I begin my play session, in the second safest place in the world. Well, yard, in case you’ve been living under a rock, Grounded is the new Survival game from Obsidian Studios, where you and up to 3 of your friends inhabit the bodies of teenagers that have been shrunken down to an inch tall and dumped in a suburban backyard. Together you must learn to survive a new world where creatures you could once kill with a well-placed newspaper are now the size of elephants and would just love to eat you alive.
The second safest place in the yard, in case you were wondering, is my base. It began as nothing but a plateau with a maple leaf leaning on a large rock as its only landmark, which my desperate early-game eyes viewed as my best chance of shelter to survive my first in-game night, but has now been turned into a relatively fortified two-story outpost that contains a handful of useful objects and supplies. My bed, or ‘lean-to’ as the game calls it is still on the ground under the leaf, along with my workbench (crafting station), storage chest, campfire (cooking station) and a trophy wall, bearing a stuffed head of every hostile species I have managed to slay so far.
Grounded has a promising, but buggy construction system as a launch feature. This isn’t my base. I wish my base was this cool.
Outside the leaf and under the structure is now empty, with my useful items being scavenged for their basic parts and re-constructed upstairs, scratch for my mushroom garden, which produces 4 edible mushrooms a day, which I can eat to fill about a third of my hunger bar. Upstairs, on my grass plank floor, are storage pallets for the two basic building materials, grass planks and weed stems, an extra storage chest, and something called a smoothie maker, which I have yet to figure out.
Adjacent to that, on top of the cottage sized leaf I have a trail marker, which I can customise to display a waypoint built from a certain symbol which is a certain colour, in this case, an orange house, marking the location of what I call Maple Base, and a dew collector, a simple device that passively collects up to three drops of dew, the best in-game source of water. My base is still unfinished, I have yet to decide whether or not to build a roof or a third floor, so the blazing morning light fills the space. My objective today is simple, cartography, fill in the edges of my mental map.
The current map manages to feel both big and small, it probably isn’t any bigger than my actual backyard, but it feels like a huge area packed with secrets. Funny how getting shrunk changes one’s perspective.
I set out with spear in hand to the highest high ground around, the mighty oak tree, a mere 200-ish centimetres from my base, as I walk through a forest of towering grass blades, I am struck by the simple ambience of the game, each detail feels thoroughly thought out, I pass a squad of worker ants that tilt their heads and squeak at me, they are passive creatures who will only attack you in defence of themselves or their aggressive cousins the soldier ants. I did once leave the door of Maple Base open and found a worker ant rummaging through my storage chest, so this hints that each creature has a purpose in the ecosystem of the yard, but so far that ecosystem, along with the game, feels unfinished.
I reach the giant roots of the oak tree and jump aboard, sprinting above the Clovers, Acorns and sap clumps that make ground travel around the tree so slow, although all of these obstacles can be broken and harvested by various tools, today I pass them by so I can reach The Great Oak Beacon, a building-sized outdoor lamp that allows a clear view of the yard if climbed, and conveniently floods the oak foothills with light once night comes a’ knockin. As I scan the horizon I see several landmarks and miniaturised biomes, juice boxes, action figures and soda cans litter the green grasslands, promising shelter or thirst-quenching juice droplets. I see the flower beds to the west of Maple Base, which is the only place to gather flower petals but is frequently prowled by deadly spiders.
