The opening hour of The Alters feels like 11-bit’s first third-person narrative action game

I’ll call it out now: This is the least intriguing article you’ll read about 11 bit’s The Alters, a mix of Danny Boyle’s Sunshine and Duncan Jones’s Moon in which you’re (deep breath) a stranded space engineer who has to create different versions of himself. spawn using backstory branching gadgets to operate a massive, rolling base and escape the apocalyptic rays of the local sun.

However, we’re not going to talk about that hoity-toity quantum cycling and trading in this piece. We’re going to talk about how the opening sequence reminded me of Gears Of War and the many over-the-shoulder adventures it influenced. I’m sorry. It’s been a complicated week with minimal sleep, and I no longer have the gray cells to branch timelines, although they are certainly the most fascinating aspect of this game.

Check out YouTube

11 bit isn’t known for making things like Gears Of War. They are known for their heavily themed construction or survival simulations, such as 2014’s This War Of Mine, a depiction of civilians under siege, and Frostpunk, a glacial alt-Victorian extravaganza in which you explore the last remaining city in the midst of a climate disaster takes care. Nevertheless, when I got to work on The Alters last week, I found myself playing a third-person action game with a sprint button, ledge coverings, line-of-sight puzzles, and environments consisting of wide routes through rock formations for me to follow. Imagine hosting a shootybang or two (fear not, peaceniks – there are no shootybangs to be had at The Alters, as far as I know).

The opening area is reminiscent of the stormy purgatorial planet of Returnal, with cliffs of crested and fissured, slate-blue rock. The all-encompassing level design harkens back to your Uncharteds, with eye-catching brightly colored or luminous objects like flares and parachutes to guide you along paths that wind just enough to give the impression of a much larger world.

There’s still a War-Of-Miney side-scrolling management layer at the heart of it all, with your character Jan Dolski trotting between player-constructed compartments strung on the inside of that giant wheel. There are crafting and building menus to grapple with, and resource counters to stay on top of. But you’ll spend a lot of time in the world, setting up extraction facilities for those resources and building Death Stranding-style pylons to put them in control, while completing soft terrain puzzles like placing sensors to uncover radioactive anomalies, or using mining lasers to burn through obstacles in a certain order.

Within the base, there are over-the-shoulder conversations with the different versions of Jan that you’ll split from Jan Prime’s timeline, all of whom have personalities and abilities that reflect their branching life experiences (and all of whom are heroically voiced by just one voice actor, Alex Jordan, who you may remember as the guy who made sex noises in Baldur’s Gate 3). Again, it reminds me of third-person narrative games rather than Frostpunk. While the developer’s last two creations have been broadly management sims with a substantial narrative component, this one feels like one of those ‘cinematic action adventures’ with an atypically heavy management layer.

An astronaut looking at a lava flow

Image credit: 11 bit studios

It seems like a real departure for 11 bit, a dramatic genre shift even as stablemate Frostpunk 2 delves deeper into city building, and I’m curious to see what it paves the way for. Predictably, 11 bit is not yet certain. “More games like this?” lead designer Rafal Wlosek told me after the event. ‘We’ve never thought about it that way. I mean, there’s definitely something in the strategy of the company where we work now [piloted] a few different projects – I’m talking about internal projects – where the teams develop different ideas and different technologies. And we wanted to break this down into a small project, because a small project can handle something new. The Alters is not about the exploration, but mainly about the conversational RPG element, if you all [versions] of the characters and voice-overs in high quality, and so on.

“So there is such a way of thinking in the company, because after a few projects like this we will have specialists in each area, and maybe someone can connect them together and create something bigger. But when it comes to De Alters, the decision The exploration was simply a decision to adapt the gameplay to the story.”

One thing 11 bit tried to impress at the event is that 11 bit isn’t in the business of making games that fit genres. They choose scenarios and concepts and find out which mechanisms can support them. As such, framing The Alters as a broad shift from management to action platforming somewhat misses the point; these are exactly the ways of playing that suit the drama.

“We wanted to create space for the player to think about what was happening in the base,” Wlosek continued. “So you talk to your Alters, you see the problems, you see how they deal with them, you get different perspectives on how to solve them, and then maybe you’re tired of it all, so you go out into this empty, delightful world., beautiful planet and have space to think about it. And then the radiation comes in and you lose batteries and [walking] falling into deviations or getting lost. So you go back to basics. The basis is a safe space – warm and with food and music in the background, but then other problems arise. And a loop is created.”

Look out for more information about The Alters, and indeed Frostpunk 2, in the coming weeks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *