by William Thompson
reviewed on PC
A reverse city builder
I'm a sucker for a good city building game, watching as my city begins to take shape into a glorious metropolis and balancing between the needs of the citizens and the costs that are required to fulfil those needs. Unfortunately, cities will begin creating pollution and if uncontrolled, could lead to catastrophe, with the world becoming unliveable – we all saw what happened in the movie Wall-E. But what if after the catastrophe there was a way to restore the land to a vibrant liveable state. Terra Nil sets to achieve just that, with players tasked with transforming lifeless landscapes into flourishing ecosystems that can support life.
The main aim for each mission is to cover the land in the green of plains, forests and mangrove swamps and the blue of a pristine ocean (and the occasional yellow sandy beach). Terra Nil eases players into the restoration process. Players begin the quest of restoration with the first few levels introducing players to the some of the buildings and devices required to get the process started. Players will need to provide power to the land and then begin the task at hand by building other devices that will clear the land and then re-vegetate it. A toxic scrubber will – as its name suggests- remove the toxins from the ground, allowing players to then construct other buildings - such as the irrigator - to slowly transform the damaged landscape into one that has more vibrancy.
Clearing a path
There is a clear sense of progression as the land becomes less toxic. Once players begin getting a reasonable coverage of grass, new construction types become available, allowing players to create areas suited to specific environments. The mechanics and the buildings available do become more complex as players progress, but it is not to the point that the game become difficult. Indeed, the progression is gradual, so by the time things get more complex, players have mastered the basics.
And if anyone has any trouble remembering what each device does, or what the current goal is, all the available constructions and mechanics are conveyed via a wonderfully illustrated guidebook titled 'A Beginner's Guide to Ecosystem Restoration'. This guidebook is reminiscent of something that an explorer or botanist would have used to sketch local fauna or flora and then take notes about the newly found discovery. It is a great way to keep track of what each of the devices does.
Each construction requires a certain number of resources to build. When playing the lower of the three difficulty levels, these resources are somewhat unlimited, allowing players to place buildings just about anywhere with little concern for the placement. But on the harder level (Environmental Engineer), placement of your buildings become very important, as you try and place the devices in the exact location for them to provide the optimal coverage whilst maintaining a level of the finite resource to keep you improving the land.
Hunting for clues
Once the required environments have been created, animals will begin to return to their natural habitats. A small mini game then has players searching for all the animals that have taken up home in the new biomes. For each location there are six creatures that need to be identified through a series of clues to their location. Players need to search in the required locations to find the animals, with some animals requiring multiple environments to survive. It may be that players may need to alter their created area slightly to ensure that the required habitat exists on the map.
Upon restoring the world and providing the right atmospheric conditions for a range of animals, players must then dismantle all their devices and recycle the parts to create an airship so that you can move onto the next location, whilst leaving the current location free from any man-made objects.
It does feel strange to be dismantling all that you’ve built, but it fits in well with the ecological game. Leaving the landscape pristine and allowing the creatures roam amongst your creation gives players a sense of achievement. And once you have completed all the tasks and flown off to a new destination, players can sit back and admire their work. This includes zooming in close to watch as the animals you have discovered roam their environments. There is something satisfying about sitting back and watching as these creatures once again inhabit the planet in their required biomes.
I have always enjoyed city-builders, partially for the building aspect and partially for the management. But there is always a bit of stress as you manage the needs of the citizens and the costs associated with meeting those needs. But Terra Nil is a city-builder that removes all that stress. The relaxing background soundtrack sets the tone perfectly, as players slowly progress through each procedurally generated scenario at your own pace. And then, when all is complete and life has been restored to these once-toxic wastelands, it is enjoyable to sit back and take in what you have achieved, watching as parrots fly over rainforest canopies, Manta Rays glide effortlessly through the tropical, coral filled oceans, or Elk trample through the snowy terrain. Terra Nil is the ultimate Zen experience when it comes to city builders and the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
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Relaxing atmosphere and gameplay with a message
Animals can be hard to find in mini game