Grounded is One of The Best Horror Games In Years
Have you heard of Grounded? I don’t see it getting much mention in gaming press. I didn’t hear about it until a friend suggested it as something to play together. It is a sly devil, with a surprising amount of talent under the hood. Obsidian; universally loved for Fallout: New Vegas, Alpha Protocol, The Outer Worlds, and Pillars of Eternity are a company with a long list of successful RPGs. It is mildly strange to see them taking the reins on a game like Grounded. You see, Grounded is still in early access, and is approaching its second anniversary. Its time in the sun is long past, probably until it releases out of early access, or adds an update that truly revolutionizes the game as people know it.
What is Grounded? I’m over here talking about it but I’ve not explained it. Grounded is a first person survival crafting game set in a random backyard. You play as one of four characters; teens that have been shrunken down by a shrink ray. That’s right: It’s Honey I Shrunk The Kids: The videogame. This is played for whimsy, and that is reflected in the colorful world, goofy gadgets, and even a hamburger-making robot that assists you on your journey. It can and has been safely brushed off by more “serious” gamers as kids stuff. I think it’s been quite a long time since any game was “kid’s stuff”. We continually underestimate games with a cutesy exterior, only to find them hiding dark interiors. You could safely experience the world of Grounded and not think of what may be happening in the grander story.
You could take Grounded at face value: The kids are shrunk, they need to get unshrunk. There are giant bugs, but they’re pretty cute. You could experience the story in that way – as unfinished as it currently is – without engaging with some factual aspects of the world that are presented to you. One big thing is that it is clear that you are not the first people in this miniature world. On the scientist front there are laboratories spread throughout the world, outright stating that researchers were there before you. These laboratories are universally empty, hinting at some kind of mass breakdown of the system. They are in disrepair, no more than ruins occupied by angry sentry robots. There are notes and files that hint at something happening. Something that drove the scientists out of the backyard, but it is never explicitly stated.
In its current early access state, Grounded leaves a lot up to interpretation. It’s fun to think about what may have happened to these intrepid researchers, exploring what is essentially an alien world. Outside of the researchers, it is made fairly clear that you were not the first teens to step foot in the shrunken world, either. Weapons and armor built out of bug carapaces can be found throughout the world, abandoned by their previous owners. Numerous versions of the S.C.A.B, a wrist-mounted personal assistant of sorts, can be found discarded all over the place. Some in seemingly normal areas, others in places like the bottom of the koi pond in the backyard. Who were the original wearers of these? Where are they? The one thing that stands out the most is that you won’t find any bodies.
Grounded does try to keep up the appearance of a fun and whimsical world, and that means not showing you what happened to those that came before you. Deciding to state definitively what happened, or show their bodies, would mean that Grounded and Obsidian lose their plausible deniability. It would mean choosing between whimsical survival crafting game, or horror survival crafting game. As it stands, you get a bit of both, without leaning too far in either direction. These inferred and implied dark events aren’t the only thing that make Grounded one of the best horror games in recent memory. The bugs do a great job of keeping you terrified. There is a day and night cycle in Grounded, and at night the real hard shit happens. Giant, gangly spiders with glowing red eyes roam the world. Wolf spiders, to be exact. They are fast, merciless, and somehow make some of the most demonic sounds I’ve heard from a creature in a videogame.
Grounded understands arachnaphobia though, and allows players to set a “spider slider” to make the spiders less…spidery. This does nothing to effect bugs that should never be seen up close and larger than life, such as: Weevils, bees, ladybugs, waterbugs, and pretty much every other “enemy” in the game. Grounded excels in helplessness. Without a severe grind to get yourself leveled (yeah there’s a rudimentary leveling system. Come on, it’s Obsidian), you’ll constantly feel overwhelmed by the denizens of the backyard. You were never meant to tread in their domain, and they’re happy to point that out every in-game day. I’m not saying Grounded is a scare-a-minute horror masterpiece. It is subtle. The implications of the world are what should scare you. You should shrink -pun intended- away from the horrors just behind that whimsical facade. If you are a fan of horror or just survival crafting, you can go check it out right HERE before the second anniversary in July.