Have you ever thought about the drastically different life you might have had if you’d made a single decision differently? I’ve certainly got my own version of this – I met the partner I moved halfway across the country for through the Friendship is Magic fandom, so if not for my decision to watch a children’s cartoon that I’d already been a little skeptical about, I’d probably still be living in the Philadelphia suburbs where I grew up.
In that other world line, what’s that version of me doing? Would he still be writing? Would he have stayed at that retail job? Would we even like each other if we met? These kinds of questions are what lies at the heart of The Alters, a sci-fi survival title from 11-bit Studios that I recently got to see in a hands-off presentation that left me extremely curious.
The game centers around a protagonist tasked with mining precious ore on a distant and dangerous planet. To accomplish his task, he has a machine that allows him to recruit alternate versions of himself who made different decisions in his past and ended up on other career trajectories. These “Alters” have their minds simulated and then placed into bodies that the original Jan can grow in an incubator in his base, and together, they’ll have to survive and keep their operation afloat…if they can do so without killing each other.
The game has two effective modes. Outside of the base, you’ll be seeking both sources of the mineral Jan has been assigned to collect and trying to keep himself and the mobile base safe from the elements – the sun on this planet is deadly. While the nights are blessedly long, he can’t let himself be exposed to it.
The mining function was fascinating – the player has to craft and put down stakes that connect into polygonal shapes and try to enclose the source of the mineral in one of these shapes before constructing a rig to mine it out. These rigs also act as fast-travel points, allowing him to return to work more quickly. The player must also work around environmental hazards, such as intensely irradiated areas and even glowing-hot lava.
This might seem stressful, but the stuff going on inside the base is even more so. See, while Jan is out surveying the land, the rest of his alternate selves are also doing their own assigned tasks – assuming that they’re not fighting with each other.
Each of the Alters, which will vary by each player (it was clarified that players will not be able to see all of them in a single playthrough, and the number of Alters you can create is capped by player progress), has their own wants and needs. Sometimes, they’ll actively conflict with other versions of Jan. If you let these situations get out of hand without resolution or resolve them in a way one of your selves doesn’t like, it can end gruesomely.
In the demonstration, the Miner Jan alter was struggling with inverted phantom pains – in his own life, he’s missing an arm due to an accident. Being placed into a fully intact body has triggered psychological pain similar to the phantom limb pain that amputees sometimes feel, and he’s currently abusing opioids in order to continue functioning, though obviously, such medication is highly risky given his dangerous job.
The player in the demonstration chose to withhold the medication after a minor incident where Miner Jan was injured, and a few days later, got an alert that someone was hurt in the base’s kitchen – Miner Jan had, in a fit of withdrawal psychosis, amputated the arm himself to fix the problem.
This dramatic note was where the demo ended, leaving me a bit shaken. Still, I’m also intensely curious about the possibilities of this title – not only did I want to keep the story going and help get Jan through the assignment, but I also wanted to keep learning more about the Alters and how they interact with each other.
How many were there that I didn’t even get to see? How will I keep expanding the base to accommodate them all? Is it even possible to keep everyone happy? I guess I’ll just have to wait to find out.
The Alters will be released in 2024 for PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series consoles.
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