Since I’ve begun reviewing games for Try Hard Guides, I’ve reviewed a wide spectrum of games, but my focus has always been more horror and action game inclined. Any game where you find yourself slashing a foe into a million pieces, or trying to avoid the same fate, is a game you’ll likely find me sharing my opinion on in our Game Reviews section.
While there’s nothing wrong with games like this, I found the opportunity to review something totally opposite from my normal genres refreshing. Rather than a game focused on destruction, I was given the chance to test out a game all about restoring broken things with Terra Nil.
Terra Nil is a game all about restoring the environment. Using a host of terraforming tools and limited resources to transform a barren environment into a lush garden and return life to the otherwise dead planet.
Terra Nil was developed by the indie studio Free Lives, who are behind such classics as Bro Force and Gorn. Terra Nil, however, is unlike anything else yet released by the studio. In the words of Free Lives, “Terra Nil represents our efforts to hold up a mirror to the city/factory/colony builder genre. Not in criticism of it, but to suggest that there are other ways to make such games.”
In my opinion, Free Lives accomplishes this and more.
The “plot” of Terra Nil is simple; In the aftermath of some great environmental disaster, it is up to you to terraform several dead environments back to life. This is done in several stages, taking you anywhere from a barren wasteland to the ruins of a dead city.
Once you’re done terraforming with your limited resources, it’s up to you to recycle your industrial equipment and leave in your airship, leaving no trace of humanity behind in the new ecosystem you’ve created.
Gameplay in Terra Nil is deceptively simple. Like many city builders, you must use your resource to create windmills, which allow you buildable space. Using this space, you must then fertilize the dirt, turn it green, and then create specialized ecosystems.
To build any buildings in Terra Nil, you must spend the game’s sole resource. This resource is only returned once life blooms in the once barren dirt, with the amount being rewarded to you relevant to the amount of land restored. This creates a delicate balancing act, where you want to claim as much territory with your industrial buildings as possible while making sure you can earn back your resources without going broke.
Terra Nil reflects the unfortunate real-life phenomena where restoring the environment is not immediately profitable, and is often quite expensive. That is the biggest source of difficulty in the game, and it makes for a thought-provoking experience.
Free Lives sought out to make a meditative and relaxing experience, and even when you face the hardest aspects of the game’s difficulty it still stays this way. You have three difficulty options, with the easiest removing all costs from the game, allowing you a fully relaxing experience with no thought or strategy involved.
Terraforming begins with the barren map, where the goal is to restore grass and water to as much of the map as possible. Filling every square on the map isn’t necessary, but if you’re anything like me it’s the first thing you’re going to try to do. If so, you may find yourself restarting the level a lot as you get a hang of things, which is encouraged by the game.
After you have a certain percentage of grassland restored, your next task is to create specialized biomes such as forests and wetlands.
Forests are created by burning big swathes of land, so be careful, as the fire will spread to all grass it’s connected to. The first wildfire I started made me feel like I did something wrong, even though I was able to immediately plant beautiful forests on top of the fertile ash.
Once you’re done terraforming, it’s time to pack up your things and leave. Using recycling tools, you gather up all of the buildings, recycle the materials and leave. Success in a level is based on your ability to gather up everything you came with and create suitable environments for three or more animal species.
Terra Nil takes about 5-7 hours to complete the main content, with about 5 or 6 more hours of bonus challenges after beating the main game. Free Lives didn’t seek to create an infinitely replayable game, and the experience definitely stands on its own without needing any padding.
The game shares an important message about conservation. Nobody wants to see the world end up as it is at the start of each Terra Nil stage, and storing life to a dead land is as relaxing as it is spiritually enriching. They pull no punches showing that doing so is hard work, even in a relaxing little video game, but that the end result is always worth it.
As Free Lives said, “From the very beginning of development, we’ve wanted Terra Nil to be able to have a real-world impact.” Keeping true to this promise, they’ve resolved to donate a portion of all profits made from Terra Nil sales to the Endangered Wildlife Fund. When buying Terra Nil, you can rest assured that you’re doing a little bit to help the planet, just like in the game.
The Final Word
Terra Nil is a relaxing experience that engages the mind as much as it helps you to turn it off. Free Lives have gone out of its way to make the planet a little greener by using this game to spread the message of conservation, and with the generous donations to charity that came with it.
Try Hard Guides was provided with a PC review copy of this game. Find more detailed looks at popular and upcoming titles in the Game Reviews section of our website! Terra Nil is available on Steam.