The world is falling apart. The ice caps are melting at unprecedented rates, and the UK government seems more interested in arresting climate protestors than it is in keeping to any of its promises to combat climate change. More and more it seems that our place in this world is becoming untenable, and no one in power seems to care. It is increasingly easy to despair as we watch green become grey for the benefit of a few 1-percenter disaster capitalists, at the cost of everyone else across the world. At some point, something will have to give, and it’ll more than likely be us.
Terra Nil, from South African developer Free Lives, can’t fix any of that. But what it can do is give you a break from the existential despair that is the current state of the planet, by letting you take charge of your own little world, and bring that back from the brink instead.
City-builders or factory-builders are pretty common genres of game at this point. You build things with resources, those things give you more resources, and then you build bigger things to get bigger resources and so on. Terra Nil still follows this basic gameplay loop, but it changes the focus from building huge factories or bustling cities to regrowing grass, replanting trees and replenishing dried rivers on a desolate, dead stretch of land.
The main puzzle of Terra Nil comes from working out both where and how to place tools (such as seeders or beehives) with maximum efficiency, replenishing large amounts of nature, which in turn rewards you with a proportional amount of leaves (the game’s currency.) Growing trees and planting grass, re-filling rivers and, later, increasing the general humidity of the level in order to cause rain (which in turn causes grass to grow naturally and without you needing to manually seed patches of land), whilst using the least amount of technology possible was surprisingly addictive. Whilst I wouldn’t call the demo particularly stressful or strenuous, it is definitely possible to focus too much on, say, replanting forests, leading to you running out of resources for other tasks.
I freely admit I did not go into this demo with many expectations other than to play another city-builder, albeit with a different skin to usual. But there was something about the music, soft and relaxing, but at the same time melancholy, almost sad. There was something about watching the grass pop up around the rivers that I refilled with water, something about watching flowers sprout up around carefully placed beehives.
When I reached the target temperature and humidity that the game had set me, it started to rain. I watched as the grass started to grow and the empty river started to fill without my help. It was then that I noticed that a small number of deer had started to roam about near one of my rivers. I don’t know, maybe it’s silly, but that struck some sort of chord deep inside me. Maybe it was the game giving me some sort of control over a situation that, in reality, I have absolutely none over. Or maybe I just really like deer. What I do know is I’m now eagerly awaiting the full release of Terra Nil.
Though there has been no announced release date as of yet, you can download the demo and wishlist Terra Nil on Steam right now.