Chill-out, wholesome and casual games—whatever you want to call these genres—are all picking up steam. So it makes sense that independent developers are looking to mold the formula in all sorts of unique ways. And while I do commend the indie scene for trying out different gameplay systems and mechanics, Terra Nil turned out to be a strategic, bringing-nature-back-to-life experiment that didn’t quite stick the landing.
A Steep Decline
Filling out the flora and fauna of the four main areas does seem as if you’re knee-deep in one of those ‘oddly satisfying’ videos on YouTube at first. However, the whole experience starts to feel like repetitive busywork after the 2nd level. Especially when you need to pack up each and every piece of machinery at the end of a stage… In all honesty, I think I’d rather take a bath in jalapeño juice. Dead serious.
But if this still somehow appeals to you, Terra Nil’s serene atmosphere and gameplay do imbue a certain ‘zen-like’ quality, particularly with it’s soothing, mellow soundtrack by French artist, Meydän. The OST is very reminiscent of Breath of the Wild’s ambient style of tunes, albeit with more of a chilled-out tone here—great stuff. In terms of mechanics though, Terra Nil mostly revolves around using tools in tandem to create lush, varied habitats to eventually fill out an environmental quota. It can be a bit head-scratching how everything works initially. However, once you figure out a machine’s application and the way they interact with each other, it quickly begins to click.
Players can make Terra Nil as easy or infuriating as they like, with presets and custom sliders that change the default building costs, starting resource amounts, contextual hints, and so on. Not that it’s the most challenging game ever, but a ‘Zen mode’ is also available for those who just want to chill out and watch a dry landscape turn into a splendiferous wonderland, without stressing out about their resource budget. Remember the infinite money glitch from The Sims? Same concept here.
Check That Radar Again, Please
When playing on normal and hard difficulty though, players will also have to keep track of the temperature and humidity for their machinery. Since certain functions won’t work outside of their optimal range, this means that the appropriate tools must be used strategically to raise/lower said ranges. As stated before, it’s not the most challenging system, though it does bring some added depth to an otherwise lacklustre gameplay system.
It can be tricky to complete a few of the optional challenges, and it’s quite vague trying to geolocate the fauna of Terra Nil, as the given clues sometimes don’t actually apply to their described scenario. For example, it may say ‘this animal lives in a wide-open lake’ but then you have to ask: “Well, how wide open should thy lake be?” Often resulting in silly amounts of trial and error. I would welcome a similar approach in other strategic/detective-styled games. Though since it’s such a chore to construct all the required elements/terrain, it can turn into a genuinely miserable time at points.
What starts out as a calming restoration simulator, quickly devolves into mundanity: the game. Each piece in the mechanical puzzle feels like a massive chore, and the vague descriptions of what to do next do not help it’s cause. The soundtrack and ambiance will infuse a soothing effect on players, but that calmness will grow sour long before the game’s finished. While it is satisfying to see a barren, desolate wasteland transform into an amazing-looking wonderland full of greenery and life thanks to your slog-a-thon of an effort, you’ll often find yourself wondering: “Was it really worth it in the end?”
By Anthony Culinas – Reviewed on PC
Terra Nil has a great message, but it isn’t that great of a video game. The tranquil atmosphere and nature restoration gameplay set a relaxing mellow tone, but it all too suddenly turns into boring busywork. Even though the game is only 6-8 hours long, Terra Nil made me want to stop playing on multiple occasions; its repetitive tasks and vague mission instructions being the main culprits.
This game was reviewed using a download code provided by Devolver Digital. The Beta Network uses affiliate partnerships, however, this does not influence reviews or any other content published. The Beta Network may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links that are on the website.