Grounded (Xbox Series X) Review

A Yard’s Reimagining

Grounded (Xbox Series X) Review 1
Grounded (Xbox Series X) Review


Brutalist Review Style (Version 2)

It feels like its been a LONG time since Obsidian Entertainment’s Grounded has joined the Xbox Game Pass library under the ‘Preview’ state, and since then, development has made leaps and bounds on the inner workings of a title that shows real promise. The finished state of Grounded is a survival title with solid mechanics, with the ability to tug on anyone’s inner child heartstrings and inspire excitement to explore the vast yard.

The story is a simple one: you wake up as one of four teenage characters — not unlike other hit survival game Left 4 Dead — and you find out that not only have you been released from a silver briefcase, but you are now the size of an insect, but smaller than even that. The main objective is to return to your previous size, and ‘Go Home’ which is denoted by a very easy-to-read quest screen. The storyline here is a simple one that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but this is a good concept all things considered.

Grounded (Xbox Series X) Review 2

This title has Honey, I Shrunk The Kids DNA plastered all over it, as the player must survive the harsh conditions of the yard in order to ‘fix’ themselves. As Max, I set out on adventure to swiftly find out even insects are adversaries that should be taken seriously. Although Grounded borrows from inspiration such as the Joe Johnston film from 1989, it still retains its very own unique identity. A survival game that hits all the right familiar notes, while remaining fresh and new is a hard task, but one that Obsidian handles with skilled hands.

After escaping the case and venturing out, blades of grass stand far taller than your small frame, small pebbles can be picked up and utilized as throwing weapons or fashioned into better weapons with handles. After making myself a small axe from a rock, plant fibre, and a small plant stalk, I have means of defending myself. Small ‘lawn mites’ are no match for the prowess of the now Conan Exiles’ equipped Max, and gathering resources becomes easier with the new tool.

The first discovery I have made was a small research shack, which there are MANY of, where only ‘Analyzing’ found resources can be done three times before being forced to wait for the battery to recharge. This is a surprisingly good option. The crafting menus can feel a tad overwhelming at first and forcing the player to wait before revealing more item aspects is a good way to force you back outdoors to explore. Analyzing items allows for new crafting options to become available, while also increasing the player’s science level, more on that later though.

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There are MANY systems to become familiar with in the yard. Crafting is one of them that is NECESSARY for survival. The others are shown in the lower left corner of the screen which denotes the player’s health, hunger, thirst, and stamina meters. By building a small fire pit to cook, insect carapaces become fine dining, and surprisingly the meters fill rather quickly.

Attention to detail is superb here, drinking random water off the floor poisons the player which leads to finding clean water sources — such as dew droplets — another necessary task, unlike when you drink from urinals in Fallout: New Vegas which barely punishes the player. Although each task does feel massive in the grand scope of things, figuring out how to craft armour out of insect parts, building a shelter to rest at, and even analyzing new items is an accomplishment.

While the narrative isn’t the most compelling, it does advance the story enough. There is lore to pick up, and other scarcely placed characters to interact with such as the robot BURG. L to get some background information on the more technical aspects of Grounded, as well as functioning as a quest giver that opens new options to the player and advances the story in different ways. On top of that, upon discovering the BURG. L in an abandoned looking lab, more information is introduced to the player, and your real ‘best weapon’ reveals itself as science.

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Science functions as a currency, that allows the player to craft more advanced weaponry, level certain stats like maximum health, and obtain perks. Once you meet BURG.L, these science shops open at all the research locations, allowing the player to spend science at any of the found shacks scattered across the yard. There are many systems in place to help players succeed in Grounded, and when everything works correctly, running across the hazard ridden unkept yard becomes seriously FUN. The former ‘Bombardier Beetle’ now falls to a few blows from my trusty ‘Red Ant Club,’ although the player must remain vigilant.

Grounded is a unique title with a simple premise, but a lot of meat on its bones.”

This title shows no mercy. Although all the systems in place work very well, everything in the yard wants to kill the teenagers. There are of course insects around that stay neutral, but most are aggressive and will attempt to make you dinner. Mastery over the hit, block, perfect block, and when to strike next will be crucial in surviving the insect scourge of the yard. A massive spider enemy called ‘Orb Weavers’ can trap you with their webs, even making positioning a crucial component in battle. I accidentally came across a ‘Wolf Spider’ during my travels, and it was an easy life reset, that enemy does NOT mess around.

After ‘getting dunked on’ by the spider, I found myself at my most recently created sleeping spot, with NONE of my gear. Everything you’re carrying drops when you die. Thankfully, you can build a small item storage to hold stuff in, so you don’t have to basically restart. Players can also retrieve their items from the backpack dropped at their untimely demise. Although I couldn’t experience Grounded in co-op, it always felt like something was missing, and I would bet it plays far better with friends across the desolate yard. This is a problem for me. With all the space in the yard, it feels empty. More characters placed on the map would have made it feel livelier.

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The soundtrack is another notable mention here. The ambient sounds that serenade the player while exploring are a perfect match for the mysteries the yard brings. When a threat is imminent, the sound adjusts accordingly, just as the player must adapt when confronting new enemies. There is a lack of diversity here, but the sound effects and background music are completely acceptable, especially how it feels when your weaponry collides with the insect menace.

Grounded is a unique title with a simple premise, but a lot of meat on its bones. The crafting systems, and general exploration are a must-try for fans that enjoy sprawling sandbox titles loaded with danger, but the desolate feeling of the title, and fans who enjoy a story with their exploration may feel a little lost here. The combat system does also feel a little lacking: the very simple hit and block mechanics becomes slightly stale over an extended period, but a swath of varied insect enemy types makes it a little easier to get over.

Another slight gripe I have is that the four teenagers play exactly the same, there are no special abilities to play off of, which feels like an oversight. The excellent level design, and creative uses of everyday objects like juice boxes are a sight to behold however and make this game an easy recommend for those who have Xbox Game Pass, or for those who just want to adventure with friends against an insect horde.

Final Thoughts

Philip Watson
Philip Watson

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