The Terra Nil Demo Makes Me Feel Hopeful In A Hopeless World

Has the death march towards a climate catastrophe got you down? Is the never-ending pandemic slowly making you doomer-pilled? Do you feel like there’s no hope left in the world and we’re all completely fucked? Play the Terra Nil demo. It’s not going to fix anything, but it might make you feel a little bit better – and that’s better than nothing.

Terra Nil is an upcoming “reverse city builder about ecosystem reconstruction” from Devolver Digital that has a free demo on Steam. Devolver may be known for its Tim & Eric sense of humor and marked cynicism, but Terra Nil is anything but. This is a game about the beauty and perseverance of the natural world, and it’s exactly the kind of thing I needed to start my 2022.

Though ‘reverse city builder’ may make you think of Sim City, Terra Nil feels closer to a puzzle/strategy game than a management or sim game. It begins with an isometric view of a small, desolate wasteland, and by the time you finish the demo, it will be transformed into a lush world with multiple complex biomes that are teeming with new life. If you ask me, it’s a hell of a lot more satisfying than building a bunch of stores and office buildings.

You begin with a simple wind turbine and toxin scrubbers which you’ll use to convert the barren land into fertile soil. After that you can build irrigators to create greenery and water pumps to fill riverbeds in with fresh water. Your goal is to place your machines as efficiently as possible to cover the most land area you can without overlapping. Each machine you buy costs resources and adds additional things that will need to be cleaned up and removed at the end.

Once you’ve brought water and plant life back to the land, you can start to biodiversify your biomes. Building hydroponiums on top of irrigators will turn the surrounding areas into wetlands. Adding beehives to your trees causes them to pollinate the surrounding area, creating vibrant flower beds. Using a dessicator, you can then start controlled burns that will destroy everything in the area and leave behind nutritious ash that can then be used to create forests. This includes burning down your wind turbines and other buildings you used to create greenery, which gave me pause the first time I did it. We’re not here to build things though, we’re just here to bring back nature, and all the buildings and machines are just the tools we need to get there.

Once the ecosystem is sufficiently diverse, it’s time to clean up. Everything we built has to get recycled and hauled off in a shuttle, and you’ll use the rivers you’ve created to do that. When it’s all said and done, not a single man made object will be left behind – just a beautiful, thriving world that you helped create.

Playing Terra Nil helped me find some peace – an exceedingly rare thing in my very-online life these days. It’s beautiful and serene, with a sweeping orchestral score that builds in perfect harmony with the return of the natural world. The short demo only takes about ten minutes to play, and I’ve gone through it three times now just to decompress at the end of the day. I’m looking forward to the full release of Terra Nil later this year. I don’t know how we can save this planet, but it’s nice to imagine that one day it could be restored.

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