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This War of Mine dev's clone survival game The Alters is a curious blend

Dolly mixture.

A piece of game artwork showing several versions of the same character in a tableau, which is very reminiscent of Da Vinci's Last Supper. They all wear a variation of the same pink tracksuit and are all arguing with each other or interacting in some way. It's an energetic image. They are all clones of the same person, living in a base together.
Image credit: 11 bit Studios

As far as The Alters is concerned - the new game from the This War of Mine team 11 bit Studios - every time we reach a major junction point in our lives, another version of us is theoretically created. Had you chosen to pursue a different subject at school, for example, it could have led to a different career. That's maybe an obvious example but junctions can apparently happen because of many things - hobbies, friends, relationships. Where might we have ended up?

This question is central to The Alters, because here, we can realise these different versions of ourselves and even manifest them by bringing them to life, where they'll work alongside us. Hence the game's name. And we will have to, because in The Alters, we're in a race against time to survive.

In the game, we are Jan Dolski, a person working for some kind of sci-fi mining operation, and we've become stuck on a planet and are in danger of being fried by its nearby sun. If we don't get out of the way before sunrise, we'll die. But getting out of the way is not so simple, because we'll also need to move our entire base. Fortunately for us, it's wheel-shaped, so it can be rolled, but there are environmental challenges like lava-filled canyons to navigate along the way.

The Alters in action. If I had access to all of these clones of myself, I think I'd start a band.Watch on YouTube

The solution, inevitably, involves research and development, and mining resources to build the things we need for it. But we cannot do all of these things alone. So it's at this point we turn to the experimental and highly frowned upon world of cloning and our Tree of Life machine. And there, we will look back through our life - Jan's life - for junctions.

In the demo, we see a relationship Jan ended because he didn't want to move away with his partner. The alter created at this junction did move away, though, and in doing so gained different life experiences which, rather handily, included becoming a botanist. A botanist will be very useful in the greenhouse we're building. So, we create him. Then it's over to our Quantum Computer to simulate the rest of his life, then over to the Womb room - I kid you not - to grow him. It's as pink and fleshy as you suspect. Then in eight hours, botanist Jan will be a fully grown adult in his own right with a full life of perceived experiences of his own. And, more importantly perhaps, he will be a key part of my ever expanding crew.

With me so far are three other alters - the Miner, Technician and Scientist. They're all known by their accrued expertises. And each plays their expertise role in a room of the appropriate type, if we've built it - so, a lab or a workshop and so on. The Miner, though, leaves the base to go out onto the planet to find resources, but I'll come back to that in a minute.

Four characters, all of whom look very similar, share a small space inside a futuristic base.
A dialogue interaction with a grumpy looking, bearded man, who seems to think they are exactly like me.
Inside the base, hanging out with myself. I wonder if they all like the same food. | Image credit: 11 bit Studios

Just because they're versions of me, doesn't mean they will get along, or that they'll listen to me. They are, for all intents and purposes, different people. The Technician, for example, doesn't have anywhere to sleep and tells me he's not happy about this. And if we don't do anything about it, the Technician will become angry with me.

The Miner, meanwhile, is suffering mentally from an old physical injury he used to have. Now, because he's newly made - physically speaking - he no longer has the injury he thinks he's suffering from, but he's still asking for pain relief for it, so will we give it to him? There are pros and cons for both. But the overarching sentiment is this: tend badly to our flock of yous and we could risk serious problems - we could face rebellion.

Back to mining! Resources - along with the passing of time - govern everything we do. So we can strap on a space suit and wander around the twilight world outside and scan it for usable resources. This is a full, over-the-shoulder planetary exploration experience, quite a lot like No Man's Sky. We use a variety of scanning tools to find what we want - there's a neat one that shows a large topographical scan of what's underneath us - and then a variety of mining machines to get it, although they'll need hooking up to our base's power grid first.

A character in space suit stands on the dark surface of an alien planet, scanning the ground to find resources. We see a topographical image of what's underneath the surface.
A character in a space suit stands looking out over a huge canyon that has lava pooling at the bottom of it. The whole scene is bathed in twilight and fog lingers in the air.
Out on the planet, in exploration/mining mode. It's a really atmospheric game at times. | Image credit: 11 bit Studios

It's atmospheric enough - fog clings moodily to craggy rocks, and lava lights the bottom of huge, jagged canyons - but there's not much excitement to it. We scan, we build a machine, we plug it in and wait. There aren't any other living creatures and there's no suggestion there will be or that we'll interact with them, although I don't know this for sure.

The only excitement I feel while we're out on the planet is when we discover some Rapidium, which is a very valuable and mysterious resource that makes the air glitch and bend around it. It's Rapidium we need to make alters, and Rapidium everyone is apparently wild about getting hold of. We learn this, incidentally, by talking to someone back home on a video call, so there is a story playing out in the background.

Once we've got what we need from the planet, it's back to base-building mode where the view changes to being side-on, and where it feels much more like This War of Mine. Here we can research and plonk down whatever rectangular modules we want to expand the base - dormitories, social rooms, places to wash, and so on. It's also here where we can roam the base and talk to alters, and where we'll need to personally sleep, because it's important. Sleep too little and we'll be inefficient at what we do, but sleep too long and the sun will be closer to us.

The large, thin, wheel-shaped base in The Alters, rolling through a canyon.
The side-on, base-building view in The Alters. A glowing ring encircles a collection of rectangular modules inside the base.
The wheely nice base. | Image credit: 11 bit Studios

Oh and wait! What's this? We're about to be hit by a magnetic storm and only have six minutes to build a radiation shield to protect ourselves from it. And - oh no! - our miner has seriously hurt themselves because of how we dealt with the conversation earlier. What will we do? That's where the demo ends.

It's a glimpse of a game that intrigues me but also leaves me slightly confused. This War of Mine had a much clearer idea - living as a civilian through war - whereas The Alters seems more speculative and fragmented. Is it a mining game? Is it a survival game? Is it a game about clones? I think it's trying to be all three, but I'm not yet convinced it's managed. But like I say, I've only seen a glimpse, and if it turns out to be anything like This War of Mine, I'll be happy.

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