Restore a desolate ecosystem in 'reverse city-builder' Terra Nil

In city-builders I've become accustomed to entering a pristine wilderness and immediately carving roads into the landscape, building power plants and water pumps, placing buildings and residences and skyscrapers until I've got a booming, shining city where once only stood nature. Terra Nil, announced today by Devolver Digital and Free Lives (developer of Broforce), isn't that.

Terra Nil looks like a twist on the usual idea of overwriting nature to make room for humans. Yes, you're placing structures, power plants, and other buildings on a landscape, but it's not a healthy green one. It's a dead and utterly ruined ecosystem, all arid tundra and dry riverbeds and skeletal trees.

That's where you come in with equipment to rejuvenate the world. Using wind turbine-powered generators, water tanks and high-tech planters and other eco-friendly machinery, you'll cover the map with green grass, healthy trees, and sparkling rivers, encouraging wildlife to return. Some of the machinery looks like it may be repurposed from military hardware—at one point in a trailer, a cannon fires a deadly-looking projectile, but instead of blowing something up it instead carves a new riverbed into the dusty plains. That's one way to do some landscaping.

At another point in the trailer a fire starts, though it's unclear if it's an accident or deliberate—destructive as they can be, forest fires also rejuvenate the soil, kill insects that spread disease to trees, and burn up undergrowth that blocks out sunlight. You may actually have to burn things down from time to time in order to encourage new things to grow.

Maybe most interesting is the trailer shows that once the landscape is alive and healthy again you pack up all your equipment and leave. The end goal isn't to build a massive shiny metropolis crammed with people, but a healthy green pocket of nature where deer and bears can happily roam. Then you remove all traces of your machinery and let nature just be nature, without a man-made object in sight. Kind of a wonderful thought, really.

There's no set release date yet, but a demo of Terra Nil will be available on June 16 as part of Steam Next Fest. There's also an earlier 'name your price' version of the game on you can check out.

Christopher Livingston
Staff Writer

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.