Review: Terra Nil – Rebuilding The Planet From The Ground Up

Terra Nil is a cute and quirky strategy puzzler that puts a new twist on the classic city builder.

Developed by Free Lives, the creators of hit games Broforce and Genital Jousting, Terra Nil subverts your expectations. Instead of having you build a bustling metropolis from the ground up, it has you tear it down.

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The sunken city.

Before you is a desolate landscape. The aftermath of over-consumption, there are no animals or plants, just a sprawling barren wasteland. That’s where your job begins. Using a range of machinery you have to clear the world of toxins and reintroduce greenery. It’s up to the player to bring back the planet’s natural ecosystem.

Within Terra Nil there are four regions that you need to restore: temperate, tropical, polar and continental. Each climate requires different tools to be used and introduces new biomes and animals to discover.

The goal of Terra Nil is to reintroduce the planet’s natural diverse ecosystem.

First you need to restore a percentage of the land to grass and water. This is relatively straightforward and can be quite relaxing. The real challenge with step one is using your power sources effectively and making sure you don’t run out of resources. Then, step two asks you to bring back the region’s biodiversity by implementing the area’s biomes. From forests to beaches, each level will ask you to use different machines to encourage these natural environments to flourish. This is the aspect of Terra Nil that I found most challenging as, despite my best attempts at planning, sometimes I simply did not have enough land that could be turned into certain biomes.

The final step is to rediscover the animal life native to the region before continuing on to remove any trace of your presence in the region. Going round the map and recycling all of the machines you have built feels rewarding in itself. It’s easy to lose track while playing of how much work it took to get to this point and destroying those tools can really put this in perspective. Rediscovering the unique wildlife of each area is one of the more challenging puzzles in Terra Nil and often requires some forethought when deciding where biomes should go. The added challenge means it feels really rewarding when you finally discover which spot on the map houses a family of pandas or a flock of flamingos. 

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When you complete the area it is time to leave. Once you have restored the final region, you need to build a rocket and leave the planet all together.


Saying that, this isn’t an easy game. There is some pre-planning that needs to happen if you want to be able to cover enough of the map in the required biomes and a lot of thinking if you want to unlock every animal. I managed to take what I thought would be a relaxing, simple game and turn it into something that required actual thinking. I found myself restarting levels multiple times until I was happy with how things were shaping out.



There is also a fair amount of replayability. Once all four of the climates have been restored a new level unlocks for each zone. While these new additions are similar to the initial level, they do add an extra level of challenge that utilises the new knowledge and skills you have learnt while completing other regions. Terra Nil also offers three difficultly levels (gardener, ecologist and environmental engineer) which will let you replay the game with different styles.

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Turtles on the beach in the tropical region.

While Terra Nil does give you a bit of resource management to keep track of when playing, this does not add much complexity to the game. The main resource you will need to keep track of is represented by the leaf at the top of the screen. It costs leaves to build machines, but you gain more by bringing back greenery and biomes and even when recycling your tools at the end of it all. There are other gameplay elements to keep track of, depending on the level. Whether you are raising the humidity to induce rainfall or lowering the temperature to bring back snow, the climate of each region brings back the natural flora and fauna much more concisely and quickly than the player ever could.

Graphically, Terra Nil fits the style as its predecessors. The classic blocky pixels drive home the similarities between the ‘reverse city builder’ and the games in the genre that came before it: SimCity and Cities Skylines. Saying that, the graphics are lovely and the game knows it. Once an area has been completed you can choose to sit and enjoy looking at the world you have restored in all its beautiful pixelated glory.

The game’s graphics are pixelated and blocky but still gorgeous.

The soundtrack compliments the graphics perfectly. It is gentle, melodical background noise complete with trickling water sounds and the occasional rumble of thunder.


I enjoyed every minute I spent on Terra Nil and, while it isn’t the most innovative game on the planet, it was nice to play something that highlighted the environmental impact humans have on the planet without it being entirely negative.

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Graphically, Terra Nil fits the style as its predecessors.

But by far my favourite part of Terra Nil, and the reason I knew I was going to buy it from the start, is that Free Lives are not just talking about the impact, but trying to make a change themselves. They have partnered with the Endangered Wildlife Trust and will be donating 8% of profits from Steam sales to support the charity in preserving and restoring ecosystems.

If you are a fan of city builders, cozy and relaxing games, or are looking for something light-hearted to play over a weekend, Terra Nil should definitely be on your radar.

Free Lives have partnered with Endangered Wildlife Trust

Megan played Terra Nil on PC via Steam with her own copy. Terra Nil is also available on Netflix.

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