Why this mind-warping sci-fi game has instantly become my most anticipated Xbox / PC title — and it's coming to Game Pass too

The Alters artworks
(Image credit: 11 Bit Studios)

Have you ever wondered what your life might look like had you walked a different path? That's the fundamental question upcoming Xbox Game Pass title "The Alters" is looking to explore.

In The Alters, you play as Jan Dolski in a race against sunlight itself. Crash-landed on a remote and hostile planet, Jan's entire crew didn't survive the fall. All you have is giant moving planetary habitat, and a daybreak that will fry you and your habitat in cosmic radiation. In this game of life and death, time management and avoiding the dawn is a constant battle — but Jan won't be alone, but he will be by himself. Technically. 

The Alters is high-concept sci-fi with mind-breaking implications, wrapped in a deep space survival simulation that, already in my brief time with the game, has left a similarly deep impact on me. Here's my preview with the latest build of the game, in what is easily among my most anticipated upcoming Xbox game and upcoming PC game

The Alters is slated for a 2024 release on Xbox Series X|S, PS5, and PC, with an Xbox Game Pass day one drop also penned in. 

The Alters 

The Alters 

The Alters is a sci-fi survival game with heavy narrative treatment, from the team that brought you This War of Mine. 

Set on a hostile and dangerous planet, Jan Dolski finds himself at the mercy of cosmic elements. To survive, players must clone alternative versions of themselves with AI-generated memories to create a full ship crew, while navigating all of the harrowing implications along the way. 

Wishlist at: Steam | Xbox

The Alters is pure survival cinema

The Alters

Think you can survive on a planet in a triple binary star system blanketed with radiation and molten metal oceans? (Image credit: 11 Bit Studios)

I played The Alters last year at Gamescom, and this past week in Poland, I was treated to a first-hand showcase of what a different a single year can make. Because The Alters is pure Unreal Engine sci-fi cinema. 

I've played tons of space games of all shapes and sizes of all genres, from huge budget action games like Starfield, to strategy titles like Stellaris, and survival games like Surviving Mars. Nothing could prepare me for The Alters' unique opening, which is embedded in real-world scientific theory to showcase things never before seen this side of Hollywood blockbusters like Interstellar. 

From the opening, The Alters makes its mark as something special. Jan Dolski wakes up in his escape pod, following a space ship disaster. Jan and the company he works for are scouting for signs of Rapidium, a unique element that forms only in the midst of triple binary star systems. The weird chaotic physics of three suns orbiting each other results in the production of Rapidium crystals, that can be mined by the player, and is an incredibly precious and lucrative material owing to its potential applications. The true nature of Rapidium and its implications will be discovered throughout the story no doubt, but for our demo, we were treated to one central application — more on that shortly. 

In any case, Jan and his team were in the area specifically to look for this stuff, and something went horribly wrong. Assuming control of Jan, players discover quickly one of the most alien landscapes I've ever seen in a video game, and knowing that it's underpinned by real world theories made it all the more intriguing. Warped fractal cliffs, bent by extreme tidal forces, liquid metal oceans being sucked into the sky by the magnetosphere of passing celestial bodies — wracked by extreme radiation and cosmic solar winds. This is not a planet where life could realistically survive. Yet, that's your job here. 

The habitat overview will be familiar to Fallout Shelter players.  (Image credit: 11 Bit Studios)

Upon discovering Jan's crew didn't survive the trip down to the planet's surface, Jan faces the reality that he's very much alone. A radioactive storm begins to sweep through the area, and the electromagnetic ocean began to pulse and swirl with nuclear twisters spinning up into the atmosphere. It's utterly unlike anything I've seen from a game before, and makes for a stunning showpiece for Unreal Engine and 11 Bit Studios' ascent to the next level. 

We guide Jan to a planetary habitat, housed within a gigantic gyroscopic wheel that can navigate the planet's surface, and serve as a Fallout Shelter-like base of sorts. Jan contacts his company to report the deaths of the crew, alongside the insane radiation levels outside of the base. Jan is tasked to extract some minerals from outside to build some of the most basic survival tools, but upon discovering a large Rapidium deposit, the company suddenly takes a far greater interest in Jan's survival. 

The Alters' latest build is vastly improved over the previous one I played, with some of the best environmental visuals the Unreal Engine has to offer right now. The soundtrack is also suitably immense, encapsulating sci-fi blockbuster majesty with a twinge of creeping paranoia. Indeed, The Alters riffs on psychological sci-fi thrillers including everything Event Horizon to The Martian, but its true uniqueness can be found in the game's namesake. 

In order to pilot your vehicular habitat to the rescue rendezvous point and extract the Rapidium Jan's company has bade him to achieve, Jan will need a full ship's compliment. It's here where things start to get truly weird.

The Alters forces you into uniquely uncomfortable introspection

The tree of life screen maps out Jan's major life-branching moments, allowing you to choose which "version" of Jan to re-create next as the needs arise.  (Image credit: 11 Bit Studios)

It's not long after settling in to Jan's Fallout Shelter-like habitat on wheels (wheel?) that you realize you're going to need a full crew. Unlike Fallout Shelter which takes place on a radioactive earth full of people, The Alters takes place on a radioactive alien planet completely devoid of all life, and Jan sure as heck can't breed with himself. Or can he? 

