Honey, I Shrunk the Kids meets survival, with a dash of horror—that wraps up Grounded in a nutshell (or should I say acorn shell?). Developed by Obsidian Entertainment and published by Xbox Game Studios, Grounded is a first-person survival game focused on multiplayer gameplay.
Shrunk and confused, you’ll play as one of four kids with no clue what’s been done to them or how to survive in this new world—the backyard. Now the size of the ant, bugs that would normally be inconsequential, suddenly become a giant threat (literally), and even the smallest of grass clumps become seemingly insurmountable. Players will have to explore the backyard to figure out how they wound up so small, who did this to them, and how they unshrink. And it seems like they’re not the only ones who’ve been shrunk before. Grounded’s excellent survival gameplay blooms to life in this environment and context.
The map you’re thrown into is simultaneously beautiful and dangerous. The backyard provides the novel perspective of a tiny human in a jungle of grass, thistles, and dandelion stems. The graphics are wonderfully crafted, giving plenty of detail while still being simplistic and a tad cartoony. It certainly makes some of the more creepy critters less scary (but not by much). The backyard is also a dynamic playground. With some resources being predictable and others random and rare, the map changes daily, and exploration never bores.
Deposited in a backyard filled with junk and bugs, players are tasked with managing some pretty typical survival parameters—hunger, thirst, stamina, and health. While these statuses are fairly simplistic and nothing new to the survival genre, how they’re handled is excellent and unique to Grounded’s environment. For example, with your small stature, dew drops quench your thirst reliably and are more common in the mornings on grass blades. The occasional abandoned juice box or soda can leave behind liquids that’ll fill your hunger and thirst. Take a cue from the ants and eat away at abandoned hotdogs and cookies. Aphid honeydew (yes, you read that correctly) heals while filling your hunger and thirst.
There are so many creative and nuanced ways to deal with these status bars and also many penalties when you don’t. For example, if you become too hungry, your stamina halves. And if your thirst or hunger isn’t sated for long enough, you will die. Consequences aren’t too severe, at least in the more mild difficulties, because you’ll be able to pick up a backpack of your inventory where you died.
Building and crafting are also just as unique. Players can make buildings out of grass, stems, acorns, clovers, sap, and so much more. Similarly, crafting makes new foodstuffs, armor, weapons, gadgets, and ways to upgrade your equipment. Once you really get into the game, Grounded offers so many different avenues to go down, items to create, and ways to build your base. But that’s possibly one of the biggest critiques—the game can take a while to get into. There’s just enough of a tutorial to get you started but not much help after that.
To discover new crafting possibilities, you must analyze items you come across or harvest. But you can only analyze items at one of the lab outposts you’ll find scattered across the map. Thankfully, you spawn right next to one. But you only have three things you can analyze before the analyzer needs recharging, and you’ll have to wait an hour in-game. You don’t know the possibilities until you analyze something, and with so many things to analyze, what you need may not be unlocked until much later in the game. Not knowing what you need to analyze to get a tool for, say, busting open a rock can make things a little tedious. It also takes a lot of time to get proper weapons and armor, which makes the early game combat non-existent.
However, once you get the hang of it and start unlocking some of the more essential items, this system works very well and is a good spin on typical survival mechanics. Analyzing things becomes almost a treat because you never know what’s going to get unlocked and open a new avenue regarding combat or survival. And there is a bit of fun to be had getting thrown in the deep end and trying to swim. But that’s not accessible to everyone.
Regarding combat, armor and weapons can be made of many different resources, most of which come from bugs. And most bugs have specific weaknesses and resilience. Paying attention to what weapon you’re using against which enemy makes for dynamic and challenging action. So building armor and choosing your weapons wisely are integral, even from the beginning.
And with combat come giant bugs! And some of them are absolutely frightening. I’m not scared of bugs in real life, but when you meet one that’s thrice your size in the middle of the night with just the moon and a torch to light your way, it’s heart-attack inducing (and a whole lot of fun). And if spiders are stopping you from playing the game, Grounded has a neat arachnophobia filter which is an excellent accessibility option. And playing with your buddies makes combat much more manageable.
Grounded scales with the number of players in the game, which is expected. However, more players mean more spears and more damage. And given that Grounded allows up to four people in a game, that’s a lot of stabbing. Grounded is really a game meant for multiple people; single player is possible but feels rather difficult and almost lonesome after playing with other people. Thankfully, Grounded solves some problems other multiplayer survival games run into—having one host. Other games require one person to host, and that game only saves for that person. So if you aren’t the host and want to continue playing that save on your own, you’re out of luck. Grounded has the option to work this way, but it also has shared host, where everyone owns that game save and can play whenever they want. Having both options available is an excellent addition.
Grounded provides some great survival mechanics and challenging combat in a rather novel environment with an intriguing plotline. The game can be very tough but also very rewarding. However, it can take a while to really get the game going with the analysis mechanic and the lack of explanation revolving around many other ludemes. Nevertheless, I would highly recommend checking Grounded out, especially since it’s on Game Pass.
Grounded is available now for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S and is currently on Game Pass.
Grounded provides some great survival mechanics and challenging combat in a rather novel environment with an intriguing plotline. The game can be very tough but also very rewarding. However, it can take a while to really get the game going with the analysis mechanic and the lack of explanation revolving around many other ludemes.