Small really is the name of the game for Obsidian's left-field survival sim. For a game that revolves around four tiny teens who'd have to get on their tippy-toes to look an ant in the eye, the fact Grounded is being made by a team of just 13 people feels apt.
Speaking to GamesRadar, game director Adam Brennecke isn't shy admitting this cartoony survivor is essentially Honey, I Shrunk The Kids: The 30-Year-Late Tie-In. "I'm a child of the '80s, so I grew up with [those movies]... If you go back to The Goonies, for example, that sense of adventure, all the way to Stranger Things more recently, there's the idea of being a kid again and exploring a strange new place. It's still familiar to everyone."
Not that mini Sean Astin, Mouth, Data and co ever had to contend with homicidal spiders the size of a huge African elephant. While elements of Grounded come off as a tad derivative during our hands-on – constructing shelter and bases from ramshackle bits of wood is a dead ringer for Fortnite – that killer micro-verse USP gives this cheerful yet surprisingly vicious sim real legs. All the legs, in fact. We lose count of the number of soldier ants that try to mutilate us so they can serve us up as brunch for their queen.
Yet in spite of the familiar systems it uses, the refreshing perspective puts a seriously cute spin on traditional survival tropes. Want to top up that thirst meter? Why risk drowning in a puddle the length of Loch Ness when you can simply saunter up to a moist blade of grass and punch a droplet of morning dew for a refreshing garden beverage. Feel peckish? Lay the smackdown on a gnat then cook its creepy-crawly corpse over a spit. The microscopic action is a brilliant hook.
Quit bugging us
In a clever touch, not all these insects are your oversized enemies. Under the right circumstances, a ladybug will cheerfully guide you towards food, while the dust from the corpses of mites can be used to craft sturdy clothing for your survivor. Don't worry, we're sure the mite is totally cool with giving up its life to provide you with a tank top... probably.
The gargantuan garden's eight- legged freaks are obviously a different matter. These ferocious arachnids act as Grounded's apex predators when the sun goes down. Should you accidentally trip into a strand of webbing, dinner bells ring for the spider, with the beast immediately scurrying along for its supper.
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Thanks to the game's clever ecosystem though, even these terrifying web-spinners can be tricked into helping your band of survivors. Lure a colony of ants into a spider's lair and an almighty ruck will kick off. Similarly, if you slay too many aphids in a certain area, that has a knock-on effect on the nearby ladybird population. It's clever stuff which suggests Obsidian has an imaginative systems-driven sandbox on its hands.
Yet this isn't a sandbox in the Minecraft mould. Remember, you're still dealing with Obsidian: maker of Fallout: New Vegas and a studio with some real storytelling successes to its name. Whether you play on your lonesome or as part of a four-player online squad, Grounded has an actual story and a proper ending.
You're given narrative reasons to venture into new areas, with some Metroidvania-style item-gating helping give your progress a more focused structure. We can't wait to do some serious bug bonding this coming spring.