Grounded is a survival game that is inspired by movies such as A Bug's Life and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Its inspiration from these films is what it would be like to live as a person no taller than an inch, living in the world of creepy crawlers, in an environment as simple as someone's backyard. Well, we took on that reality in Grounded now that it's released as a fully realized game. If you enjoy the fight or flight feeling many early survival games delivered that first engulfed us in the genre but few now achieve, don't pass up on Grounded. It's a breath of fresh air for the genre, and it will undoubtedly bring back all of the wonderful memories and emotions that early survival games first captured your heart with.
A Backyard Adventure Awaits
The backyard is a lively environment, and it's this aspect of Grounded's shrunken-down survival adventure that struck me the most. Most survival games give you a barren world that aims to portray a sense of despair and hopelessness. Grounded, on the other hand, is a vibrantly alive world full of possibilities. However, because you're playing at such a small scale, you can still feel the hopelessness that drives you to survive. My small stature kept me on my toes, but the surroundings piqued my interest, begging me to explore the backyard further.
I recall first parkouring up the grass to get a better view of the backyard. And once the brush is cleared away, this thriving and playful backyard emerges before your eyes. I felt like a kid again, wanting to do this first, then go explore here, and so on. There wasn't enough time in the day to satisfy my wanderlust.
The backyard, while inviting, is also mysterious and frightening. There are holes in the ground that screams danger, but you also know that they hold a good mystery. There are focal points such as the oak tree, sandbox, hedge, deck, and shed that are all telling you more dangerous adventures await you.
All of this contributed to and maintained this sense of mystery, curiosity, and excitement throughout my entire time in Grounded. This keeps you present at all times, and as a result, I never get the dull feeling of, “okay, that's enough for now.” No, I want to make it to the shed, head into that mysterious hole, or simply just find my next adventure. I had a hard time stepping off the game because of this, which is what great survival games are capable of, and Grounded is one of them.
Staying Small Forever
In Grounded, your ultimate goal is to find a way to return to normal size. The story assigns you the task of exploring science labs hidden throughout the backyard to achieve that goal, and thusly the main story. However, the majority of the story quests will require you to unlock certain requirements, such as gear and perks before they can be done. Adding to my long grocery list of resources to acquire, areas to explore, and equipment to make. At times when I passively wandered away from the story cause I was caught up with my own errands, the story would come back because the area I just explored, to my little knowledge, pertained to the story.
This piqued my interest enough to return to the story from time to time. But I was more interested in stumbling into the story from my own adventures, rather than actively seeking it out. That way, I progressed at my own pace, the way I wanted to, which usually already had me prepared for the next quest after completing one. Then I would forget about the story, head back to my grocery list, and the cycle continued. Even though this is a much longer, time-consuming process, it made my personal experience more immersing and natural.
At the end of the day, the story wasn't the highlight of the game for me. I found the narrative fit, but most of the time it's what I was least motivated to pursue. I was rather focused on improving myself and my own conquest. Such as the expansive crafting and base building system, which we'll step into next.
Heading Down The Rabbit Hole
If you've ever played a survival game, you'll know that gathering resources, crafting, and improving your equipment, in general, is a big part of the core content. This can be a monotonous and tedious experience in most survival games. And while Grounded still falls into this tedious trap, which is hard to avoid, it at least makes resource gathering more engaging than most games. The falter is that it can also be overwhelming.
What makes it interesting is that in order to obtain supplies or parts for crafting, you need to slay a few insects or explore an unexplored area. Most of the time, you end up searching deeper than you intended and finding more than you bargained for. This made gathering resources for crafting its own mini-adventure that didn't feel like a boring task. Because you never know where it will take you, what new enemies or items you will encounter. However, this can quickly get overwhelming and lead you down various leveling and crafting rabbit holes.