Well, not really, but sort of. But not really. Using Jan's DNA, the habitat's onboard quantum computer can rapidly generate false memories based on Jan's life story and implant them in feasible alternative clones of Jan himself. Although these aren't exactly clones, they're Alters, and we get the game's namesake here. These Alters are fully grown, and represent versions of Jan that took a very different life path to get to this very moment. 

It's an absolute mindfuck, to coin a phrase. Imagine waking up in another reality. You're still you. With all of your memories, your hopes, your dreams, knowledge of your family — but it's no longer your world. It's no longer your life. You're not the true "you" in this reality. That's the harrowing realization each Alter has to deal with when waking up from the habs "womb" lab, which injects sedatives to prevent your Alters from simply going immediately insane. 

The Alters from 11 bit studios is coming to Xbox and PC Game Pass in 2024.

(Image credit: 11 bit studios)

Indeed, The Alters might be a survival game with the trappings therein. You have to manage food supplies, craft things, maintain things, mine resources, and avoid hazards — but it's also incredibly deep narratively as well. Jan's conversations with his specific Alters can have dire consequences if managed poorly, much like traditions set up by This War of Mine. 

For example, I recall one playthrough where I had to deal with one of my Alters desires for pain killers. Claiming he'd hurt his hand, the narrative hinted that these requests might've been habitual in nature, rather than born of necessity. The happiness of your Alters directly impacts their productivity, and remember that you're in a constant race to stay ahead of the cosmic hellfire of the planetary dawn. You can assign Alters to different tasks, suited to them, and you create Alters based on the needs of your current survival situation. Need food supplies? Find a version of Jan in his quantum tree of life that went to university to study botany. Need an engineer? Find one that went to college for that. And so on. The problem is, each life path comes with its triumphs and its failings. Perhaps cramming at university led to the degradation of relationships, and then depression, and then self-destructive coping mechanisms. 

I denied Jan's Alter the painkillers he requested, thinking that if he was stoned on opiates he'd likely end up injuring himself while mining or something. He wasn't happy about it. In fact, he was so unhappy about it, he ended up amputating his own arm with a saw from the workshop. 

Indeed, Jan's Alters are often ... less-than-sane, potentially. 

The Alters

(Image credit: 11 Bit Studios)

Jan's entire life story is there in writing for you to browse, stored in the ship's quantum computer. Every time you choose a new Alter, you're faced with an alternative version of Jan that was either far more successful, or far less successful. In this reality, Jan is divorced, and he perhaps didn't reach his full potential. He does seem to have leadership qualities despite his lack of material success, and a strong will to survive against insurmountable sci-fi odds. 

The different Jans often reminisce about memories they actually do share. A common theme is love for Jan's ailing mother, and rejection of a disappointing father. Jan and his Alters often bond over some of these facts, but Jan's previous marriage can also be a source of contention. For those versions of Jan who managed to maintain a healthy marriage, knowing that your beloved literally doesn't exist in this reality can be a huge source of distress. Some might even be jealous. 

The writing team show an incredible proficiency for self-awareness and clever character writing. The Alters forces you to be introspective. Like any great psychological sci-fi thriller, The Alters' story direction is immediately gripping, and immerses you in paranoia and anxiety knowing of the looming threats outside the safety of the habitat, and the potential threats within too. Will all of Jan's Alters stay on friendly terms? 11 Bit Studios says there are more Alters available than is possible to spawn in a single playthrough, what if you choose the wrong ones? What if you manage their emotions poorly? How much will you compromise and mediate? Who will need to be sacrificed for the wider group? Does Jan deserve to survive more than the others, since this is his reality?  

Whether gameplay-related, story-related, or even existentially-related, The Alters massages the synapses like few games I've ever played, and I can't wait to play more. 

One of 2024's most unique games, and one of Xbox Game Pass' most intriguing

(Image credit: 11 Bit Studios)

While playing The Alters, I couldn't help but become introspective about my own life, and the things that led me to here, right now, writing this article for you. In my teens I wanted to be an animator and cartoonist, making shorts for Newgrounds in the pre-YouTube days. Nobody ever encouraged me to pursue it as a career, and the idea that I would ever be good enough to make it as something like that was a completely alien concept — but what if someone had encouraged me? I also played guitar and front-manned a band. One of my songs was even played during Blizzcon at their original World of Warcraft song contest event. I lacked the drive to learn and improve my guitar playing, though. What if I had started at a younger age?

The series of events that led me to this article are wild and erratic. I never wanted to, nor planned to be a professional writer. I was learning how to build content management systems in my old IT job, and needed a topic to blog about for testing the system. I started blogging about Microsoft and Windows Phone, since I'd picked up a HTC 8X Windows Phone to spite a particularly irritating iPhone fan in my life at the time who was obsessed with Apple. Somehow, the casual blogging led me here, to this very moment, ten years later. 

What events led you here, to reading this sentence? The Alters will give you an existential crisis in the most satisfying way possible, and remains one of the most unique games I've played in recent memory. 

Launching in 2024 onto Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5, and PC, right into Xbox Game Pass — survival fans, and sci-fi fans need to put The Alters at the top of their most anticipated games list. 

The Alters 

The Alters 

The Alters is a game about "what if?" Take control of Jan Dolski in an impossible situation. Alone on a radioactive, desolate alien rock, your crew is dead, and all you have to help you is a giant cloning machine ... 

Wishlist at: Steam | Xbox

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!