What do you get when you mix characters from a Saturday morning cartoon with Honey I Shrunk the Kids? Well you’d probably get a Honey I Shrunk the Kids Saturday morning cartoon but you’d also get Grounded, the new survival game from Obsidian Entertainment that just entered game preview on Xbox, early access on Steam, and Game Pass earlier last week. In this pint-sized adventure, you play as one of four characters who wake up in familiar setting but from a very unfamiliar perspective. You make your way through a backyard, no larger than the size of a bug, and discover the mysteries hidden within the land.
The first thing I’d like to highlight are the excellent accessibility features in the game. Not only has Obsidian included options for colorblind modes and different text sizes, but they even offer an Arachnophobia safe mode for people who have a hard time dealing with the 8 legged monstrosities in the game. I always appreciate it when developers allow options for more people to enjoy their games and Obsidian have gone above and beyond here in my opinion.
Upon starting the game, the first thing you may notice are the graphics. Survival games aren’t generally great looking titles but Grounded breaks this trend by using a plethora of impressive rendering techniques backed up by an excellent art direction. Powered by Unreal Engine 4, the game takes advantage of a range of features such as parallax occlusion mapping, crepuscular rays, motion blur, volumetric fog and lighting, excellent texture work, and detailed character models. The shallow depth of field used in the game does a great job of making you feel like a miniaturized teen in a world larger than life. The bugs you encounter in the yard look great while using a stylized look that fits perfectly in the world. The title doesn’t aim for photo realism at all but that’s one of the most attractive aspects in my opinion and helps the game to stand out.
However all is not perfect with the presentation. The level of detail system loads in objects a bit too close to the player and can be distracting at times. Pop in with insects can also be noticeable and jarring to say the least. A quick look at performance, the game runs with a 60fps cap and runs well most of the time on the One X, though we do see drops during combat, running through caves, or when looking over the yard from a high spot. While all these issues are present on the Xbox One X, they seem to be mostly eliminated when playing on the PC with maxed out settings. The game is still not finished, so it’s not fair to be too critical of the graphics, but it’ll be interesting to see how the presentation evolves, especially on the Xbox Series X.
Much like the visuals, the audio is handled extremely well in the game. You’re greeted to some excellent synthesized music right at the title screen paying homage to what you might hear in a classic 80’s movie. The melodies throughout the game do a great job of adding to the atmosphere as you explore, fight, and discover new areas. The backyard is also filled with background effects from birds to the various insects you come across, all with distinct sounds. The excellent audio also carries over to every action you take such as chopping plants, crushing rocks, and killing bugs. The voice acting is also great, though there is currently very little of it in the game. Overall, the game is a treat for the ears and does a great job immersing you in the world.
Moving on, Grounded follows a similar template found in many other survival games. You explore the world, pick up materials, learn recipes to craft objects, and making sure you have enough food and drinks to stay conscious. You will need to do all of this while fending off the creepy crawlers who would love to make you their next meal. New recipes are found by using computers in the multiple field stations you’ll find in the yard. Here you can analyze materials to unlock new items to craft. You can also learn new or upgraded items to build by trading raw science, the form of currency used in the game, with BURG.L, the robotic assistant you eventually meet. BURG.L also provides quests and looks to be a key part in the story. With this being an unfinished game, don’t expect there to be much of a story so far, but Obsidian does a great job at hinting there is more to the world than meets the eye.
Speaking of the world, the game does a pretty good job of presenting a convincing ecosystem. Ants will collect food for their colony, larger insects will attack smaller prey, and most of the creatures look to be interacting in the world in a believable manner. The only thing that really stuck out to me is that while we see some bugs attack each other, I almost never saw spiders go after the other creatures in the world. You might think they aren’t hungry at that point, but they surely always seem to have a taste for bite sized humans. All in all, the folks at Obsidian have done a great job creating a cohesive world with solid mechanics and a lot of depth.
Survival games certainly aren’t anything new these days and it takes a lot to stand out in the market. For a studio that has never tackled this genre, Obsidian has done an awesome job of creating a world full of mystery and sometimes terror. This is even more impressive when you consider the game was a passion project made by less than 20 people. Even though the game is unfinished, and in early access, it’s quite polished and in all the time I spent exploring the world, I only ran into one bug….no pun intended. So I’m excited to see how the studio evolves the world and story with their monthly updates. If you’re a fan of the genre, the classic 80’s movie, or just want to know how terrifying a garage sized spider can truly be, I think Grounded is well worth a look.