Grounded Review: Honey, I Shrunk The Survival Game!
Chris from 1 Hour 1 Decision takes the dive into the cruel jungles of a suburban front lawn in this unique take on a traditional team survival game.
Ok there's something you need to know right off the bat. I am NOT a fan of survival games. All the gathering, all the building, then making sure your virtual avatar is fed and bathed, it's just too much! I thankfully have a job and I don't need my video games to be yet another job (especially if I'm not even getting paid). Chores done on my controller while it could be appealing to some, definitely isn't what I turn on my Xbox or gaming PC for.
Yet here I am, talking about the very type of game I abhor. Why, you might ask? Because for the 60+ hours I put in, WITH all the pitfalls of a survival game, I had a blast playing Grounded.
When Grounded was announced for early access in July 2020, it intrigued me. Co-op Honey I Shrunk the Kids on Game Pass and made by Obsidian? Sure, I'll give it a whirl! So I grabbed a couple of my buddies and set off on this miniature adventure of epic proportions. While it did in fact have the bumpiness of an early access game, you can see there was something there under all the rough edges. Connecting with your friends worked well and the absolute scale of the world was impressive. And yes, seeing your very first spider was just as terrifying as you would expect. I was brave enough to not switch that spider slider down but it still gives you some shivers down your spine when you see one tip-tap its way around the world.
Unfortunately, other than just putzing around with your buddies running for your life from the backyard terrors, there wasn't much else. So I put this aside until there were some updates to the game. Two years and a couple of months later, that update came and kicked down my door of disappointment and slapped me in the face with such a delightfully odd story.
In Grounded, you play as either one-of-four kids (no create a character) who are trying to figure out how they got to be the size of a gnat. The story is told through some environmental storytelling, audio logs, documents that you pick up, and BURGL! BURGL is the robot
companion of the zany scientist Dr. Wendell (voice acted by Shazam himself, Zachary Levi) who got you into this mess. Unfortunately, BURGL (voiced by Silicon Valley’s Big Head Bighetti, Josh Brener) has lost his memories and you need to gather the info to help you hopefully get back to your normal stature. As you progress through each main story mission, you slowly uncover the plot and realize aptly, it's bigger than you think. It's a light but fun story with some dark undertones that give you the feel of a classic 80s movie.
Gameplay-wise, it's very much a survival game. Yes, you must manage thirst and hunger, but that's not all! To survive you will need to build shelter and gather materials to defend yourself from aggressive insects, and environmental hazards, or you miss timing a jump across that platform you swear you could reach. Working together is vital as one of my biggest gripes is that unfortunately, there is no fast travel system at all. Heck, there isn't even a way to share resources between your bases! So all that stuff you so carefully collected and placed in that fortified compound across the map? Yeah, you better get started running all the way back there. The construction system was pretty robust though, as you learn and discover new materials, you can use them to build bigger and better establishments.
Outside of gathering and building, there is a decent combat system. It's basic but it does the job, you have melee weapons where you can block and parry (if you have a shield) or ranged weapons if you want to do some damage from a safe distance. Both of these use stamina which during the early hours is very limited. Your best bet is to try and overwhelm your opponent with your full squad (or at least have your buddies distract the enemy while you pepper them with some hits). As you take down enemies you gather parts from them which you'll need to research at science facilities sprinkled across this backyard. Wendell was busy! What I enjoyed about this loop though was that as your continued to build better gear, those enemies you once feared became fodder to your onslaught. There was plenty to discover in the world and so many secrets I feel we didn't even uncover fully! But to be honest, it did become a chore near the end and I definitely tried to breeze through the last leg of the campaign. Did it overstay its welcome? Possibly, although I think if there WERE some quality-of-life things (like a shared inventory) it wouldn't have felt as daunting.
The way this game made me feel with the art and sound design REALLY kept me coming back for more. The sense of scale and literal dread or wonder, when you came across something new in this game, was just spectacular. Things you take for granted like a "that definitely looks like but can't call it" a Tic Tac container that makes you realize how small you are. There are constant reminders of that throughout the world. And it always brought a smile to my face. The chittering of an aphid or the surprising roar of a firefly always kept you on your toes. Oh and yes, you CAN see your feet in this game! In fact, you can switch from first or third-person view; very handy when you're trying to do some platforming. All of this came together to really give you that sense of the ridiculousness of the situation.
I still think Obsidian is one of the best acquisitions that Microsoft has done to this day, and I appreciate that Papa Phil and team have let these creative folks build such a wild experience like Grounded. So, is this game worthy of your time? It depends. I really don't think it is if you plan on playing this game solo, the game is like if From Software made a survival game TOUGH. My friends and I had to turn it down on difficulty because we were constantly dying from everything. There are a lot of accessibility and difficulty sliders you could play with as well. If you have a bunch of pals and you're looking for your next MP fix, give this a try. If at least to see and hear your friends freak out when a wolf spider comes after them.
About the author:
Chris is a connoisseur of all things Xbox, especially Game Pass. He loves it so much, in fact, that he created the 1 Hour 1 Decision podcast with his buddy Tom to randomly play and review Game Pass titles!