While games like Factorio involve the destruction of the environment as you build gigantic, polluting industries, Terra Nil flips this concept on its head. Free Lives markets Terra Nil as a “reverse city builder” in which players aim to revive ravaged wastelands and restore ecosystems. This concept is very relevant today as we are seeing more and more news related to the effects of environmental pollution and the outcomes of successful landscape restoration projects. The following impressions are based on a demo build and elements may change over the course of development.
Players begin the demo on a map which serves as a blank canvas. The first step to restoration is to achieve a percentage of greenery. The area is a wasteland with dried up riverbeds, but it holds potential. Power is provided in a radius by placing wind turbines on rock tiles. Buildings to fertilize soil, water plants, and restore the rivers can then be placed in areas with power. There are additional buildings to help you reach areas without any power sources, such as a building that generates rocks along a river bank and a drill that can dig a trench which can extend the river in a line.
The next goal is to restore ecosystems. In the demo, these are swamps, meadows, and forests. Additional tools are provided to generate these areas. Swamps require converting watering buildings near rivers. Meadows require placing beehives in specific trees that are randomly placed at the start of the map. Forests are a bit trickier since they require ash tiles. Controlled burns are necessary to provide the land needed to grow forests. These fires can only start in meadows and the blaze can quickly spread across grass if you do not create natural barriers. A bonus objective was available that involved adjusting the humidity to create a rainstorm that would fill in remaining wasteland tiles.
The final step is to remove all structures on the map. An airship is placed with river drones that pick up recycled materials from the dock points. Recyclers will scoop up all buildings in a radius and can even be chained to recycle one another. These materials are picked up at nearby docks. Lifts must be placed if docks are located above a waterfall, but these must be recycled later on. If players put buildings too far away, it will cost more score to recover these structures.
These requirements create a dynamic where players can relax and figure things out as they go and more experienced players and planners can come into a map with an optimal strategy in mind. The demo build did not have much challenge to it in terms of limited resources. Buildings cost leaves, the currency/score of Terra Nil, but I was never in a position where I was in danger of running out of leaves and they mostly seemed to be for attaining a high score. It is not clear if scores are tracked in the long term. Maps are procedural with multiple regions of the world to tackle.
It appears that the world will have multiple regions, likely with their own challenges. Something I would like to see in the full release are more types of ecosystems to restore, such as deserts and mountain tundra. Additional challenge could come from maps that require more meadows or trees over others. I would like to see a few more animals roaming around too, though these did not have a mechanical purpose.
Terra Nil is a very promising title and is bringing something new to the builder genre. The game is beautiful with landscape transformations that are extremely satisfying to behold. The soundtrack is also very relaxing and peaceful which pairs perfectly with the gameplay. It is also a very different genre that I would not have expected from the developers of BroForce and GORN. There is currently no announced release date, but you can wishlist the game on Steam to show the developers some support.
Note: GameOctane received an early digital code from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing this demo. Any code or product intended for reviews is distributed to the team to review and stream for our audience.
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