There are some uncomfortably large spiders in Grounded, the Honey I Shrunk The Kids-esque survival sim from Obisidian. There’s a lot about the game to appreciate: it’s an incredibly smooth survival game that seems to have taken a genre that was everywhere and distilled it into the most enjoyable parts, overlaying a charming narrative to the whole thing and turning players loose to Lewis and Clark their way across the backyard.
But the thing I think about most is the spiders, and other insects – I know spiders aren’t an insect, I know – that infest the garden. My first serious assailant was a red ant and, in turn, several of his mates – I had to fend them off with a pebble and a handy stack of tiny granola bars to avoid a fatality. The insects are your biggest threat in Grounded and are somehow as terrifying as the scariest opponent in any horror game you care to note.
I guess, if I were shrunk down to the size of a tictac, I’d be terrified of getting eaten alive by insects, too. Otherwise, Grounded makes living life on the small side look altogether pretty appealing.
For a start, the world (and the four playable characters within it) are charming from the word go. Obsidian has taken the shrinking seriously, and the landmarks in the hand-crafted map are things like a baseball, a dropped packet of mints, or the severed head of an action figure. These objects tower above you and you naturally use them as landmarks, so it’s smart of the game to identify them as such, helping you to quickly and easily navigate the world. I settled my first base right now to a mysterious machine, and with the help of a big tower could easily navigate visually by the garden detritus the game scattered around the place.
The garden contains several different recognisable biomes – a stagnant pond becomes a dangerous lake, the middle of the garden has a little grass. There’s something charming about slowly exploring these areas and building outposts within them, little safe areas for you to recuperate and resupply. Want to visit a literal sandbox? It’s just another tiny biome you’ll conquer, a near endless desert that is probably only a metre or two long in reality.
The crafting system is fun and robust, and the UI is excellent for it. If you want to craft a spear with a rope and some rock, it’s easy to do: click on the object you want and if any of the other items need crafting, you can do it from there to avoid having to click through a thousand menus. Early on there’s a nearly overwhelming amount of crafting options as new item blueprints are unlocked by analysing new items, but this means that for people willing to be brave and search further afield, there’s a lot of progression available.
This is coupled with a quest system that gently pulls you towards several different story avenues at once. If you want to focus on survival, you can make bandages or hunt down clean water. If you want to get big again you’ll be exploring tiny laboratories and accumulating science points to unlock even more blueprints.
It’s a satisfying progress arc, but just about everything in Grounded is satisfying: Obsidian has taken the survival genre, trimmed off all of the nonsense and then used its RPG experience to marry in a satisfying narrative. With its handcrafted map and tight story this is a great option for a single play-through. The robust building system and creative setting offers up tons of replayability, for fans of what Grounded is offering.
Grounded’s biggest issue really is the Spiders though. They’re tough to kill and act as efficient progression blockers, so that it doesn’t matter how beautiful the world is or how much you want to explore the universe. Go near the wrong hole in the ground or have the temerity to be outside during the night and you are going to get obliterated by spiders. The game has an arachnophobia mode that supposedly gets rid of the spiders, but it doesn’t really make their attacks any less intense. The other bugs are unpleasant, sure, but totally manageable. Spiders are a scourge, a progression blocker that is both a gear check and a sanity check, making sure you, as a player, have stared deeply into the abyss and won out.
This is a shock to someone who, before this, had really only experienced the game through the cheerful trailers and saccharine screenshots. Grounded is not that game. That is a game made to be marketed. This game is a horrific romp through insect hell that made me shout and squirm as I made my way across an alien landscape, less Rick Moranis than August Derleth.
Still, if you can stomach the dark squirming, this really is a fantastic game. Obsidian has taken the survival genre and made it smaller and more manageable, which has had the side effect of making it infinitely more compelling than many of the other titles in its genre.
Equal parts survival game and horror sim, Grounded is a must-play for those who can handle spiders. Cutesy graphics hide a complex survival game with compelling depth, alongside some truly intense combat encounters.
- Excellent crafting system
- Engaging world
- Quest system does a great job of easing you into the game
- Well-crafted narrative
- Big spiders
- Smaller spiders
- Medium sized spiders