Jan Dolski running towards his spaceship in The Alters.
Image Source: 11 Bit Studios

The Alters Hands-On Preview – A Pleasant Surprise

So many variants!

Going into my hands-on play session with 11 Bit Studios’ The Alters, I truly had no idea what to expect. First announced at the 2022 PC Gaming Show, it’s quite a significant step away from the games that put the Polish studio on the map. If you’re familiar with Frostpunk and its upcoming sequel, The Alters will definitely subvert your expectations – but that’s absolutely a good thing.

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You play as Jan Dolski, an interstellar miner hopping across planets to harvest their resources. My preview opened with Jan in a significant spot of bother: the planet he’s on is tearing apart at the seams, his crew is missing, and he’s got to escape. In a fit of desperation – and under the influence of a mysterious faceless agent persuading him – Jan begins cloning himself, working alongside a crew of his alternate versions to find salvation.

Jan placing a land drill in The Alters.
Image Source: 11 Bit Studios

What surprised me most during the two hours I played was how ambitious and unique the scope of The Alters’ gameplay is. It feels like a mix of classic base-builders like Fallout Shelter with pseudo-survival games like Death Stranding, with a unique blend of side-scrolling around your base to build new modules and scouring planets to harvest resources.

In all honesty, The Alters is quite unlike anything I’ve ever played before. The game has a day-night cycle that encourages you to spend as much time on the surface of a planet as you can, collecting resources to then use on your base at night.

Each planet has its own hazards, with increasing radiation levels at night discouraging you from veering too far away from safety. It’s a mechanic that’s very easy to become engrossed in, particularly because you only have a fixed number of days on each planet before it destabilizes and you lose. As such, you’ve got to make each day count, resting between days to replenish your energy that depletes fast when drilling for resources.

The base building menu in The Alters.
Image Source: 11 Bit Studios

In between your forays to the outer world, The Alters encourages you to expand and effectively harness your base. This slice of interstellar accommodation looks absolutely gorgeous, with vastly detailed modules that each perform a different managerial task. There’s a hulking screen to speak to allies across the stars, a kitchen to stock up on food for passive happiness boosts, and even a labyrinth to clone yourself over and over again.

Yes, the cloning mechanic is by far the most significant hook in The Alters. Rather than just a sci-fi gimmick, it plays very tightly into the game’s themes and narrative. Jan can only craft another clone by looking across a gorgeously drawn timeline of his life, zeroing in on nexus points where the trajectory of his life branched and took an alternate path. This results in Alters that are wildly divergent in their personalities, attributes, and willingness to help in the base Jan’s quest for survival. It’s a really unique narrative concept that I can’t wait to see in the full game.

A Nexus point split decision in The Alters.
Image Source: 11 Bit Studios

With all of these Alters also comes a fairly robust social game, akin to The Sims. If one of your Jans is unhappy they may refuse to perform their assigned duties, leaving it up to you to speak to them, finding a way to resolve the situation. I only managed to see two Alters in my preview, but the possibilities seem really ambitious for how far the mechanic can go.

That said, I’m still curious as to how The Alters will sustain this novel concept and gameplay loop throughout its duration. I was gripped enough in my preview to get back out there day after day, slowly exploring areas of the world I couldn’t reach before, but it remains to be seen whether there’s enough to the progression and narrative to keep me hooked.

Regardless, I never expected to find The Alters as engaging as I did. It looks stunning, it taps into a really unique blend of gameplay styles, and the surprisingly emotive story definitely sunk its teeth into me. While the game doesn’t have a release date yet, I’m ready and waiting to play it again.


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Author
Luke Hinton
Luke Hinton is a video games journalist currently working as Senior Guides Writer and Associate Editor at Twinfinite. He has undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Journalism, Media, and Culture, and previously specialised in entertainment writing.