What We’re Enjoying – Terra Nil

Published Categorised as What We're Enjoying
Terra Nil

Our head of Virtual Ops Faranae has been playing Terra Nil, a solarpunk video game, which was released on March 27.

Terra Nil is typically described as a “reverse city builder”, a solarpunk fantasy of post-apocalyptic creation. The goal is not to build a great metropolis, but rather to restore the Earth from the ravages of the anthropocene and leave it pristine. Each level in the campaign requires the player to first restore the soil and leech out toxins, then rebuild a healthy ecosystem before dismantling and recycling all the machinery used to achieve these aims. Some of these challenges are fairly straightforward, and translate from the city-building context to this one simply enough: every building has an area it effects, monorail systems for delivering coral to the ocean or transporting equipment, and various subgoals and feedback systems, mostly to do with weather and toxicity. Later levels challenge the player to solve them in non-linear fashion, building equipment and then removing it to make room for entirely different kit. It’s not a particularly long game, although the maps are procedurally generated and there’s a zen mode that removes numerical information and permits freer play.

There’s something satisfying about sinking an hour into carefully manipulating a map so that you can finally get a humpback whale to live in that patch of ocean you had your eye on, well beyond the cheap dopamine of an achievement or crossed out task. The developers recognize this too, as when you’ve successfully completed a map, you can choose to enter an “appreciation” mode and run essentially a screensaver of views of the wildlife on your map. Most post-apocalyptic games revel in the misery of their settings. Terra Nil is hopepunk at its finest: even at what must seem the end of all things, we can make things better, if we only try.