Video games often rely on the trope of saving the world from an impending apocalypse. These world-ending events usually come via megalomaniacal supervillains or extraterrestrial invaders, but what happens when the threat to our planet is us? Terra Nil poses that question, putting you in charge of restoring a world devastated by climate change and the effects of human civilization. The result is a distinctive “reverse city builder” that weaves together compelling mechanics, while creating an enjoyable experience with a good message.
The world of Terra Nil has come to an end. Vast grasslands, beautiful beaches, and volcanic mountains have all turned into toxic wastelands devoid of life. Even the major city you visit is completely underwater, except for the tallest skyscrapers jutting out of the sea. Your mission is to give the nature the help it needs to bounce back from this apocalyptic situation.
Using the familiar mechanics of city-builders, you can nudge the planet in the right direction. Each area follows a similar progression: clean up the soil and water, restore the area’s diverse biomes, reintroduce animal populations, then recycle all the equipment you use. I loved keeping the various machines and contraptions used to replenish plant life; Seeing the map come back to life from the deserted state you entered is an incredible reward, topped only by seeing the animal population return to the area near the end of your mission.
Intentional use of your resources is essential to success, as there is no end-to-end recycling option; On several occasions, I painted myself into a corner with insufficient resources to dig myself out. When this happens, you can restart the current stage, but more often than not, you need to restart the entire scenario—a frustrating situation that detracts from my enjoyment whenever it occurs. . I’d hate to lose over an hour’s progress because I didn’t plan properly. Still, it’s satisfying to make a fresh start with a well-crafted plan of attack.
As you play through the four main maps, the developers usually tell you exactly what to do based on what stage you’re currently in. This makes it feel like the game is holding your hand too much; I waited for the experience to open up, but by the time the credits rolled, I didn’t feel a level of freedom and creativity often associated with the genre. Then again, with the game’s handbook not giving clear instructions, I was sometimes stuck, aimlessly experimenting with how to achieve a specific objective. Terra Nil will be a more balanced experience finding a middle ground.
Just as the mechanics started to feel natural and my mind started thinking the way the developers intended, I finished the main campaign. You can revisit those four areas and play alternate maps with different mechanics, which is when I finally felt the sense of freedom I’d been longing for throughout the experience. It’s just a shame I had to wait until after the credits to realize I’m finally out of the tutorial.
It’s meaningful for what it is at the time of release, both in gameplay and message. In focusing on environmental detail rather than human detail, Terra Nil offers something completely unique. While the peaceful nature and calming tone are occasionally hindered by uneven mechanics, Terra Nil is a worthwhile experience for those seeking a new twist on the sim genre.