Terra Nil Aims to Respectfully Rebuild the City Builder Genre

Terra Nil, showcased at the 2022 Wholesome Games Direct, looks like a city builder that wants to restore biodiversity to different wastelands. Sign us up.

Terra Nil, a “reverse city builder” from Free Lives, blew me away earlier during the 2022 Wholesome Games Direct. In the trailer, we see a game that feels familiar for those of us city-building perverts who enjoy the relaxing nature of infrastructure design without thinking too much about how said design actually impacts nature. So instead of a No Man’s Sky-style settlement on a planet to simulate the joys of turning Williamsburg into an outdoor Tanger Outlet shopping mall, Terra Nil is all about breathing life back into barren wastelands and then continuing the work elsewhere.

Look, I don’t gotta explain to you how messed up the world is right now. Just look outside of your window for a few minutes. If you live in suburbia, get in your car, park at the nearest Lowes, and look out of your window for a few minutes. Where the hell did we go wrong? Don’t answer that. I already know.

I’m someone who has lived in a city for pretty much all of his adult life. But I know there are examples of beautiful, green, walkable metropolitan communities that respect the people who make up those places and are designed in such a way that reminds the people who live there to give back to nature and their neighbors. Terra Nil shines like a little beacon of hope in a genre that’s usually more interested in playing all of the hits of colonization (we know how that’s going in our current series finale of capitalism). It makes total sense that this would be the game to kick off the 2022 Wholesome Games Direct.

Free Lives says each map will be procedurally generated for players to begin the different “phases of wasteland reclamation.” Those phases include installing a water system, purifying the soil, and slowly restoring greenery and local biodiversity. And when you’re done, just pick up your tools and marvel at your handiwork before moving on to another slice of wasteland.

It’s always a little encouraging when you walk around Brooklyn and see little community gardens, or even neighbors greeting each other as they sweep up their sidewalks. It’s something I think about a lot when I travel around the States and visit suburban sprawls. It especially reminds me of my last trip to Amsterdam, where I basically looked around and was reminded of how great cities could be if they actually cared about the humans who lived in them.

What if cars didn’t rule supreme over the land and neighborhoods weren’t ripped apart by highways? What if there weren’t more parking lots than accessible parks that didn’t require getting stuck in traffic to get to? Terra Nil allows me to imagine restoring an ecosystem that serves the local biodiversity with care, never needing to consider plans for a nuclear power plant. And with the current state of everything, this could, at the very least, be a really welcome thought exercise.

Terra Nil is available to wishlist on Steam with a demo. There’s no release date just yet.

Wholesome Direct 2022 is part of Fanbyte’s Hot Game Summer coverage, where we’re bringing you recaps and commentary on this summer’s game presentations like Xbox’s showcase, the PC Gaming Show, and the all-encompassing Summer Game Fest hosted by Geoff Keighley. If you’re interested in seeing all of Fanbyte’s coverage, check out our Hot Game Summer 2022 hub.