The Alters Preview – Aiming To Replicate Success

By admin May24,2024

Every so often, I see a premise for a game that really grabs me. The Alters is the latest with its unique take on the “what if” questions and multiverses. What starts as seemingly a standard survival game set on a hostile alien planet quickly introduces enticing base-building mechanics and a fun premise of escaping an ever-encroaching deadly sunrise. But it’s the unique idea of the main character not only learning how different his life would have been had he made different choices at pivotal moments in his past but also being able to meet and work alongside those versions of himself that enthralled me. I recently traveled to Warsaw, Poland, to meet with 11 Bit Studios and be among the first to play The Alters, and I’m pleased to report that as exciting as the premise is, it works even better in motion.

Players experience The Alters as Jan Dolski, an everyday worker who thinks he’s snagged the career opportunity of a lifetime. He and his team head to an alien planet in search of Rapidium, a mysterious, new element that space-mining corporation Ally Corp is extremely interested in. Using the Quantum Navigation System, Jan and his team head for a planet in a Triple Star System—a system with three suns—but something goes wrong. Horribly wrong, in fact.

Getting His Bearings

Getting His Bearings

As the Prologue kicks off, Jan stumbles out of his pod. “That was a tough landing,” he mutters to himself as he tries to clear his head from the impact. Clad in a futuristic spacesuit, Jan attempts to reach out via his communication device but is greeted with silence. I begin wandering around in the third-person view as Jan says, “I need to figure out what happened.”

The planet Jan has landed on features a desolate landscape. Grey, craggy cliffs roll directly into raging black tides that appear oily in makeup. The only vibrant color I can spot is a red cloud of smoke; the emergency flare from Jan’s crashing pod starkly contrasts the grey ground. As Jan continues, he spots his captain’s pod. After running up to it, he realizes that she’s dead. But she didn’t die from the crash; the pod is intact, and she looks like she died inside of it. Jan continues climbing up the mountain and comes to a vista. On one side, he spots a dreary beach area with several pods belonging to his team. Unfortunately, there’s no sign of life. On the other side of his view, he spots the giant, wheel-shaped mobile base he and his team are responsible for. 

The timing is serendipitous as he receives a warning of an incoming radiation wave. He needs to get to that mobile base ASAP. I sprint down the side of the mountain, getting Jan into the shielded base with seconds to spare. The camera shifts to a side perspective each time he enters the mobile base. Jan needs to contact someone and let them know what happened, so I navigate him to the Comms Room. While you’re in the base, you can view the layout of the rooms from a zoomed-out perspective, similar to XCOM’s base map. And, just like XCOM’s base-building, you can build new modules and rearrange existing ones. But for now, I decide to advance the story by bringing Jan to the Communications Room. 

I take an elevator up one floor and find the room I’m looking for. Only one contact is listed as online: Unknown. The call consists of static with barely distinguishable words sneaking through. During dialogue, I’m given the option to choose how to respond. I declare that I’m the captain, and the person on the other end says something about “imminent danger” and “time remaining.” These words obviously grab Jan’s attention, who does his best to get more information from the awful connection. After some more probing, he gets more keywords like “planet activity rising,” “lethal proximity,” and “must escape.” All very comforting for a man who is the sole survivor of his crew.

Jan finally ascertains that one of the three stars in the planet’s system is too close, and if it rises over the horizon, it will burn Jan and the mobile base to a crisp. That event happens in eight days, so he needs to get that base up and running so it can escape the encroaching sunrise and move toward an extraction point before then. After reviewing the Captain’s Logs in the system, I learn all about Ally Corp, the radioactive Rapidium, and the Evacuation Protocol. Unfortunately, there’s not much he can do until one of the other two stars rises again and dissipates the nightly radiation wave, so I guide him to bed. The longer Jan sleeps each night, the more energy he has the next day; if you try to work while exhausted, he won’t be as effective or efficient at his tasks.

Venturing Out

Venturing Out

Upon awakening the next day, I need to gather six metals outside in order to construct the room I need. I head to the airlock and return to the planet’s surface. The camera swings back to the third-person view as I head back to the planet’s grey landscape. I learn that metal deposits are indicated by red dust. A few nearby deposits draw me to them, so I mine and collect enough metal. I decide to explore a bit more, but not only is Jan tired, but one of the planet’s three suns is about to set, meaning that a deadly radiation wave is incoming. I head back to the base and use the evening hours to make progress there.

