Cyberpunk 2077, The Last of Us: Part 2, Assassin's Creed: Valhalla and Co. – the greats of the video game world will give way in 2020 with new parts of well-known series or fresh games from renowned studios. But it is also a bit smaller, in the truest sense of the word. We speak of course Grounded, the Xbox and PC exclusive co-op survival adventure.
The premise here is clearly different from the large selection of other survival titles such as Don't Starve, Ark: Survival Evolved and Subnautica. Just like the 80s comedy darling, I have shrunk the children, you don't have to compete with giant dinosaurs on a desert island in Grounded, but fight for survival in the small urban front yard against all kinds of crawling animals.
A new survival game is not a big surprise in itself, these have enjoyed great popularity in recent years. Unusual is the developer studio Obsidian, which is otherwise more for in-depth role-playing experiences with a sophisticated story and sophisticated dialogues such as The Outer Worlds is known. That doesn't mean, of course, that Grounded would be less exciting because of that. Rather, the title has generated a lot of interest among potential fans since its unveiling in November 2019. Thanks to Early Access, it is now finally possible to get an idea of the tiny survival struggle.
Source: PC games
What is Grounded about? We still don't know that exactly according to the story sections that have been playable so far. You start the game as one of four teenagers: the boys Max and Pete and the girls Willow and Hoops all play exactly the same. Shrinked fresh, we don't really know what happened to us. In search of answers, we first find a research station and then a mysterious machine that we can use laser machines to start again. After we have removed ticks from one of the laser machines, we have to discover a hidden laboratory. We activate a factory robot with the catchy name BURG.L, which can provide us with at least a little information, for example about a mysterious researcher who has disappeared, but whose technology we seem to be equipped with. There are many questions and few answers in this short campaign!
In addition to the short excursion into the story of Grounded, which was completed after an hour, there are still three new side quests for our new robot buddy to do. The humorous presentation can definitely convince – BURG.L is an enthusiastic burger roaster. Obsidian promises to provide the early access version with content extensions on a regular basis. As is known, the core of a survival game is not the story, but the struggle for survival.
Source: PC games
The grounded survival gameplay is fairly simple, but still, or maybe because of it, rock solid. A device called SCA.B shows us all important information in the lower left corner of the screen. Water and food have to be taken regularly in order not to die of exhaustion, in addition there is a life energy and a Staminabalk. Actions such as sprinting and attacking pull stamina off the bar, land at zero, move more slowly. In delicate situations, this can mean screen death, which is why you should always have a look at your stamina. Fortunately, it automatically recharges relatively quickly.
Your life energy regenerates much more slowly. If, for example, you take damage from attacks, in the worst case you have to get a bandage pack to be able to counter other dangers more relaxed. You can counter thirst with clean water from dew, which you can find on some blades of grass. In order to satisfy your hunger, you have to hunt for creatures that are even smaller than yourself.
The horror rarely crawls alone
Speaking of smaller creatures, the fauna in Grounded is definitely an important unique selling point of the title. The interesting approach of shrinking puts the spotlight on the otherwise underrepresented genre of real insects and arachnids. Usually not fatal in any way, here the encounter with a ladybug can end very ingloriously for us. Bedbugs and bombardier beetles are also a serious danger that you shouldn't face alone and unprepared. Smaller animals, such as aphids or weevils, on the other hand, are hardly a problem even in our mini format and are just waiting to be shot.
Source: PC games
When looking at a spider, you should go looking far and wide. These crawling killer machines usually do shrunken bellows like us with just one swipe. Here one has to be extremely cunning in order not to bless the temporal. An interesting comfort feature of a slightly different kind is the possibility to modify the appearance of the eight-legged friends to take away their spider fright. Even arachnophobic players are not prevented from enjoying their time with Grounded. By the way, you are not too punished for a game over, no matter how creepy the monster that you stand up to: at the point where you have become insect food, you can easily collect the entire inventory again. The location of the lost backpack with our belongings is also conveniently displayed using an icon.
The dynamic behavior of the insects is interesting. For example, you might witness a fight between a ladybug and a bug. Ants, which are mostly in groups, are attracted to your barbecue areas. This can get annoying very quickly – just like in real life. Most of the time, the crawlers don't bite our heads off there.
The role-playing elements in Grounded are relatively simple for an obsidian title. So far, there have been no special skills for the individual characters, just as little as sophisticated skill and level-up systems. Instead, you have the choice of several weapons such as spears, axes and bows, with which you can defend yourself against hostile crawling creatures. You have to craft the weapons yourself with the materials that can be found in the game world. Armor made from insect parts can also be made on workbenches.
Source: PC games
The crafting menus can seem a little overwhelming at first, as you have to maneuver through many screens. After a little warm-up time you get the hang of it and find your way around. New recipes can be obtained by analyzing crafting items found in the research stations or by exchanging them for so-called "raw science" from BURG.L. You get the currency for the analysis of items or by completing quests.
Leaves are the new concrete
Source: PC games
Base building already offers an extremely large number of options for individualization. There are hardly any limits to creativity. If you collect raw materials such as blades of grass, shamrocks and clay, you can design your buildings as you wish.
The multiplayer component is particularly interesting. The common struggle for survival is twice or four times as much fun. At the moment, however, it still works quite limited, because we can only fight for survival together with registered friends. We hope that in the foreseeable future we will be able to go on mini-adventures with chance acquaintances, because if you don't have any other players on hand, the spectacle is still fun, but will nevertheless lose a bit of its appeal.
Despite early access, the title runs quite smoothly. Smaller AI dropouts are present here and there, but total crashes did not occur to us during our entire test period.
All in all, Grounded has so far been a very promising representative of the survival genre. As soon as the multiplayer picks up speed and new content is delivered, we could expect great gameplay here.
The Early Access version is available on Steam and Xbox One for around 30 euros and as part of the Xbox Game Pass. The full release is scheduled for 2021.
Darling, I shrunk the kids and fell in love with Grounded.
Small game really big – so that's it with shrink word games, I promise. And I've probably lost enough of the words about insects too. Grounded definitely sets the innovative setting apart from all other members of the survival genre. Coupled with the humorous presentation that you are used to from Obsidian, the title turns out to be an extremely entertaining gaming experience. The gameplay is fun and there is hardly anything to complain about except for small AI dropouts. If you are not deterred by spending 30 euros on an unfinished game, you should give Grounded a chance. For my part, I am now looking for three other shrunken fellow-bellies to join in the fight for insect survival with them. My only real criticism: In contrast to our colleagues in the English-speaking world, we cannot call Grounded the "The Buggiest Game". What a pun, argh!
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