Feature Article

The Alters Is An Ambitious Genre-Blending Survival Game

GameSpot may receive revenue from affiliate and advertising partnerships for sharing this content and from purchases through links.

Me, Myself, and I...

The Alters is a strange, genre-blending sci-fi survival game that's centered around cloning its protagonist. After Jan Dolski--a spaceship engineer--crash-lands on a desolate, uncharted planet he must clone himself to survive. It's an odd premise, but it's one that developer 11 Bit Studios tackles earnestly. Cloning Jan is built around a series of "What If?" questions: What if Jan pursued chemistry instead of engineering, or what if he stood up to his abusive father? These "What If?" questions are at the heart of The Alter's themes and narrative.

The demo begins as Jan crash-lands on a black sand beach with jagged cliffs and rough water. The Alters has a strong visual identity, with the almost-monochrome world punctuated by bright and colorful flares lighting up the sky as rain pours down. The world looks beautiful, ferocious, and alien all at once. As Jan makes his way to the Mobile Base--a giant wheel-like structure--he learns that his whole crew, including the captain, died on impact. He's alone and very, very far from home.

Please use a html5 video capable browser to watch videos.
This video has an invalid file format.
Sorry, but you can't access this content!
Please enter your date of birth to view this video

By clicking 'enter', you agree to GameSpot's
Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

Now Playing: The Alters Is An Ambitious Genre Blending Survival Game

Upon reaching the Mobile Base, Jan learns that he must relocate the base before sunrise, otherwise the sunlight will fry everything it touches. In order to get it up and running, Jan needs natural resources and a technician. And to accrue the necessary resources, Jan must set up mining outposts on top of mineral deposits in the surrounding area. The materials can then be transported to the Mobile Base by daisy-chaining pylons together. It's a rather straightforward process with just enough quirks and intricacies to keep it engaging. However, recruiting a technician is a bit tougher considering Jan is on the planet all by himself. This is where cloning comes in.

Each time you clone Jan, you are presented with a timeline of his life, and you can create branches at key moments that result in different Jans with different personalities and skill sets. As you create more Jans, more game systems open up and your odds of survival increase. However, cloning Jan comes with its own set of repercussions that 11 Bit Studios seems eager to explore. The first alternate Jan you create is a technician, and when he finds out he's a clone living in a universe where his childhood did not exist, he's understandably frustrated and confused.

Jan's decision to clone himself doesn't come easily, either. The logistical and ethical implications weigh heavily on him, but one person can't run the Mobile Base alone. Due to the urgency of the situation and pressure from the unsavory organization that funded the expedition, he suspends his moral dilemma and clones himself.

No Caption Provided

Backed by some light social-sim mechanics and dialogue options, proto-Jan must earn technician-Jan's trust by spending time and bonding with him. Chatting with Jan's alter is surprisingly novel. Sure, they are biologically the same person, but because technician-Jan chose a different path than proto-Jan, it's fascinating to see how their parallel lives have impacted who they are and how they navigate the world. The Alters, based on my two-hour preview, seems like the perfect setup to explore its themes of individualism and identity, and the complicated relationship of nature vs. nurture.

According to game director Tomasz Kisilewicz, "Learning and understanding their storylines while managing them effectively is at the core of…the game." While not every Jan will be as frustrated as technician-Jan, many of them will have their own flaws and insecurities that proto-Jan must navigate. Sometimes that’s through dialogue and other times it’s by creating a Jan that can compliment or uplift another. It's tough to say how deep these social-sim mechanics go, but considering how many genres 11 Bit Studios is balancing, a bit of restraint might go a long way. Too much sim management might muddle the experience, and too little might make it feel superfluous. After all, The Alters is a survival game first and foremost, and most of my time was spent outside of my ship, exploring the planet.

It's clear that 11 Bit Studios has a story it wants to tell, and this linearity seems to facilitate that narrative.

Like many survival games, much of your time is spent harvesting materials, building structures, and researching new technologies. However, The Alters' survival mechanics aren't as freeform as something you might see in Grounded or Valheim. The Mobile Base--at least in the first few hours--only moves for plot reasons. This means that players will likely experience the world in a similar manner: Explore the same areas, mine the same resources, and inhabit the same sections of the map. While this may turn some survival fans off, this linearity feels intentional. It's clear that 11 Bit Studios has a story it wants to tell, and this linearity seems to facilitate that narrative. Unlike other survival games, The Alters seems to have a definitive ending with clear goalposts: Build up the Mobile Base enough in order to fly back home.

If anything, the gameplay diversity lies in its management-sim mechanics. After you unlock the technician, a handful of different alters become available, and as long as you have the resources you can create whichever Jan you think is most helpful. From there, you can choose which technologies you'd like to prioritize, which alter is working on what, and how you'd like to arrange and upgrade your ship and its various modules. As you create more alters, you'll need to build more facilities to appease the growing demand. Eventually, your ship could become a small self-sufficient colony populated by Jans.

No Caption Provided

When I asked Kisilewicz about how 11 Bit Studios balances and blends all these disparate genres, he said, "We wanted to find the tools and elements of different genres that would suit the message…Combining them together was a big challenge, but also something exciting. If we can make these work together it’s going to be something else. Something different." In order for the player to feel like they are exploring an uncharted planet with a crew of clones, the gameplay needed to support that. That meant social-sim mechanics to give the crew a bit of dynamism, survival elements to make the planet feel dangerous, and management systems to fully utilize the crew.

Based on my hands-on session, it seems like 11 Bit Studios has found a way to merge these disparate genres in a way that feels elegant. No one mechanic or system felt overbearing, and all of them had a tangible purpose that fit with the overall premise. That said, The Alters is spinning a lot of plates at once, and I feel like it could all come crashing down with the slightest push. It's hard to say if that "push" will ever come based on my playtime, but after chatting with Kisilewicz, it seems like the team is well aware of their lofty ambitions. If 11 Bit Studios manages to blend all these genres together and thoughtfully explore its themes, I think The Alters could be something special.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

Back To Top