Along with our predominant Game of the Yr Awards 2022, every member of the PC Gamer staff is shining a highlight on a game they beloved this 12 months. We’ll put up new private picks, alongside our predominant awards, all through the remainder of the month.
I’ve performed so many survival video games which have worn me out that I’d by no means think about it considered one of my favorite genres, however issues have undoubtedly been trying up recently. Final 12 months’s GOTY, Valheim, was a cracker, eliminating plenty of bullshit and as a substitute specializing in adventures into the unknown and artistic constructing. However it was this 12 months’s Grounded that made survival correctly enjoyable.
Grounded has all of the hallmarks of a conventional survival game, from its beefy crafting menu to starvation and thirst administration. However all the things it does is recontextualised because of the novelty of the setting: you play considered one of 4 teenagers stranded in a suburban backyard, shrunk down a lot that ants are as large as canine and spiders are as large as homes.
So as a substitute of worrying about monsters and mutants or different people, you as a substitute have to fret about critters, whose patterns and behaviours are much more attention-grabbing than most survival threats. Common ants, for example, are inquisitive and would possibly even steal a few of your stuff, however usually they will not assault. However in case you preserve harassing and killing them, they will begin to understand you as a risk, and even mount an invasion to drive you out of the backyard.
Spying on these huge bugs and studying what makes them tick will go away you feeling extra like David Attenborough than some determined survivor. Despite the fact that loss of life may be fairly frequent, and being chased by a spider by a grassy forest at night time is genuinely fairly terrifying, the vibe is extra nature documentary than horror. Earlier than you dominate the backyard, you will need to first perceive it. The thread of scientific discovery working by the game accentuates this, after which rewards exploration with new innovations, each sensible and aesthetic.
And for all of the backyard’s threats, most of the time it is an ally, serving to you out. Even earlier than you begin erecting mushroom gardens and dew collectors, it is easy to seek out nourishment beneath the tall grass. Chuck a rock at some dew hanging on a blade of grass and you will quench your thirst. And throughout you might be little aphids and different tiny bugs that make scrumptious snacks.
Quickly you will be defending your self with shields constructed from ladybug carapaces, blood-sucking swords made out of lifeless mosquitoes and armour made out of acorns. Even fairly normal gear turns into a lot extra playful once you’re an inch tall. And the applying of videogame logic and a stylised aesthetic stops you from feeling like some type of grotesque insect butcher.
When you’re extra succesful, you can begin pushing additional out, into the unknown. A sandpit filled with spiders, a skyscraper-sized picnic desk that is develop into dwelling to some bees, a poisonous wasteland stuffed with a miasma because of bug-killing pesticides, an enormous pond patrolled by a hungry fish—once you’re ant-sized, a backyard may be simply as thrilling and unique as probably the most out-there fantasy setting. This backyard can also be blessed with some phenomenal landmarks. Constructing-sized baseballs, discarded toys that dominate the panorama just like the Statue of Liberty, even an enormous, totally purposeful Etch A Sketch—there is not a greater survival area for sightseeing.
Finally you will be utilizing ziplines and dandelion gliders to get round, or constructing elaborate staircases that wind their means up bushes and big thickets, evoking the halcyon days of treehouse-building. Once more, the setting is Grounded’s superpower, making building initiatives infinitely extra whimsical. To guard my pond-adjacent base, for example, I turned a knocked-over juice field right into a makeshift watchtower, permitting me to pepper any eight-legged invaders with arrows from security.
The backyard is big, too, and the absence of quick journey means you will be doing plenty of strolling. However there’s a lot pleasure to be present in exploration that I hardly observed the absence of this comfort. The longer the journey, the larger the journey. After I was a child, I used to stay close to the woods, and in the summertime I might wander beneath the bushes and sunbeams pretending I used to be on some epic, Lord of the Rings-style journey. Together with some associates I even created a base made out of tarp and sticks and leaves. By means of rose-tinted glasses I bear in mind being extra content material then than I’ve ever been since, and my journeys by Grounded’s backyard and its everlasting summer time seize that feeling completely. It is a time journey machine.
At night time, although, the woods turned extra sinister, and it is the identical for the backyard. With each footstep there’s one other trace of hazard. Am I strolling right right into a spider’s lair? Am I about to get up some aggravated bombardier beetles? Along with your imaginative and prescient restricted, the acquainted sounds of the backyard begin to develop into extra menacing, threatening. However that may be exhilarating, and it makes these lengthy journeys extra partaking. You need to plan for the chance that you’re going to be removed from the security of your base when the solar goes down. In the event you put together, or find yourself in a resource-rich space at night time, you’ll be able to quickly construct a bit of outpost, climb into your leafy lean-to, and sleep by the darkness.
When Grounded does develop into lethal, it by no means ventures too removed from its Saturday morning cartoon and family-friendly film roots. It at all times feels playful, and also you see all the things by the eyes of an upbeat child, with every playable character providing commentary and gags. It is all very reassuring. Arachnophobes may even tone down the spiders, eradicating the options that freak them out. Is it the legs you hate? Gone! The evil beady eyes? Gone! Broader game settings even allow you to take away all threats, permitting you to expertise the backyard as a artistic sandbox where you will by no means die.
It is an excellent source of solo adventures, however Grounded actually involves life once you’re mucking round with associates. There are sensible advantages, in fact, growing the quantity of assets you’ll be able to collect in a single journey and letting you divide duties—you lighting up darkish caves with torches whereas your buddies batter threats with two-handed weapons. However for me the attraction has been the shared expertise: uncovering mysteries collectively, or dragging mates off the crushed observe to point out them the newest cool toy I’ve found.
Grounded has been an exquisite panacea for a dark 12 months.