Survival is instinct. We share the planet with trillions of living things that spend every day staying alive. As George Carlin famously said, “That’s the secret of life … not dying!” It’s also the secret of video games. Survival is now a genre unto itself, albeit a human-focused one. Most games center on you, a human in a human world/apocalypse, surviving. But what about the other 99.999999 percent of living things? Don’t we ever get their perspective on survival?
We do. Grounded from Obsidian Entertainment offers a fresh look at survival through the eyes of four teens (and hundreds of hungry insects). An Xbox exclusive, it left early access this week and the full release is now on Xbox Game Pass. It’s like Honey I Shrunk The Kids-meets-Fortnite. It’s a flashy, fun adventure full of terrifying spiders.
Seriously, the spiders are scary AF in this game. So much so that the devs put in a feature to tone down their spideryness and made it a point to call it out in a special prompt before you even start the game. These spiders aren’t rendered as some hyper-realistic nightmare fuel, either, but they feel so real. Why?
Because Grounded succeeds at immersing you in its world and playing by its rules. You don’t experience a human-sized spider that’s in our world. There’s a dissonance there that’s comforting. Instead, you experience a normal wolf spider from the perspective of a normal bug and your human brain haywires. It understands it would have no chance. It’s horrifying and awesome.
Mechanically, Grounded follows the conventions of the genre. You wake up the size of a bug with no backstory and start gathering twigs and pebbles to craft crude tools. As you gather tools and experience you unlock blueprints for better, more complicated stuff. A steady stream of objectives keeps you busy on the map and, as far as grinds go, Grounded is a good one.
This is bolstered by Obsidian’s talent for level design and creativity. You choose one of four characters to start and can play online with up to three other people in a shared world or one you’ve already started yourself. The map is chock full of ’90s vibes and found narrative, and the slightly cartoony feel of everything helps keep things light. Fake brands, like He-Man knockoff Yoked Girth, will get you to crack a smile. Then a spider eats you.
The upside to the spider eating you is that you can respawn and get your stuff. The penalty is in realizing an ant ate your food while you were dead. This is true for your home base, too. Grounded feeds you a zany sci-fi story to move you around the map, but your real goal is construction. Build a bugproof fortress and show those wolf spiders humans are more than just a pair of really big shoes.
Grounded is available now on Game Pass. It’s also available for purchase on Steam and Xbox.