Terra Nil Review
Terra Nil is a relaxing strategy game with an optimistic vision. What if it was actually possible to fix a devastated planet? You know, bring back the greenery, the biodiversity, and the animal life? While Earth might require a bit more work, you can at least fix this tiny version of it. Although there’s a lot of patient labor involved, the end results are quite beautiful.
This world (Earth???) is utterly borked, and it’s your job to make things right. This means environmental restoration. You use green energy to set up irrigation, toxin scrubbers, and new rivers. Each new region brings a new set of challenges. I appreciate the delicate balance between the relaxing visuals and the intricate mechanics. It feels amazing to bring back nature, but you’ve got to be downright surgical about it if you want to succeed. A single misstep can leave your project forever incomplete.
Perfectly Balanced, If You Please
Of course, you can just start again (or from a series of checkpoints) if you have to. The stakes are sort of low, but sort of not? There’s a serious time investment involved in trying again, which I found somewhat daunting. In particular, I experienced real dread when staring down the barrel of a soft reset. I knew I had to do something different, but I wasn’t always certain what that thing was. This sense of unease balances nicely with the triumph of success. You’re even given the chance to appreciate your handiwork before you move on, which is cool.
I love the aesthetic of Terra nil. The sight of fresh grass growing over desolate ground is always satisfying. Seeing wetlands, tundra, and forest sprout up in an instant never gets old. This is also where the sound design kicks in. I found myself keeping my headphones on at all times. You just don’t want to miss any of it. The whisper of rushing water, the creak of growing trees, and even the crackling flames are all excellent. Not to mention the music, which paints a gorgeous picture while you work.
Pack It Up, Boys
Another satisfying element is the recycling phase. It’s essential to complete each area, but it still feels great. You’ve set up all these autonomous systems to revive the land, which is already cool. But then you get to rip it all out, piece by piece. What’s left is a perfect landscape, one untouched by manmade creations of any sort. Your final victory is to erase any evidence that you were ever there. I loved performing this step, though it can almost get tedious. You can’t leave a single piece behind, after all.
Every stage grows more complex. One of the new elements Terra Nil throws your way is scanning for new animal life. You’ve got to find the perfect environment for each one to thrive in. This was my least favorite part of the whole game. I had to scan over a dozen times to find certain species, with some guesses feeling truly random. Worse yet, sometimes the environment you’ve created is unsuitable for some animals. You only need three to progress, but it’s still possible lock yourself out of progress. Without the right layout for at least three species, it’s time for a reset.
Wipe the Board If You Must
As you move ahead, successive stages will take more and more granular design to complete. The final region took several resets before I succeeded. It’s a delicate balance, one that felt both relaxing and intense. I loved making everything green and perfect, but it takes some real noodling before you can do so. Still, the end results are worth it. Who wouldn’t want to turn a blasted hellscape into a thriving paradise?
There’s something rewarding about this game. You’re working to restore a dead world, with tangible results to keep you engaged. The mechanics get pretty complex after a while, true. And it can feel like your mistakes are indelible, even as you’re restarting a stage. But the labor feels worth it. Better still, developer Free Lives is putting a portion of pre-order and post-launch sales towards the Endangered Wildlife Trust. In that sense, playing this game actually does some good for the environment. If you’re looking for a peaceful, yet sometimes stressful, gaming experience, consider Terra Nil. You might even reconsider our actual planet as a result.
***A Steam key was provided by the publisher***
- Satisfying gameplay
- Beautiful graphics
- Relaxing soundtrack
- Mistakes are costly
- Scanning system is exhausting
- Deceptively stressful