For example, before you can craft some items, you must first meet an experience requirement, by obtaining Raw Science. To obtain this, you must complete quests for BURG.L, a chattering robot who appears and disappears throughout the game. This adds another step to the equation, which, once completed, opens up more missions to do and items to craft. This made leveling experience and obtaining Raw Science feel like a chore rather than an adventure. And it often resulted in me getting overwhelmed because it meant opening up more avenues for missions and crafting, distracting me from what I originally intended to do.
Further Down The Rabbit Hole
To add to this, you can scan most resources and bug parts in the Field Station's Analyzer. This grants you small amounts of Raw Science but also unlocks even more recipes. And when I came back with a bunch of new items or bug parts to scan, I already had my eyes set on the next best thing. This took away from me enjoying the weapon, armor, or item I originally wanted. And pursuing that next item I wanted, meant starting another “simple task” again from square one.
Furthermore, health and stamina upgrades have their own entire system, and so do leveling traits and perks. Because there is so much to do with leveling, crafting, and just upgrading your player and loot in general, which all fall into their own system, the feeling of being overwhelmed was heightened.
But to play devil's advocate, while this did get overwhelming it overlapped at times to relieve the stress. For example, I usually already had the parts I needed or had gained the experience to make an item I had skipped over. With that, I knew where I needed to go/what to do for completing the challenges. So, while the crafting and leveling system can get pretty perplexing, it's perfect for players who just can't get enough of it.
The Pay Off
Despite the ridiculous amount of things to do to upgrade myself and missions to complete with it, it frequently paid off and had me ready for the most important moments. Which were the boss battles that were both exciting and terrifying. Such as the Mantis, Mant, Assistant Manager, and, of course, King Kunta, the Hedge Broodmother. All of these epic battles exceeded their expectations for me. And if I could, I'd go back just to relive the fight and all its glory for the first time.
But it wasn't just the boss fights that were memorable. When you first encounter a new hostile bug, you're caught off guard. The fight or flight response kicks in because you don't know what to expect. You can also stumble across mini-bosses in the tunnels and at the focal points like the oak tree and hedge. All of your time in the crafting rabbit hole has prepared you for this moment, and you truly want to win, so you put forth your best effort. Which, when you win, gives you that great satisfying feeling that all your hard work has paid off. These moments stood out above the rest and proved why Grounded is such a great game.
Not The Bugs We Hoped For
One thing I need to address is the game's bugs, and I'm not talking about the ones we just discussed slaying. Rather, they are the ones who are slaying our experience. Grounded has been in early access for nearly two years, allowing the developers to gather feedback, improve the game, and add content. Also, while working on removing bugs the new content may ensue. With that in mind, I wasn't expecting this game to be as buggy as it was at times.
Insects' bodies would get stuck in one another, and basic animations and even your items can glitch. Base-building can be aggravating when objects do not snap into place properly. They also occasionally tweak out and vibrate rapidly. I will say that these were not game-breaking bugs that halted my progress or prevented me from playing the game, but they did detract from the experience at times. And when I'd had enough of them, it was time to get off.
Survival games have struck me since I was a kid gaming on my old man's HP PC. What struck me about these games was their atmosphere, which truly gave me the survival sense of fight or flight. Which, safe to say, is what most gamers tap into the genre for. And if you've been longing for that experience, Grounded recaptures it in all its glory. This is a survival game worth your time because it rewards players for theie hard work of gathering resources and improving their chances of survival with memorable gaming moments.
Exploring the backyard and being engulfed in its atmosphere really makes Grounded come to life. However, the amount of content for resource gathering, crafting, and leveling can be overwhelming. But, for players who can't get enough of it, it's a perfect fit. Like many survival games in its genre, it still has its fair share of bugs, which we hoped to see less of after a two-year development period to reach its fully realized state.
Nonetheless, in a world full of dull survival games, it's a gem in the rough for the genre. It will truly re-sparks the raw feelings and emotions that survival games have always sought to deliver to their player base.
Grounded Review (Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S & PC)
A Gem in the Rough
Grounded is truly an original survival experience. Its story may not be its strongest point, and there are still a few bugs in the game, but players who want to experience all of the wonderful emotions that early survival games elicited in us as children, must play Grounded.