil, developed by Free Lives and published by Devolver Digital. The same developers who brought us games like Bro Force, Genital Jousting, and GORN have made a game all about giving back to nature. Instead of creating the perfect Utopia (or anarchist city if you’re like me), you’re reclaiming all that land. You’re healing all the damage and destruction caused by the previous civilization to give it back to the animals and aquatic creatures who previously lived in these spaces. It’s an intriguing concept. How does it hold up as a game? For a game, I think it’s an enjoyable time that will make you think.

Terra Nil has a very simple story. You and your team arrive on a desolate planet. It’s reminiscent of Earth but not quite our home planet. Your job is brief yet complex. Fix the damage, clean the waste, and make these areas hospitable for animals who will call these places home. To do so, you slowly work your way through more complex environments with more complex hazards, creating new ecosystems for the land’s animals. All this is done with the use of complex machinery that can terraform, manipulate the weather, clean water, and quickly regrow all kinds of flora and fauna.

Let’s start off by talking about the music. The atmospheric noises and the music are some of the most tranquil soundtracks I’ve heard in quite some time. Imagine hitting a playlist called “lo-fi orchestral beats to heal a planet to.” That’s exactly this soundtrack. It’s tranquil and mixes well with all the ambiance sounds playing that slowly get louder and more complex as the game continues. First, it’s just wind rustling. Then slowly, sounds of water get added; over time, trees rustling can be heard; then, finally, the sounds of animals living their lives. The developers have found ways to make the music, and the sounds mix really well together, showing just how beautiful nature is just through sound alone. It’s a different kind of tranquility that we have to actively seek out in today’s world.

The gameplay mixes seamlessly into this growth of the natural orchestra. The gameplay starts off fairly similar to a city builder. You have limited resources to get started. Each of the four missions starts off with trying to get energy resources established in a procedurally generated plot of land. It can be from windmills, geothermal plants, or even hydroelectric machinery. Regardless, once you get that source of energy established, you can start the first of three stages. The first is clean-up/ healing. This is the simplest stage, as it’s just trying to heal enough ground or clean up enough water to reach the second stage. It also requires the simplest tools too to accomplish.

For example, at this stage, you’ll have barren lands with some windmills sitting on rocks. You need to place a toxin scrubber down that turns barren wastelands into fertile soil. Then, you place a machine that returns resources to you while also beginning to regrow grass or simple fauna in the recently healed areas. It all happens quickly, but that last step is crucial since, as I mentioned before, your resources are limited. You need to balance how many resources you use, building windmills/turbines, planting toxin scrubbers, then making sure you have enough space to recoup the resources you spent. Because you need enough of those resources to complete the second and third stages, which go hand in hand.

Terra Nil - But Why Tho

The following stages are by far my favorite, as they are the most complex and puzzle-like. The second stage is all about rebuilding the ecosystems, like dense forests, coral reefs, snowy tundras, etc. The third is finding out if animals have returned to their ideal habitats and taking away all the machines you’ve used to let the land belong to the animals who now live in the areas you’ve healed. During all of this, you have optional goals that all involve the climate. For example, having a temperature above 25°C and humidity above 80% will bring rain and thunderstorms back. This is an invaluable goal that I recommend you go for as quickly as possible since it heals any remaining squares of land or sea that you couldn’t heal during phase one.

These challenges add much-needed complexity to the game. Creating the ecosystems is fun, but it’s not too difficult to achieve. But to hit the climate goals requires using machines, like an instant freezing device that turns the ground to ice and lowers the temperature, or an igniter that burns a patch of land to raise the temperature. Each of these machines basically harms your progress in creating the other environments since you are making these patches of land unusable for the other tools. So it quickly becomes a balancing act of which goals you want to get to while also making sure you don’t create a place where you just can’t progress any further on, even if you met every optional goal.

The final phase is where this game shows off its beauty. Terra Nil plays from a top-down perspective with a simple yet detailed art style. Up until this point, I found myself so focused on tiny parts of this land I’ve healed. Never the full picture. Once I hit launch after reclaiming all the machines and sending everything back to the spaceship, the game let me just admire the work I’ve done. Just a simple pan over the animals living in what once was a barren wasteland, with the music playing peacefully in my ears. It’s a great send-off after working on this area for the past one to two hours. And the landscapes, no matter what the land looked like before, look picturesque.

My biggest negatives for the game come with the later stages of the game. For the most part, the tools given to you are fairly well explained. But some of them have odd restrictions that do seem hard to grasp. For instance, one tool in the third level is used to create tundra forests. Big evergreen trees covered in snow. To use the machine that grows them, you first need to burn land, then grow smaller fauna. To do that, the machine to do that step needs to be placed high enough to grow these plants. So the difficulty in its own levels ramps up exponentially and almost unnecessarily, as the other three biomes you’re building in this area don’t require nearly as complex steps to complete. Plus, it’s hard to know you’re doing the right steps based on the tooltips alone.

Terra Nil is one of the most beautiful and peaceful games I’ve played in quite some time. Turning the procedurally generated wastelands into paradises has been really therapeutic. Free Lives not only did a great job of creating a reverse city builder but showed us why we need to give back to nature. Even with some frustrating elements, Terra Nil is worth your time, especially if you’re looking for a new peaceful, low-stakes game to help you calm down in your evenings. Or, if you want to try your hand at a city builder game with less complexity and clearer goals than others in its genre.

Terra Nil is available on March 28th on iOS, Android, and PC. Terra Nil will launch at a later date on Mac and Linux. Additionally, a portion of every sale of Terra Nil will be donated to the Endangered Wildlife Trust.

Terra Nil
  • 8.5/10
    Rating - 8.5/10


Terra Nil is one of the most beautiful and peaceful games I’ve played in quite some time. Turning the procedurally generated wastelands into paradises has been really therapeutic. Free Lives not only did a great job of creating a reverse city builder but showed us why we need to give back to nature. Even with some frustrating elements, Terra Nil is worth your time.

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