Back in the base, I enter the building mechanics, select the Workshop module to build, and place it next to the Comms Room. Now that I have a Workshop, I can craft tools and components. The game guides me to craft a scanner, which will take one in-game hour. As with all tasks – whether it’s mining or crafting – time speeds up while Jan completes the task. With the scanner complete, I’m ready to look for another natural resource on the planet: organic material. Unfortunately, that won’t be doable until the next morning, as the radiation wave is ravaging the outdoors until morning, so I put Jan to bed.

The next morning, I head towards some blue dust in the distance, as that signals the location of organic deposits. However, as I’m walking through a cave, I notice some strange visual effects. At first, I thought it was a visual glitch involving a strange pop-in or the lighting system malfunctioning – I’m playing an in-development build, after all. However, as I continue along that path, it’s more evident that this cool effect, which looks like fine light rays bursting from the ground, is intentional. As I turn a corner, there’s what looks like a massive blossom of these light rays. I approach them, and Jan remarks that this must be Rapidium, the primary focus on the mining mission that he and his dearly departed team were on the lookout for.

I spend the next several hours collecting samples, finishing just in time for the radiation levels to rise again. I run back to the base just in time. I head to the Comms Room and chat with the caller on the other side. The person on the other side is excited that Jan thinks he discovered Rapidium and provides a room blueprint for a “Womb.” After building it and adding it to the base, I can test the Rapidium sample. Using the Womb, Rapidium, and a DNA sample, Jan successfully creates a sheep. He reports back, confirming that it is indeed Rapidium, then heads to bed.

The next morning arrives and I decide to take a different path: I want to investigate the drop pods of Jan’s fallen teammates. I head to the beach I spotted earlier, where I find Jan’s multitool. I still have time before the radiation hits, so I go to the blue dust off in the distance by the Rapidium I found yesterday. After climbing some cliffsides, I arrive at a flat area with several deposits. However, I can’t just mine it like I did with metal. After using Jan’s newly crafted scanner, I built a mining outpost and then connected pylons all the way back to the base. I initially didn’t realize I had a finite number of pylons, so I had to reposition the network of pylons, but thankfully that process is smooth enough. This unlocks fast travel between the outpost and base, which will definitely come in handy as those radiation waves start kicking up.

Speaking of which, it’s time to head back to the base and see if Jan can get the engine of the base running, but first, it’s dinner time. Jan heads to the kitchen to craft some Mush Meals. They don’t look or sound appetizing, but I’m sure they’re chockful of nutrients. The gameplay loop of venturing out to the planet, scouring for resources, and then returning to steadily build up the base scratches that survival itch that, when it hits just right, can hook you on a game for hours upon hours. Those were the hooks that began sinking into me as I went through these early hours of The Alters. I likely would have been content with this loop if this was the entire game, but the main thrust of the game’s very concept was about to reveal itself.

Where Things Get Wild

Here’s Where Things Get Wild

Jan thinks he’s solved the problem of getting the mobile base operational and able to outrun the encroaching sunrise, but nothing can be easy for him in this endeavor. He tests the engine, but it not only fails but it sparks and smokes. He calls back to Earth to the Ally Corp employee he’s been talking with to complain. The voice on the other line says, “Rapidium can save you.” Jan ventures down to the Quantum Computer. All personnel records have been deleted except for his. Jan accesses his Mind Record, which shows a timeline of Jan’s entire life, complete with crucial decisions he has made dating back to his childhood – the ones he reflects on during his quiet moments. I see Jan’s choice to ignore a mugging he saw on the street as a teen, his decision to drop out of school, and his choice not to fight for his marriage. Jan, obviously confused, runs back up to the Comms Room and demands an explanation.

The voice on the other line doesn’t give much in the way of satisfying answers, but it does provide assistance in another way. The voice says, “Activate Branching Protocol,” followed by “Create The Alters.” Jan, devoid of other options, walks back down to the Quantum Computer and accesses those key decision points in his Mind Record. Searching for a Branching Point, Jan pinpoints one where he could see what if, instead of moving away, he stayed home and took care of his mother. 

