I recently got a chance to play Grounded, developed by Obsidian Entertainment and published by Xbox Game Studios. I played the game on PC, though it is also available for Xbox One and Xbox Series X. The game is still in early access, but the future seems bright for the title. Primarily a survival game, Grounded also offers some great exploration opportunities and a story, though it’s still in its early stages. I was only able to look at the single player campaign, because at the moment, online mode is friends only, and I don’t know anyone else with the game. An Xbox Live account is also required to play online, which may act as a wall for those who don’t have one. I say all this because Grounded strikes me as a game that will be best experienced with friends. The campaign mode did give me a good look at what the game has to offer though, and I’m excited to find out what this game will become as development continues.
Story – A Work in Progress
The story in Grounded is very slight at the moment. The game seems strongly inspired by Honey I Shrunk the Kids, so the basic premise doesn’t stray too far. The player can choose one of four children to play as, though as far as I can tell, the choice is mostly cosmetic. No matter your choice, the child will find themselves in a backyard, shrunken to just a few inches tall. At the start of the game, that’s all the story we’re given, and it’s really all the story we need. But as you start to explore your surroundings, it won’t be long before you discover strange machines and man made structures. What do the machines do? Who built them, and why? As you try to uncover these mysteries, the story will reveal itself. I won’t give any more specific details, partially because I want to remain spoiler free, and partially because I can’t. The story doesn’t go much farther than that in the game’s current state. But I’m sure as development continues, we’ll learn more.
Gameplay – Survival of the Fittest
Imagine if someone could grab Minecraft and Honey I Shrunk the Kids, and squeeze them together until they formed one experience. That’s what Grounded does, taking some of the best elements from both, and sprinkling in its own charm. All of this is to say, the game plays much like a basic survival game. As you explore the backyard, you’ll grab different plants, rocks, or natural products to use in crafting recipes. This will give you tools to find better materials, which will allow you to build better things. If you die, you’ll be able to reclaim the items you dropped once you reach the same location. But be careful, because the enemy that killed you likely still lurks in the area. Building your base quickly becomes the major task in the game so you can keep yourself safe from the various bugs in the yard.
With base building being so important, it makes sense that Grounded has a very strong building mechanic. Just like crafting tools, you’ll also need to craft the walls, doors, roof, and any other parts of your base. What I like about the building system here, is that you can place the outline of your entire base well before you craft the first object. When you choose to build a wall, you’ll see a ghost image of that wall appear in the environment. You can then choose where to place it, and it will stay there, showing you where the wall will be when it’s finished. Then, once you’ve gathered your materials, you can place them neatly into your blueprint right where it sits. These ghost outlines are helpful in planning out the layout so you don’t waste materials. However, too many of the phantom building blocks can start to confuse the senses. On occasion, I’d plan something that looked fine as a blueprint, but not as a real house. Once you master the mechanic though, you might find yourself building mansions easily.
Graphics – Less is More
Graphically, Grounded doesn’t do anything revolutionary. The game is pretty stylistic, having an almost cartoony feel. Coupled with the over the top premise straight out of the late 80s, the style feels right at home. The textures are simple in the best possible way. The dirt, for example, is mostly solid brown, but with a few bumps in the texture and some variations of small rocks and sticks, the solid color comes alive and actually feels dirty. The bugs even feel real enough that the game offers a setting to change how detailed the spiders look. They call it an arachnophobia safe mode, and I’m glad it’s an option. I didn’t use it this time, but after turning around to find myself inches from the jaws of a giant spider, I might rely on it the next go around.
There were a few instances where I felt the style might have oversimplified some things, but they’re rare. The only thing about the graphics that doesn’t pull its weight is the framerate consistency. It only happened to me once, but during combat, the game nearly froze on me. I was fighting a swarm at the time, so it could have been because of the number on on screen enemies. The game also freezes for just a moment any time it autosaves. The issue doesn’t show itself very often, but when it does, it can be a big issue.
This game was previewed on PC with a key provided by Tara Bruno PR.