Grounded’s map is littered with mysterious Research Stations, which are the only evidence of a mysterious corporation running this experiment. The story trailer quotes; “You may come across some strange things while you’re looking around. I don’t know who put them here, or what they want, what I do know is that they’re watching”
I decide my path will take me east, through the rose fields and along the shores of the great pond, then following the edge of the grasslands until I reach the berry bushes far to the north, then I will circle back to Maple Base with knowledge in hand. This path is long, and a decent half of it teeters dangerously close to dry grass patches, which seem to be home to the deadliest of Grounded’s predatory insects. I descend the Oak roots, passing the REAL safest game in the area, a closed-off underground lab which is home to a robot named B.U.R.G.L, who currently is the games only NPC and trading post. Meeting B.U.R.G.L is the ending of the current story, which takes less than an hour to complete, but his dialogue and personality are oh-so-Obsidian and hint at a promising story to come. I bounce down the hill, noticing the dirt tunnelling effect signifying the presence of a grub underfoot, and I stop to kill it for its resources. Digging it up and stabbing the helpless (and disgusting) beast to death, I am rewarded with its somewhat-precious resources and I set foot in the open ground of the rose field.
As I navigate the skyscraper-sized flowers I turn and gaze into the murky blackness of the great pond and see underwater vegetation, and wonder at the potential addition of underwater creatures and activities in a future update. Obsidian has promised monthly content updates in this early access period, the first of which is releasing on August 27th. Which so happens to be my birthday, thanks for the present Obsidian!
Grounded’s giant spiders will put the fear of Spider god in you, they certainly put it in me. And I’m Australian.
When I reach the edge of the rose field I realise I’ve made a terrible mistake, and my path is blocked by a wall of tree logs, my only gap being taken up by a spider web. This is a good time to talk about spiders (nice segway right?), there are currently two species of spider in the game, Wolf and Orb Weaver, they are equally huge and terrifying, but differ in appearance and behaviour. Wolf spiders are a mottled brown and seem to be nomadic, they are rarer than Orb Weavers (I suspect they are nocturnal like their IRL cousins) and roam the yard at random, twice they have wandered within spitting distance of Maple Base. Orb Weavers, however, are black with golden stripes and seem to be territorial, sticking close to a set few spawn locations. The ambience of spiders is fantastically spooky, as they prowl they knock the grass blade trees around like dinosaurs, and let off the scariest roars I have ever heard anything make, not many games make me audibly scream…
Anyways, I put my axe to work and cut the web to bits, hoping I’m not ringing the dinner bell for a nearby spider. I scooch along the edge of a humongous stone wall and see a marshy area ahead, littered with Clay, a resource used for advanced structures, I move on since time has become my enemy. Eventually, I see them, the mighty berry bushes, as tall as Mt Everest. I eagerly sprint to the edge and look around, it really does make me feel small. The huge branches twist in the canopy above, bearing resource-laden purple berries, and I see hidden in the green tangle a geometric white structure, a research station, one of several such locations where you can analyse a resource to learn its crafting potential, but before I can find the best place to start climbing I see an Orb Weaver suspended upside-down in the branches above like a giant insect-bat-monster, and I decide its about time I headed home.
Grounded’s night ambience is as good as you would expect, the suburban white noise fades away, and all you can hear are the packs of vicious insects coming to smash your base and eat your face. Sweet Dreams.
By the time I circle around the marsh it’s nearly dark, the fading sunlight filters through the air in a beautiful mosaic of colours, but it doesn’t last long, and as I scale a rock to get my bearings I lose the last of the light, and my HUD turns from purple to neon green, the visual indicator that the dreaded night has begun. Whipping out my torch I cautiously peer ahead through the grass, and I see something beating the blades apart like a T-rex, likely a spider or some other horrible backyard beastie, (there are several I have yet to see), so I scan for the best path around it and very calmly begin sprinting, terrified, into the murky gloom of the grasslands.
I pass all sorts of horrors in my travels through the night, packs of deadly Larvae, Lawn Mites and other bloodsucking, flesh chomping creatures that make my skin crawl, but I finally see the green walls of Maple Base looming in the darkness, I scale my insect-proof ramp and enter the safety of home, turning on all my lamps and torches like I’m home alone and I heard something go bump and running straight for my bed. It was a long day, and I will have many more long days, and frankly, I can’t wait to see how they play out.
Grounded is out now on early access on Xbox One, Xbox Gamepass, Windows 10 and Steam