The video game industry’s love affair with science fiction is as old as the medium itself, so it’s no small statement when I say that 11 Bit Studios’ The Alter is perhaps the strangest science fiction game I’ve ever seen have. This bizarre survival game is packed with powerful building mechanics and social connections, and every time I thought the 40-minute demo couldn’t get any wilder, it exceeded my expectations by throwing yet another curveball. Whether it’s the planet’s rising sun that threatens to plunge you into oblivion, or the giant wheel-shaped base that serves as your home, the Rapidium miracle element that represents Earth’s only chance of survival, or the alternate reality clones of protagonists who serve as your companions, The Alter is perhaps the most ambitious science fiction game of all time – and maybe that’s not such a bad thing. I personally really enjoy strange science fiction stories, and there’s something about the extreme weirdness of The Alter that gives it a dreamlike quality that’s unlike anything I’ve seen before. This is definitely something to be excited about.
In The Alter, you play a version of Jan Dolski, a space captain on an expedition to a remote world that has gone terribly wrong, leaving you stranded on a planet with a slowly rising sun that will kill you if you let it . While you wait for help, you must control your mobile command base across the surface of a hostile world, and you can’t do it alone. To help you, you must gather resources to create alternate versions of yourself called Alters, drawn from the multiverse where Jan made different life choices and became a different person. This allows you to find a version of yourself who became a miner to help collect raw materials and another version of you who became a scientist to help research and develop new technologies.
The Alter – First screenshots
Not only do you have to worry about keeping your base stocked with supplies and solving obstacles to move the base along the planet’s surface to stay out of the sun’s reach, but you also have to manage the various alternate versions of yourself that everyone has their own baggage, needs, likes and dislikes. In the demo, a version of Jan struggled with opioid addiction after being involved in a mining accident and constantly caused problems with his unpredictable behavior, while another conflict arose between two other age groups who disagreed about how best to use resources . Keeping track of each player’s mental state and engaging in dialogue sections to resolve disputes and understand the mental state of each individual clone seems like a difficult balancing act even early in the game, so I can only imagine how complex that for you will add more and more age.
Speaking of which, a really cool part of the demo was when they delved into Jan’s past, represented by branching life decisions that made Jan and his surrogates the people they are. In one scenario shown, Jan recruited a version of himself who was a skilled botanist due to a critical life decision that led him down a different career path. Coincidentally, this life path led to a version of the protagonist who had a better relationship with his now ex-wife, allowing him to better navigate a delicate social situation and also gain much-needed botanical expertise to aid in his mission The crew of clones fed themselves.
Outside the base, most of the demo focused on gathering resources to keep the base afloat and support the production of expansions, the main material of which is called Rapidium. This magical and rare element enables the rapid growth of organic materials and is linked to Jan’s failed space mission, as it is Earth’s only hope of emerging from its apparent food shortage. But it also has other, more immediate uses, namely creating new alters to help power your base and keep you alive long enough for rescue to arrive.
I have to say, even though it’s an extremely bizarre story that mixes a whole bunch of different genres together, I found myself extremely drawn to the uniqueness of this completely strange game. Time will tell if The Alter can combine them all into a single, cohesive gaming experience.