After a cutscene that shows that Jan has some seriously conflicted feelings about what he’s doing, the result is ready in The Womb. An Alter of Jan Dolski emerges. He appears slightly different in facial hair and hairstyle, plus he speaks slightly differently. But make no mistake; this is Jan Dolski. However, this alternate path sent him down the road to becoming a technician. To denote the difference between your Jan and this new one in the menus, this new one is called Jan Technician. My Jan tries to catch Jan Technician up on the situation, but Technician is clearly confused and irritated by what’s going on.

As I try to explain things to him, I’m given dialogue options, with each one pulling different emotions from him: words like “Anxiety,” “Insecurity,” “Fun,” “Less Gloom,” “Frustration,” and “Rebellion” pop up around his face each time I provide an answer. As you grow your roster of Alters, you’re responsible for monitoring the mental states of the Alters on your team. I can’t help but feel there’s no way to end this first chat with Technician on great terms, so while he helps me to fix the engine, he tells my Jan to stay away from him. My Jan lets Technician storm off. It’s okay; the mobile base is officially mobile again, and the Jans can escape the sunrise. For now.

Getting Rolling

Getting Rolling

The base begins rolling like a giant wheel. As the base traverses the planet’s surface, I craft a repair kit to fix the Comms Room; now, I can finally fully understand the person on the other line with minimal static. Afterward, I return to the Quantum Computer and access Jan’s Mind Record. Where I chose as the decision point to create Jan Technician, a new branch on the Mind Record timeline has split off. I can now see Technician’s life choices and key decision moments that differ from my Jan’s life. It’s a fascinating exercise in learning how different lives can become based on one different decision.

You can create several Alters, each with their own specialties, personalities, and looks, based on which decision point you decide to engage with. For example, what if Jan intervened in the mugging he witnessed as a kid? That would create a doctor Alter that allows characters to heal and cook faster. What if Jan took the job his deadbeat dad offered him instead of telling him to shove it? That would create a miner who allows the team to be more efficient at mining. What if you decide to stay in college instead of dropping out? That gives you the scientist Alter, who can research new technologies.

Creating Alters seems as much about developing the correct team composition as it is about ensuring that the personalities don’t clash too much. However, you don’t have much information before creating your Alters, so it’s probably best to just hope for the best and smooth things over after the fact. I legitimately can’t wait to see how I can put my teams together and how the various personalities will interact with one another once I have a full team of Jans in the final game. For this demo, I need to make amends with Technician before I can hope to fill out my team even more. I engage in a conversation with him, make the right dialogue choices, and before I know it, my Jan is trying to make their mom’s trademark pierogi recipe from their limited ingredients and reminiscing on their family. With that, Jan Technician’s mood and cooperation improve, and things are finally starting to look up.

My time with The Alters is about to come to a close, so I run up to the Comms Room, and I see that I have a call from a new person. I won’t spoil it, but it is a person from Jan’s past, which adds an extra fold to the story and where we’re going with the what-if scenarios concerning Jan’s past. However, shortly after I hang up, the base stops, and it’s time to see what I need to do to get things rolling once again. 

“You are running from the sun all the time; you have this huge mobile base, and whenever you finish an act – you managed to overcome some problem that was blocking you – you start rolling to the rendezvous point where you are supposed to meet the rescue team that is going to take you home,” lead designer Rafał Włosek says. “It was very difficult for us to balance this in such a way so we could create pressure and create this feeling that you have to survive and make sure that the player will not stay too long in one place, because we want the story to progress, but at the same time, we didn’t want to create a situation of too much tension where you cannot focus on your Alters and the [what-if] questions we want to talk about with you.”

The words “Act 1” flash across the screen with a message that the sunrise is coming in 29 days, and it seems like the game is ready to begin. Everything to this point seems to be an in-depth tutorial; just like Jan, I learned on the job. Now I’m itching to start the real job of making more Jan Alters and getting the crew off the dangerous planet. After spending over two hours with The Alters, 11 Bit Studios’ immersive survival with a multiversal twist has skyrocketed up my most-anticipated list. I can’t wait to see how Jan’s story plays out when The Alters arrives on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC later this year.

By admin

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