Platform(s): PC, Xbox One
Genre: Online Multiplayer
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Release Date: July 28, 2020

About Chris Barnes

There's few things I'd sell my soul to the devil for. However, the ability to grow a solid moustache? I'd probably sign that contract ... maybe ... (definitely).


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XOne/PC Preview - 'Grounded'

by Chris Barnes on June 23, 2020 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Grounded is a first-person, co-op survival game. Shrunk to the size of an ant, how will you survive?

Survival games have never really been my thing. Every time I boot one up, there's that long shot hope that "This is the one." I was hopeful that the dark ocean depths of Subnautica would wash me over with elation. I found myself getting lost in the menus of No Man's Sky more than the vast universe. Perhaps these vast, open-world survival titles aren't what I need. Instead, maybe making myself really small in a regular-size world will do the trick, and that's the exact scenario Obsidian Entertainment throws at you in Grounded. While I hate drawing parallels to other sources of media to summarize a game, it's nearly impossible to not call out the obvious. This game is quite literally "Honey, I Shrunk The Kids," with survival game elements layered on top. The game's aesthetic caught my eye and has left me intrigued.

After choosing from a list of four possible character options, you are thrown into the heart of this backyard BBQ nightmare. Right off the bat, players will notice the clever touches in the art direction to appreciate the game's scale. Trees loom over blades of grass above your head, sprinkler heads tower over you, and your house ominously fills the environment's backdrop while you scurry among the miniscule bugs. These clever additions to the background drew me in so I could believe the sense of scale that the game desperately relies upon. If it were just some tall blades of grass or a massive soda can that I could go inside, I'm not sure I'd have enjoyed my time with the game as much.

Beyond the aesthetics, the game mechanics don't stray far from the standards of the genre. You start the game with nothing, and the first thing you'll craft will likely be an ax. You'll have to manage a hunger and thirst meter while you build up your stockpiles and base. There was a simplicity to Grounded's upgrade system that I appreciated. To unlock new items, one must simply research a resource item at home base. Once you research the item, you unlock items that can be crafted from that resource. Although a cooldown timer prevents you from researching too many items at once, it's an otherwise headache-free approach to crafting and research. With that being said, it's possible that the full game will feature more advanced systems that become cumbersome, but the short demo that I played didn't indicate that at all.

Once you have done some research and crafted the ax, Grounded opens up for more freedom and exploration. Players with a desire to build can cut down blades of grass and construct their grass shelter, whereas more combat-savvy players can craft spears and bows to hunt down the massive bugs and spiders in this backyard paradise. The LEGO lover in me spent the majority of my time building up a shelter, so my experience with the combat was limited. A brief run-in with one massive spider was enough to humble me and turn my focus toward construction instead. This was in part due to the time constraint on the demo.

I enjoyed the unique aesthetic and quirky nature of Grounded. When you start the demo, Obsidian flashes a warning screen for those who suffer from arachnophobia. Within the options menus, players can adjust a slider on the visual depiction of spiders in this game, ranging from ginormous hairy death monsters to cute brown circles that resemble a ballpark peanut. As stated, my run-in with the floating circus peanut was brief (though comical), and the majority of my time was spent on a sunny shore away from the oversized death bugs that surrounded me.

The construction was free of headaches until I was swarmed by a pack of gnats. In Grounded, the scale of these pests is significantly bigger due to my shrunken body, but they still behave just as they would in real life: harmless yet annoying. They pose little threat in the game, shaving off but a sliver of my health bar, but the screen flashes red. This is the type of charm within Grounded that won me over, so I really hope there's plenty of more if that carries over to the main release.

From the simplistic nature of the gameplay mechanics, I can't help but feel like Grounded is a small spin-off pet project from a small crew at Obsidian. It's a sharp detour for a studio that's known for world-class narrative RPGs. It's a joyful experience that I'm more than willing to sink my teeth in for a weekend or two, and I'm eagerly awaiting the full game at the end of July.

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