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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Online Multiplayer
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Release Date: Sept. 27, 2022


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Xbox Series X Review - 'Grounded'

by Adam Pavlacka on Dec. 1, 2022 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

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

It's been a little over two years since Grounded debuted in Early Access. Bugs have been squashed, content has been added, and the final game now has a complete story to tell. If you've dabbled with the game while it was in Early Access or were waiting for version 1.0 to drop, it's worth diving in and seeing what the world has to offer.

For players who are experiencing Grounded for the first time, it's easy to mistake it for a traditional action-adventure game. From the Vangelis-inspired title theme to the "evil scientist" take on the "Honey I Shrunk the Kids" storyline, Grounded feels like a modern take on '80s sci-fi. The first few hours of the game don't do much to dissuade you from that notion, either. There are specific goals to meet and places to find on the map. Most importantly, there's the wonder of taking it all in.

If there is one element that Grounded absolutely, positively nails, it is the environmental immersion. The world design is fantastic, with a bunch of little details all coming together to make the yard feel like a full ecosystem.

Early in the morning there are dewdrops on the blades of grass. The occasional dandelion is mixed in with the grass. There are natural puddles and mounds of dirt, but the detritus of human life is also present: a random can here, a frisbee there, etc. An action figure version of one of the Battletoads can be found half-buried in one part of the yard.

Even more impressive is how well the visuals hold up on the original Xbox systems. If you're playing on an older console, you're still going to be able to enjoy the same impressive yard vistas, but you might not get the frame rate bump or all the visual effects you'd get on PC or an Xbox Series X|S console. Loading times are also noticeably longer on the Xbox One consoles. Once you're loaded into the world, though, the experience is remarkably similar, so no matter what hardware you're playing on, it's not a compromised experience.

Where Grounded does feel a bit rough is when you try to play it as an action-adventure instead of a survival game. While the story is solid, the main path is not the most direct. Much is left up to the player to discover, some of it by accident, rather than giving obvious pointers like most titles in the genre. If you're not expecting it, this can lead to frustration or lots of wandering around.

For example, one of the early skills you learn is basic base building. You can put up grass walls to keep hostile bugs out, and a grass door allows you easy passage. The thing is that the door requires a weed stem to craft, but the game doesn't tell you where to get a weed stem. I found out by looking online where someone mentioned that a dandelion would drop weed stems when chopped. In another case, I knew I needed lily pad wax to craft some items for water exploration. I found lily pads but was stumped on how to harvest the wax. Speaking of stumped, the lack of a tutorial also meant that I was playing for a few hours before I realized there was a block function.

The reliance on finding resources is what keeps Grounded firmly in the survival genre. It's also what provides the game's challenge. You're not going to level up simply by grinding enemies. You need to kill specific enemies or collect specific resources to craft items with better stats. Even then, there's a bit of RNG luck involved. When I was trying to get my first level-two weapon, I needed red ant mandibles. The first soldier ant I killed didn't drop them. I had to search out and kill more until I got what I needed.

A recipe lets you know that you need other resources , but you can't scan for resource items in-game unless you've already collected one of the resource. That means wandering until you get lucky. In a survival sandbox, this is great. If you're trying to play to the story, it can feel like time wasting.

Another bit of unnecessary gating on the story side is the quick ramp-up in enemy difficulty. I get it, you're small, and you can't kill much. But Grounded has one of the game's spiders in your way as soon as you try to explore the first lab. There's a good chance you'll be woefully underpowered the first time you meet, so expect death by beating or poison. The answer? Either "git gud" with the block, or go explore until you can upgrade your gear.

To Obsidian's credit, they have included a number of customization options that allow you to eliminate most issues by disabling things like thirst and hunger, as well as unlocking all recipes from the start, and turning off player damage. If you just want to explore, you can. But if you want to play Grounded as it was designed, getting into a survival mindset makes it all click. This is what the game is balanced around.

Letting go of the quests and heading out into the wilderness was surprisingly freeing and made my time with Grounded that much more enjoyable. Carefully stalking a new insect in the hopes of getting a much-needed upgrade, or upgrading my base to better withstand an attack is where Grounded really shines. Base attacks aren't common in the early game, but if you piss off enough bugs, they will retaliate. A single ant is easy to handle. A swarm of ants can be a problem for a miniaturized teenager.

If you have some friends, Grounded supports up to four-player multiplayer. Instead of taking on a big bad spider alone, you can team up and attack from different angles. You can split up and collect resources faster. Oh, and you can also revive teammates, so death isn't quite as immediate of a problem as when you're playing solo.

Ultimately, how much you enjoy Grounded is going to depend on how you play and if you choose to enable any of the customization options. In the default state, if you're looking to adventure through the story, you'll have a fun time, but Grounded is at its best when played as a survival sim. Focus on exploring the world, and let the story happen in the background. It may be a slower pace, but it's also more rewarding.

Score: 8.0/10

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