I am smitten! Terra Nil has rocked my world. And I tell you what: I would never have expected it from the maker of BroForce. I love that game dearly, but it’s a reckless action game where heroes tear pixelated lands apart. This, on the other hand, Terra Nil, is a serene game about restoring them.
Terra Nil preview
Developer: Free LivesPublisher: DevolverPlatform: Played on PCAvailability: Coming to Steam. Release date TBA
It’s a sort of city-building game. “Sort of” because you don’t actually want people to come and live in what you create. You want nature to. You want birds and bees and animals to repopulate what begins as a scorched piece of Earth. A barren wasteland, earth cracked, trees dead. Nothing lives here. But with your futuristic array of environmental machines, you can change that.
These machines slowly enable you to transform the land. For instance: your first lesson is to build a wind turbine for power, then a soil cleansing machine to make some land fertile. Then, you greenify the land with another machine, growing grass, bushes and trees. And when you do this, you earn a leaf-resource to buy more things with.
I play the Terra Nil demo. I jump forwards in time at a couple of points, to try and show more of the later game. The whole demo took me around an hour and fifteen minutes to finish.
Game jam roots
It looks like Terra Nil was created in a game jam roughly this time last year. There’s an Itch.io page with a prototype you can play, if you want.
But! There’s a strategy to doing this. You can’t build anything wherever you like. Turbines can only be built on small rock formations, and only have a small power radius. Small rock formations are limited. You can create your own, but you need water, and there’s no natural water on the map, so you need to create that too. This all costs leaves, so if you’re not careful, you’ll run out, and have to begin again.
That’s just layer-one of complexity. New layers unlock when you satisfy your main goal. Goal-one was covering a certain amount of the land in greenery. Goal-two, for me, was covering the land in biomes – forest, wetlands and meadow – and I unlocked an array of new machinery to help me do that. But it’s never straightforward. You can’t just plant a forest: you need to burn an area down first to create the ash-rich soil it needs to grow. So, as the game opens up and new objectives filter in, the complexity ramps up.
But the masterstroke comes at the end. You see, it gnawed at me that finally we had a game about restoring the beautiful natural world of our planet – an idea which couldn’t be more timely – but still it was about building. Still it was about our interfering in the natural world and leaving our grubby mechanical print upon it. But then came the masterstroke.
Progress! I set that fire on purpose, by the way. It will soon spread across that entire area.There is lovely detail to the world. Here, you can see deer and birds, and a bear pokes her nose from the woods.
The fundamental difference between Terra Nil and other building games is that the ultimate goal is to remove everything you’ve built from it. To leave no trace. The final layer of the game requires recycling all of your buildings, then using the materials from them to build a craft and fly away to another area in need. You build, you return the land to nature, and then you give it back to nature. You completely bugger off. And I can’t tell you how pleased this makes me! It’s as if I’m playing a building game in reverse. And the thrill of leaving a land completely unspoilt is tremendous.
There are mini-thrills along the way as well, mainly in seeing animals gradually return to your once desolate land. Herds of deer start to appear, flocks of birds fly above, fish swim in your streams. Bears even poke their heads out from your forests. It’s a world in which even the rain returning is cause for celebration. Terra Nil is cause for celebration. I cannot wait to play more.