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The RPS Advent Calendar 2022, December 7th

Small but mighty

A week of Advent Calendar posts already! Time flies when you're having fun, but it also flies when you're very small and have to survive in garden that's suddenly the size of a forest. Mind the spiders.

It's Honey-I-Shrunk-The-Kids-'em up Grounded!

Good things come in ant-sized packagesWatch on YouTube

Hayden: Survival games tend to feel very similar. Eat, drink, sleep, repeat. The needs system is usually the main adversary, and the challenge lies in those needs being difficult to meet. Grounded doesn’t stray too far from that idea, as even when you're an ant-sized child trying to survive a suburban garden, failing to meet your basic needs will lead to death. But the rest of the game doesn’t merely focus on gating off those goods to impose added difficulty. In Grounded, simply spending time in the garden is its own threat thanks to the big bugs lurking within.

The most obvious example is the mega-spiders who stamp around with style. They make their presence known at all times by shaking the very ground you walk on. Towering blades of grass tremble as the arachnid army invades new areas, and it makes you feel that nowhere is ever truly safe. Spiders aren’t simply obstacles popping up to block your path at night; they’re a constant presence, stomping around and filling you with fear. When you eventually come face to face with one, you’ll feel powerless and desperate to escape, as you might when the baddie tears into your hiding place in horror favourite Amnesia.

Grounded character stares over the garden and up towards the oak tree, beneath a blue sky.

Of course, those spiders are just one terrifying part of a wider ecosystem. The whole garden is abuzz, teeming with insects that scuttle around to tick off chores like a bunch of parents in Asda on a Friday night. Following them around to learn what they’re after might reveal more about their behaviours, but the biggest treat comes when insects start interacting with the environment, impacting you in smaller ways. Beetles hunt smaller critters, chasing them in a desperate attempt to catch some food, while ants stream past your base and knick objects scattered on the floor. It makes you feel small and inconsequential, because the world could tick along just fine without you. Heck, it’d probably tick along even better if you weren’t disrupting the food chain.

It all comes together to make you feel tiny in a big world, and that's often what makes Grounded’s garden inherently dangerous. Most of the world works against you, but it shows that you simply aren’t meant to be there, and that constant threat makes it one of my favourite worlds to play in.

Ollie: At some point, we've all idly asked ourselves the same question. The same age-old conundrum. "What happens if a spider the size of a school suddenly barges into my house and tries to eat me?"

The answer, as Grounded teaches us, is invariably to jump out of your skin - possibly with a mild scream tacked on as well - and then either turn tail and run blindly the other way, or to very quickly become arachnifood. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Grounded is a strong contender for the scariest game ever made. There's something very special about the atmosphere that comes with being miniaturised and getting a fresh new, dauntingly up-close perspective on the various creepy-crawlies that inhabit one's garden. It's an atmosphere that keeps me coming back to Grounded time after time. But it's also an atmosphere that sets off a very primatial urge to physically defend myself when eight-legged danger approaches. I'm surprised I haven't smashed my monitor to bits over this game already. Not out of frustration, you understand. Out of pure fear.

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