This world is barren and toxic, but you get to save it. With a selection of recognisable and solarpunk eco-machines your task is to transform a desolate wasteland into a lush ecosystem. Still in active development, Terra Nil by Sam Alfred, Jonathan Hau-Yoon, and Jarred Lunt is already an incredible eco strategy game.
The environment is made a delicate puzzle. You must power your structures with turbines, but turbines need hills made with your own water wheels, these wheels need new waterways made with extractors that need their own power from those wind turbines. Your tools require an ecosystem of their own to function, this challenge forming the spine of the game’s difficulty.
Rejuvinating the environment comes in three stages. Firstly, you clean the land, using greenhouses to convert the wastes to grassland. Then you bring biodiversity, bees make meadows of flower, by creating careful fires you encourage woodland out of the ash, and with updated greenhouses you can encourage wetlands and arid scrublands. Finally, you deconstruct your buildings, leaving the world to flourish alone and create a rocket to fly the parts away.
Each building remains until it is removed in the final stage. This small and honest feature encourages careful planning and attention to the importance of each of your actions. With a limited set of resources you can’t litter the land with eco-machines, that will only make your recovery mission fail. It’s these small, thoughtful mechanics that make this a game that is genuinely concerned with the reality of care for an ecosystem, even if told through a sci-fi lens.
Difficulty is the main downside the game currently has, early levels are incredibly straightforward and the final level has had me stuck for hours, getting close, but constantly hitting a wall. Meadows can be infuriating to create when you need woodland trees to do so, but woodlands can only be made by burning meadows, a viscious loop that can leave you needing to restart if there’s too much woodland or too little surrounding grassland.
That being said, early levels are awe inspiring and later levels are filled with a pragmatism. The real world struggle for the enviroment is an uphill battle, having this control over an ecological mission is freeing from that. To see once dessicated environemnts made whole filled me with a sense of power and joy.
The challenges of later levels reminded me of the delicate struggle that we are in, finding a way to discover a lifestyle that interfaces with our environment. Instead of being disheartening, the rising hope of early levels left me with a desire to find a way to make the harsher challenges work and transform the wastes of the game and the world we live in.
Terra Nil is already a brilliant game to play and a beautiful musing on ecology. Technology may not be the way we save our own environment, but it’s fun and hopeful to play the fantasy of it. Keep an eye out for v1.0.