If you ever wondered what Fallout Shelter might look like as a full-scale PC and console game rather than a mobile title, 11 bit Studios’ The Alters is the closest you’ll come to that idea. That said, the upcoming management sim is so much more than that; it’s one of the most distinct and unique video games I’ve previewed in some time.
In The Alters, a character named Jan is trapped on a planet after a mining mission for a resource called Rapidium goes wrong. The company he’s working for forces him to stay there and continue mining, and he soon discovers that Rapidium can be used to create clones. These “Alters” aren’t direct clones of Jan, though; they’re alternate versions of him with different life experiences and skill sets, giving Jan a glimpse into what his life may have been.
It’s a narrative concept that’s narratively and ethically ripe with potential, and it also serves as the backbone of a gameplay loop that sees players venture out to gather resources and manage a base full of Alters. While 11 bit Studios’ The Alters was not on my radar before my hands-off preview of the game, it’s now one of my most anticipated games as I can’t wait to see what else the developers explore with this concept.
My hands-off demo began with Jan out on the gray, desolate planet he is trapped on with his Alters. He’s looking for a way to cross a lava river with the circular base he and his alters live in before a devastating sunrise. Some rocks blocked Jan’s path, so the developer started looking for resources. From a vantage point, he saw some metals he could potentially mine in the distance. One of these was radiated, so the developer went for the safer materials.
Mining in The Alters isn’t always as simple as hitting a rock with a mining tool. While scant amounts of resources are available like that, the most meaningful batches of materials are found underground. To find these, players must travel to the general area where resources are located and set up polygonal scanners to get a reading on what’s underground. After discovering the main deposit of resources, players can then build a small mining outpost tower to collect what’s there.
Much like Death Stranding, these tools remain in the world and leave a mark on the planet’s surface that serves as a reminder of the player’s actions. For now, the developer playing had all of the resources he needed and headed back to base. This is where The Alters got really interesting. Base and Alter management is a big part of The Alters. At a basic level, it functions like base-building does in games like Fallout Shelter.
It’s best to build rooms that accomplish objectives or please the occupants — like building barracks for Alters to sleep in — while ensuring it all fits in the limited space to work with. Jan can also actively walk around the base, so you aren’t stuck in menus the whole time. This also means Jan can directly walk up to and speak to his Alters, having conversations that can permanently impact their emotional state. The first one the developer started talking to was Miner Jan, a version of him who is skilled at utilizing gathered resources but has a substance abuse issue.
In this first conversation, he asked Jan for meds to subdue the arm pain he was feeling. While this raised a red flag, the developer agreed to give him some, making him less frustrated. Later in the demo, though, it was clear that the Miner was relapsing, so the player cut them off from these meds. Unfortunately, this decision angered them, and he eventually cut his arm off to try and quell the pain while the player was out on a resource-gathering mission.
That was a chilling but stark example of how these Alters are real people too, and that balancing your relationships with them and their feelings is critically important. It’s not as easy to find the proper emotional response as it is a motherload of resources. These Alters can be helpful, though, as they’re different versions of Jan with distinct skill sets and life experiences. Sometimes, players will need to make a new one to solve certain situations.
Later in the demo, Jan needed to talk to his ex-wife but knew he couldn’t emotionally deal with her. To ensure the conversation went better, he created another version of himself that never got divorced from her and became a botanist. This dealt with the confrontation and food quality problems that the player had at that moment in The Alters, although its ethical implications are more disturbing.
The Alters looks like an involved game that makes you carefully think about every choice’s past and future ethical implications. It adds emotional depth that isn’t really there in the few games The Alters is vaguely similar to, like Fallout Shelter. While this demo was completely hands-off, as a fan of resource management games and dialogue-driven RPGs, I can’t wait to try it myself and go on a journey that’s uniquely my own.
The Alters is in development for PC.
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