OPINION

GAME ON: Heal the earth in the eco-friendly strategy game ‘Terra Nil’

Terra Nil is an environmental strategy video game developed by Free Lives and published Devolver Digital for Android, iOS, and Windows. Bring life back to a lifeless world by purifying soil, cleaning oceans, planting trees, and reintroducing wildlife, then leave without a trace. (Photo courtesy of Devolver Digital)
Terra Nil is an environmental strategy video game developed by Free Lives and published Devolver Digital for Android, iOS, and Windows. Bring life back to a lifeless world by purifying soil, cleaning oceans, planting trees, and reintroducing wildlife, then leave without a trace. (Photo courtesy of Devolver Digital)


'Terra Nil’

  • Platform: Windows, Android, iOs
  • Cost: $24.99
  • Rating: Everyone
  • Score: 7 out of 10


I like games that operate from a unique niche, that give us something we haven't seen before, and "Terra Nil" seems to fit that description.

On Steam, its tags are strategy (accurate), puzzle (accurate) and city-builder. That last one is a maybe, kinda, but not really ... in fact it might be more fair to describe it as a reverse city-builder.

Like a classic city-builder, "Terra Nil" involves placing buildings, earning resources and unlocking new technologies. But rather than exploiting the natural world for its resources, "Terra Nil" takes the opposite approach, using those buildings to restore nature to a pristine condition.

Published by Devolver Digital and (of all things) Netflix, "Terra Nil" comes from developer Free Lives, which earlier released such titles as the co-op shoot-'em-up "Broforce," the gory gladiator simulator "Gorn" and the wildly not-safe-for-work "Genital Jousting" (and oh, how I wish I was making that last one up). "Terra Nil" resembles none of those games in any way. Instead, we have the tree-hugger's floral-scented pipe dream, where you're tasked with restoring a ruined ecosystem, using futuristic terraforming equipment to bring a barren Earth back to life.

I'd classify it mostly as a puzzle or strategy game, where the goal is to clear progressively more difficult maps by completing challenges and tasks. The game begins on a barren square of a procedurally generated biome, and one by one introduces each of its ecosystem restoration tools, starting with wind turbines to power toxin scrubbers (if only cleaning up the environment were really so easy).

"Terra Nil" offers three difficulty levels: Gardener for players seeking a "relaxing experience," Ecologist for strategy game veterans, and Environmental Engineer for the experienced "Terra Nil" player. The easier modes enable a tutorial and offer more starting resources (which are apparently green leaves) and cheaper buildings.

The primary goal is to increase the landscape's greenery by placing the right buildings in the right order. Covering the map in greenscape by removing toxins and covering the bare soil with grass fill a completion meter to move to the next puzzle stage, which in the Temperate map includes introducing shrub lands, wetlands and forests and making adjustments to the climate as well.

The final step in each map stage is to build an airship by recycling all the buildings left behind, introducing wildlife and leaving them as the new guardians of the ecosystem, because it seems as if the humans couldn't be trusted with it. Once enough deer, geese, bears, wolves and the like have been reintroduced and enough buildings have been recycled, you get to take some time to appreciate and admire the work you've done.






Graphically, "Terra Nil" is quite nice, with a lovely soundtrack filled with ambient, dynamic nature sounds that change based on the amount of nature you've created. There's a beautifully illustrated notebook, filled with drawings of discovered fauna and technology blueprints.

With its multiple difficulty settings and randomly generated maps, there's some replay value, but it's probably more in the zone of relaxing time-wasters like solitaire.

There's no real storyline or overt political messaging, and the lack of answers makes me wonder how the world got so devastated to begin with, especially if humanity has the technology to terraform. And where do the humans live? Are they in space? That would be weird, especially if they have a beautiful planet to live on now.

Perhaps a sequel or expansion could give us more about this world, or perhaps go deeper into sci-fi and let us terraform Mars and other planets in our solar system.

There's a good chance you might play "Terra Nil" on mobile, too. It's $24.99 on Steam, but it's free on Android and iOS for Netflix subscribers, so you might have access to it already. If you do, check it out. Just try not to think about the environmental damage required to make your phone battery while you do.


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