I would never usually buy a game like Immortality (2022), the latest game from Sam Barlow’s Half Mermaid, though I am aware of his previous games and their critical acclaim. Her Story won a bunch of awards, but it was never something I rushed to buy as FMV (full motion video) games have never been a genre I’ve had an interest in. I wasn’t sure if it would be my thing. When I discovered that Immortality was coming to Game Pass, I decided that I would give it a chance. If I didn’t enjoy it, I could delete it and move on, so it was worth giving a go. I’m very happy I took that chance.
Immortality is a game about three fictional lost films, and the woman who started in them all, before she mysteriously disappeared. Marissa Marcel (Played by Manon Gage) was a model turned actress hired out of a group of thousands to be in an exploitative, blasphemous, and sexy film shot in Italy called Ambrosio (1968). The film’s plot is just a little pretentious and a lot corny as all hell. The dialogue is at times horrendous, and it’s cliché as can be. The game is a pastiche of filmmaking and of the specific genres of the films, with the pretension and other slightly off aspects assisting in selling the games authenticity. The films feel very much of their time, both in their tone and content feeling accurately dated, but also the minor details like quality of the film-stock and aspect ratios, which change to match the period.
I was blown away by a shot on a cliff, staged on a set with a large fake tree and a hand-painted backdrop, a technique accurate to the time period. Shot Entirely in digital, great effort has been made to match the visual style and production specifics of the period all three films are placed.
One thing worth noting, due to the authenticity the devs are going for, there is nudity throughout the game. Ambrosio especially is emulating a kind of 70s exploitation film, such as the likes of Deep Throat (1972), a film style that attempts to “push boundaries” by featuring copious amounts of nudity and graphic simulated sex. The game comments on the uncomfortable intimacy present when actors are made to simulate sex in such a way, one actor in Minsky even having to be replaced due to his discomfort during a very intense take. There are scenes of sexual and violent assault that you may want to be aware of before playing if that’s something you want to avoid. The game contains a section with all these warnings in the menu, including some subjects not discussed in this piece.
While Manon Gage gives an incredible performance as Marisa, with most of the scenes starring her in some fashion, it should be said that pretty much everyone plays their parts beautifully. I especially loved Sofia (Jascha Slesers) in Ambrosio. Multiple times she clashes with the film’s director, an abusive and misogynist Alfred Hitchcock type, at one point this causes a clash and she loses her temper, telling him to “f*** off” and cut around her while she’s trying to act dead. This inclusion as well as the passions on set is something that feels genuine, having had experience on student sets. Another stand out character is Carl Greenwood (played by Ty Molbak), who plays the leading man in Minsky and is something of a tragic figure. A subplot involving Marisa’s attempts to seduce him was fun to watch play out, with Ty and Gage playing their flirtation and Carl’s awkwardness in the role beautifully. Not a single performance feels weak in comparison to any other, and each member of the cast balances playing both the actors and the characters in the films well. This is crucial to making the found footage elements of the story believable.
You interact with the films by watching the clips through an emulated moviola, a machine that was used to review the footage at the time. You can fast-forward and rewind at multiple speeds, as well as pause and jump to either end of the footage. As you watch, you can enter an image mode to focus on specific details in the frame. You can click on a person’s face, which will then zoom in on them and take you to a separate clip where they appear, often with an attempt to match the image you selected in the frame of the next. This emulates match cutting, where an editor cuts from one image to another that visually matches it. This is most notable when cutting using items in the frame. While clicking on a person will always take you to another clip of that individual, clicking on an object such as a chair most likely won’t take you to another image of the exact same chair, just another seat.
The game lacks a compelling framing device to explain this mechanic, but I was invested enough in the act of watching and scrubbing through footage that a lack of a compelling conceit did little to put me off searching through the available clips. Previous games used word searching through a database and while the about section of the game does give some context to why its footage can be interacted with, the implementation of the conceit didn’t personally sway my experience either way.
