It’s dark out, and I’m scared. I’m hiding behind a small chest and a rock. Around me are a few flimsy walls made of leaves. Outside those walls, I can hear it: a giant, angry spider. I can’t spot it directly, but I can see the massive leaves and tall blades of grass surrounding my tiny shelter moving as it looks for me. Overhead, a large mosquito flies by; a few feet behind, an ant darts across a fallen branch. I hate bugs and insects, and I’m starting to regret playing Grounded.
While it’s been in early access for about nearly two years now, Grounded finally hit version 1.0 this week via a big update for PC and Xbox. Developed by Obsidian, Grounded is a survival game in the same vein as Minecraft. Yes, you’ll be hitting things with rocks to get other things to make better things to hit bigger things to get more things. It’s one of those games.
But Grounded has two big advantages over so many of the survival games that have followed in Minecraft’s wake. One, it has a genuinely interesting story involving scientists with secrets. And two, it’s set in the backyard where you play as a young kid who has been shrunk down to such a small size that ants, spiders, coins, and soda cans tower over you. Perhaps you’ve seen the movie Honey, I Shrunk The Kids? Well, Grounded is that but with more violence and resource management. And far too many bugs.
Still, even with all the nasty critters, it is genuinely exciting to explore a handcrafted world—no procedural generation here!—as a tiny little survivor. Hiding inside massive soda cans or collecting huge blades of grass is something I’ve never done in a survival game. It also made exploration more interesting. What random everyday object, now made massive, would I encounter next in the newly deadly backyard?
The game’s basic gameplay loop has you building up your camp with resources you scavenge from around the backyard. As you get stronger, you can find new areas of the world that contain new bits of lore to discover and quests to accomplish. Completing these quests helps you along your eventual goal of returning to your normal size, safely escaping from the dominion of spiders and gnats.
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I’ll fully admit that I almost activated the game’s anti-spider mode before starting Grounded. (It changes how the game’s spiders look in an effort to make it easier for folks with arachnophobia to enjoy the game.) But I decided against it, partly because I wanted to experience the game fully, and also because all the other bugs in Grounded, like grubs and fleas, wouldn’t be tweaked at all. So I realized I was going to be freaking out anyway, so why not just go for the full, spider-filled experience.
No story spoilers here, but Grounded’s writing is solid, and I found myself more and more intrigued by why my character was shrunk and what had been going on in the backyard before I arrived. This narrative helps keep you going when things become a grind. You know those moments in every survival game when you have to spend an hour moving your base, or farming up resources to build better gear? You still gotta do all that in Grounded, but at least at the other end of all of it is a new story beat or piece of lore to enjoy.
Another reason I kept playing Grounded, even as I slowly became paralyzed with fear from all the damn bugs, was how well-made it felt. Navigating menus, using your inventory, crafting items, and building bases all feel great. And better yet, it’s all very easy and snappy. Building in particular is easy but not simple. You can create some big, complex, detailed structures, but the blueprint system keeps things organized. I imagine spending a year in early access, letting players help with feedback and testing, is probably a big reason Grounded feels more polished than so many other survival games.
Grounded might be the perfect game for folks who’ve found themselves bored of punching trees and crafting axes. Yes, you do some of that in Grounded, too. But at a very different scale. You aren’t cutting down trees, but blades of grass and sprouts. It’s a refreshing spin on a genre that has gotten a bit stale for me over the last few years. And its story and well-designed gameplay systems help keep me going, even when the moment-to-moment gets a bit too survival-gamey.
If you have Microsoft’s Game Pass, I’d definitely check out Grounded on either Xbox or PC. And if you want to play with a friend, it supports co-op, too! Just let them know ahead of time that there are a lot of insects in this game. Please.