It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call Immortality gaming’s biggest surprise of last year. Every few years, an indie game will release, seemingly out of nowhere, and ultimately change what we can expect from the medium. Outer Wilds, Disco Elysium, and now Immortality have helped to redefine how we engage with specific gaming genres.
Even if you’ve played director Sam Barlow’s two previous games, Her Story and Telling Lies, you still won’t know what to expect from Immortality. Like his other titles, Immortality has you scrub through real, live-action footage to get to the bottom of a sinister mystery. But unlike Barlow’s other two FMV games, Immortality has something much more sinister between each frame.
Every part of Immortality works in unison to create something more profound than the sum of its parts. The live-action footage is gorgeously crafted, the gameplay mechanics make endless questions, and the script here is immense. Every line contains layers of hidden subtext that only reveal themselves after several replays and careful scanning.
Scrubbing Through Time
Immortality follows Marissa Marcel, an actress who shot two films in the late 1960s, and neither film saw the light of day. Marissa then disappeared until she starred in one more film in 1999, before disappearing again.
As the investigator, you’re given footage from and surrounding these unreleased films: rehearsal recordings, behind-the-scenes footage, cast interviews, script readings, and things of that nature. You can scrub the footage forwards and backward, pausing whenever you like to enter an ‘Investigation Mode.’ At this point, you’ll be able to hover over any detail you deem important – a face, a candle, an ashtray. Clicking on these items of interest will zoom in on them and unlock a different scene, jump-cutting to another time and place.
This jump cut is one of the game’s most exciting mechanics. The act of jumping from scene to scene, decade to decade, object to object, can feel disorientating. It’s like being lost in an internet rabbit hole, with one recommended article leading to another ad that leads to another suggested YouTube video. Thirty minutes later, you won’t even remember why you looked at your screen in the first place.
This kind of mechanic compliments the game so incredibly well. After all, Immortality is a mystery game. There’s nothing more mysterious than clicking on an earring, only to be handed a frame of a woman covered in blood, her eyes still open as she sits on the floor, the same earring clenched in her red hand. As a device, it makes you feel just as manic as a detective who only runs on cigarettes and coffee, jumping from each scene as the music swells, waiting for some revelation.
The jump-cutting isn’t the only effective device in the game. Something about Immortality is undeniably off from the very first second. The simple act of rewinding footage adds to this uneasy feeling as people’s voices are creepily played in reverse, and playing scenes backward reveals new layers to the story. You might catch an uncertain smile you missed the first time, or a line might reveal a new meaning once you have more context.
The beauty of Immortality doesn’t just come from its gameplay devices; the actual ‘film’ part is just as impressive. The production quality across roughly six hours of footage is consistently on-par with any Hollywood feature. The set design is intricately detailed, the framing is always deliberate, and the general direction is strong enough to depict three different genres across three decades.
That’s before we even touch the spellbinding lead performance. Manon Gage’s performance reveals more layers the longer it goes on. Of course, Gage plays Marissa Marcel, but she plays a different version of her every time, effortlessly transforming scene-to-scene. Sometimes she’s a starry-eyed Hollywood newcomer being interviewed on TV for the first time. Timid. Funny. Hopeful. Sometimes she seems like her authentic self. Confident, intelligent, humble. In one unlockable clip, she’s in a soap commercial where she appears radiant and smiling.
A feat that would be impressive enough by itself, but Marcel, the character, stars in three films, so Gage must also portray three additional characters. These three films revolve around disguise, doppelgangers, and deceit, meaning Gage needs to put on a different character in every frame. In Marcel’s first film, Ambrosia, we see her character shed three separate personas, and the only time we see Gage ‘break’ character is when the director yells “Cut!” off camera. Every second of Manon Gage’s performance is captivating, from the tiny nuances to the big expressions of emotion.
Immortality is a game that cares about the art of filmmaking, and that’s evident the entire time. It’s an ode to film history as we see decades of filmmaking techniques on display, from the painted backdrops and practical effects of the ‘60s to the motion capture and green screen that replaced it by the end of the century.
In the same way that Immortality is a love letter to the art of filmmaking, it’s also a rumination on the darker sides of the industry: the (mis)treatment of female talent, the relationship between art and sex, the subtle ways that film can impact an audience’s psyche. These themes – and more – are frequently revisited in seemingly minor lines and the fastest eye movements.
The only major flaw of Immortality is that it definitely won’t appeal to a general audience. Immortality’s narrative structure is non-linear in an almost intimidating way. There are around 200 clips, all of which can be unlocked in any order. So you’ll never have an authored, pre-set path to the credits. There’s no grand explanation of what happened or the game’s big question, what happened to Marissa Marcel? Instead, players are left alone in the dark.
This isn’t a problem at all. In fact, the agency this gives players can be remarkable – what’s more satisfying than cracking the code yourself? What is a little bit of a problem is the absolute density of this project. Because of its non-linear structure, it’s pretty easy to stumble upon climatic scenes without any prior context. This can lead to certain moments being devoid of emotion as you scramble to make sense of anything.
Immortality won’t be for everyone, but it is a very accessible game for those that are interested. If you’re a cinephile, a fan of dense mysteries, or if you’re just curious about what a game can be, then you should try Immortality. It’s a beautiful, sometimes harrowing exploration of legacy and the impact of art, and possibly much, much more. There are layers to this game that will be discussed for months, if not years, on online forums and video essays.
Immortality is available on PC or Xbox consoles for $19.99. It’s also available on Xbox and PC Game Pass at no additional cost.
Rating: 9/10 SPECS
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.