Everything old is new again. That’s Grounded, based on the short demo I just played as part of Steam’s Summer Games Festival. A bit of exploration, a bit of crafting, some clumsy first-person combat. A world of interesting things to investigate that gradually expands in every direction. This is hardly new. But that world! Huge blades of grass rising overhead. Pausing beneath a canopy of clover. A building on the horizon, a sheer white wall, and when you approach it’s a thing of Tic-Tacs dropped in the earth. The sell for Grounded is so simple: it’s Honey I Shrunk the Kids, a bunch of you in the backyard suddenly no bigger than ants. But that simple sell is also completely transformative. The world of Grounded is magical.
I start the demo underground, soft earth leading off in several directions. I wander for a bit, picking up stems of smaller plants and eventually find a small geodesic dome – a place where I can analyse the things I find. My job is just to explore for now, explore and gather things and work out what’s nearby. I see ants, and a ladybug that I absolutely refuse to mess with. I round a corner and golden sunlight lances through the grass – grass which is so thick I’m going to need a tool to cut through it.
The main bulk of the demo as I played it appears to be a gadget on the lawn that I’m trying to get reactivated. It has computer chips and a mother board inside – a terrain that I can literally walk around on top of – and three lasers that connect to it to power it up. Some of the lasers are blocked, and unblocking them is the obvious mission.
And that’s fine. Make an axe to chop down a leaf that’s getting in the way, investigate whatever’s eating a wire that is stopping another laser from working properly. All perfectly good stuff to be getting on with. But Grounded is already so much more than that.
Because it’s my own world, just smaller, it’s a world where the fantasy is enormously easy to get drawn into. I looked up at one moment and saw a giant shape looming in the distance. A human house, incomprehensibly vast. I saw a bubble of dew in the grass and drank it to keep off thirst.
Crucially, I got lost. I got lost! In this little world of demo-scale landmarks, simple paths from A to B, in this world built for children to enjoy a bit of RPG fun, I got completely lost, couldn’t find my geodesic dome or the path I had been on or that contraption with the lasers. I wandered, encountering increasingly frightening looking insects who I didn’t want to get into a fight with, finding useful stuff to collect, but always looking for a landmark I recognised without finding one. I fell into a deep lake, that was probably just a light puddle. I got thoroughly turned around and a little frightened.
And then over a ridge a landmark I knew. My saviour. A thing of Tic-Tacs dropped in the earth. Grounded is going to be pretty special, I think.