‘Grounded’ is a novel, and fun, survival game

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“Grounded” is a unique game taking cues from “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” and “Castaway” to create a survival experience that makes exploring a backyard feel like an alien planet.

Grounded is a first-person survival building game developed by Obsidian Entertainment that went into early access on July 28 for Xbox and PC, with a full release slated sometime in 2021. Grounded is far from a finished product as an early access game, so consider this a first impression. As a side note, I played this with a friend via multiplayer most of the time.

The story of Grounded centers around four pre-teens that have found themselves shrunken down and lost in somebody’s backyard, now on a scale with a jungle and just as dangerous. The kids have no idea what’s going on or how they got there, raising some disturbing questions.

But before those questions can get answered, some more pressing matters need to be addressed: food, water, and shelter.

As a survival game, Grounded tasks you with making sure you’re well fed and well hydrated. Unfortunately for the squeamish, that means eating mostly bugs. Just be careful because a lot of the bugs are definitely interested in eating you as well.

Water can be a bit more tricky. Drinking dirty water from puddles will quench your thirst but greatly reduce your hunger. So you have to find clean water in the form of droplets on blades of grass.

Shelter is where the game really shines. You’re able to build structures piece by piece, with each piece snapping together like LEGO pieces. Players can build whatever comes to mind, whether it’s a simple shack or a three-story castle. Mind you, the building materials aren’t that extensive. You have to make due with what you find in a backyard.

The biggest threat to your well-being after everything else is the wildlife. A friend and I started the game for the first time, and we were in awe of the insects wandering the backyard — weevils, gnats, mites, and more. But I really wasn’t braced for comprehending how small you are in this game.

So let me set the scene: we’re wandering the backyard jungle and trying to get a lay of the land. Then we start to see blades of grass bend out of the way and notice something is coming our way. Whatever it was, it was big, and we expected to be attacked any second.

And then, the tension is broken in an instant with one question: “Is that a ladybug?”

I don’t know which one of us said it, but it didn’t change the fact that we were looking at a ladybug as big as a Volkswagen Beetle lumbering along without a care in the world. That’s not to say it was defenseless. One firm hit angered it enough to charge us and almost kill us in a single hit. That really solidified our low place on the food chain — and we hadn’t even seen any spiders yet.

So to fight back, you have to get stronger tools and gear. While the underbrush insects are used to eating things that scurry away, they have a hard time dealing with humans armed with bows and spears.

Once you handle the three main needs — food, water, and shelter — exploring the backyard and making stronger equipment become the main gameplay loop.

If you want to explore the hedges, you’ll need to be prepared to deal with spiders. If you want to explore the part of the lawn that’s getting gassed with pesticides, you’ll need a gas mask, which means killing stinkbugs. If you want to explore anthills, you’ll need to kill a bunch of ants and make a disguise.

Stronger equipment and exploring tie into each other, with one usually requiring the other in some way. And to get stronger equipment, you’ll need to do some research.

Scattered across the yard is a series of mysterious structures tied to a company called “Ominent Practical Technologies.” They contain stations that can be used to research items the player finds and unlock new recipes.

Right now, the game is pretty bare in the story department. There are some missions here and there you can do, but the developers promise a story in future updates.

As stated, this game is early access, and the story act one is listed under “planned,” so there’s no guessing when those will be released.

However, several things are being released within the next few months — a koi pond to explore, mosquitoes and bees, and water-themed equipment, to name a few.

My biggest gripe, however, is stability. My friend and I have had crashes to the desktop, freezes, or stability problems on multiple occasions. The game does warn you that Grounded is early access and may have these issues, but it doesn’t reduce frustration.

Final Verdict

The gaming market has been flooded with a whole host of first-person survival games with building elements. 7 Days to Die, Green Hell, Ark: Survival Evolved, Raft, Stranded Deep, and many more. But Grounded is the first I’ve seen that takes it in a whole new direction. Instead of going big, the game goes tiny and makes it feel like it’s an alien world, right up until you find a shoe-print or a half-eaten hot-dog. The game is $29.99 on Steam right now, and I think it’s worth the admission price.

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