As you associate image after image, you’ll be taken through time to other pictures Marisa starred in during her turbulent career. Minsky (1970) is a transgressive erotic thriller about the conflict between the conservative cop and the “deviant” art world. The film has a spectre hanging over it, as it too was never released and was never even finished due to a tragedy explicitly shown during the course of the game. Her final film, Two of Everything (1999) was produced a whole 20 years later and was also met with tragedy, leading to Marissa’s disappearance. Once again, I was blown away by the accuracy and authenticity of the film stock, the genre decisions made and the visual style. Each film feels plucked from a time, including the bad wigs and sexist directors.
As you follow Marissa’s life on screen through match cutting and slowly searching through images, eventually a new mechanic that I can only describe as “stuff happening” to avoid spoilers starts to emerge. You begin to discover clips within clips that tell a parallel story to that of Marcel’s. Your mileage may vary depending on your tolerance for metaphor and metatext that is as on the nose and blatantly obvious as it can get. The game never really attempts to be subtle, having a story it wants to tell and a message it wants to convey, and its creators seemingly want you to read that message. I can and have seen this put a few folks off, and it’s safe to say that if Barlow’s brand of voyeuristic tales about women suffering hasn’t been your thing before, this game might do little to sway you. However, having no prior attachment or familiarity with his style I personally found the mystery presented by Immortality to be compelling, though this had its limits.
Before rolling credits, I was hooked. I was desperate to discover more, and every new piece of information excited me to no end. There were moments I was genuinely speechless, and it takes a lot for a game to leave an impact with me like that. However, once I had spent the four hours it took to “finish” the game, what came next was a diminished experience. As you jump from clip to clip, you fill the screen with sequence after sequence, each with secrets to find and more objects to click on. But eventually, you’ve seen so much that most objects just lead back to things you’ve already seen. Clicking on Marissa’s face will get you a lot of new clips, as she does appear in most. Eventually however you will hit more repeats than new footage and the closer you get to completion the harder the challenge becomes. This is especially true for a few insert shots with no people in them, where only one or two connections will get you to the scene.
As more of the metanarrative provided by the hidden clips began to unfurl and as I started to understand the series of events, the less compelling I found the narrative. If you accept that what you are seeing is purely metaphor for unhinged artistic expression, unfiltered to a point of meaninglessness, then this might not bother you. However, if like me, you’re likely to become obsessed with trying to put every piece together and figure out how everything works, you’ll probably be left with more questions than answers and more contradictions than conclusions.
This wasn’t helped by that at launch, the major mechanic of finding hidden clips was glitched, with certain clips repeating frequently. This was because while some pieces of hidden footage are linked to a specific scene, others are supposed to be randomly spread out between any number of clips. Instead of one clip being found in one spot, every single spot it could be found would trigger that clip, meaning you’d discover the same footage repeatedly.
If you allow yourself to view Immortality as an experience that absorbs you, sucks you in until you have a reading of the story it is trying to tell and not as one where you need to make sense of every question it asks, I imagine a lot of you will be enamoured by what you experience. Part of me thinks the game is best experienced not through the desire to see everything it has to offer and solve every puzzle it presents, but leaving enough to interpretation that the game stays with you but doesn’t consume your time with monotonous searching. The completionist experience is a dull one at times, even with a few tricks you learn to better your odds, but that experience is very much a self-imposed one. I choose to go down that rabbit hole and try to answer every question I had, but the game often lacks concrete answers or in a less direct way than I may have liked.
Immorality is one of the most fascinating games I’ve played this year. The scale of its production, the moving parts, the sets, extras and attention to detail are consistently impressive. While trying to see everything can become repetitive and the messaging can be a little blunt, it was a game I thought about constantly, even when I wasn’t playing it. I would put it down and think about it while I wasn’t playing. I would create theories of events and meaning outside of what was presented, and was eager to discover more. The game makes great use of FMV to tell a story innately interested in filmmaking, expression, and the limitations of both. One that is spread out between genre and era, that utilises the stylistic qualities of the times to tell a truly compelling story that immerses you and makes you obsessed with untangling the mysteries of Marisa Marcel’s forgotten and fictitious life.
Have you got any thoughts on Immortality or any of the other games covered her on indie ranger? Feel free to share in the comments or over on our discord!
- Beautifully and authentically shot and presented
- Manon En-Gage-ing performances
- An experience that consumed my attention and thoughts
- The game's narrative can crumple when read outside the metaphorical
- Main mechanic can frustrate, especially closer to completion