Sam Barlow has always been a developer to watch out for. Two previous titles, Her Story and Telling Lies, weave together intriguing narratives with refreshing mechanics that even bigger studios can’t duplicate. Now, with Immortality set to release on Steam, it completes a trifecta of full-motion video (FMV) games with unique twists.
In some ways, Immortality manages to trump its two counterparts, showcasing Barlow’s talents. However, it also relies heavily on non-linear storytelling and open-ended gameplay, which can cause some issues detailed below. Lastly, please note that our Immortality review will try to avoid spoilers as best as possible.
What happened to Marissa Marcel?
Immortality tells the tale of Marissa Marcel. An aspiring Hollywood actress in the ’60s, Marcel lands a role in a film called Ambrosio (1968), where she plays a nun in a convent. That’s followed by Minsky (1970), a detective flick. Marcel’s third and final film is Two of Everything (1999), which is a more modern thriller of sorts.
Her absence of almost three decades isn’t the biggest mystery. It’s the fact that none of these movies have ever been released.
The cutting room floor
Finding out what happened to Marcel is, essentially, your main goal in Immortality. To do that, you’ll have to sift through dozens of movie clips in a feature that’s akin to the Moviola machines of old. Footage ranges from short clips of sections of the films that are being acted out, behind-the-scenes interviews with actors, table reads done by the cast, and even some private moments. Some are only a few seconds, while others last for several minutes.
Thankfully, you won’t have to suffer the agony of being unable to skip these scenes. You can actually fast-forward, rewind, and skip/exit the playback whenever you wish. My only gripe is that the game doesn’t necessarily mark down your last viewed clip. As such, if you’ve already seen a lot, you’d have to recheck all the thumbnails to find it (outside of adding a “favorite” tag).
These videos are complete with expert cinematography and design, emulating the film grain and tones of past decades. There are raunchy and “so bad it’s good” moments, from B-movies decades ago to a grimmer and more realistic take on the cutthroat nature of Hollywood, especially with the more recent #MeToo movement.
In Immortality, you no longer need to type specific terms in a search box, unlike its predecessors. Instead, you’ll use a “match cut” feature. This mechanic lets you pause the footage in case something catches your eye. For instance, you might see an apple, a particular character, a crucifix, a mirror, or even a nipple (yes, the game has a lot of nudity). If you click on the “eye” icon, you’ll be taken to an entirely different scene that has that particular person or object.
This non-linear approach is a way of giving the player full control of how the narrative develops. While footage from all three films tends to follow a chronological order, your own detective skills and discernment help piece the puzzle. True, the non-linear and freeform approach can be a little confusing at first since you’d think these cuts are random. But, eventually, you’ll learn to appreciate the developer’s vision.
Replay and rewind
My Immortality review, believe it or not, is the shortest feature article I’ve ever written. This is due to a couple of reasons. The first is that there are key moments and characters that I simply cannot spoil.
I believe we’re allowed to divulge information about the existence of these tidbits. However, I’d personally consider it a disservice to write more details since it’s better to see it for yourself. These moments, when they initially occurred, kept me on the edge of my seat. At the very least, I can tell you that the playback rewind option will get used often.
The second reason is that I’m not entirely sure if I’ve “beaten” the game. Frankly, I think I may have watched the last clip, chronologically speaking, within two hours after I started. I was just using match cuts on a specific object. Then, I got those “rewind moments” that blew me away. I just kept following the trail of breadcrumbs until I saw that final scene. Owing to the intrigue, I started watching newer and older clips, rewinding and fast-forwarding to see surprising and mesmerizing moments.
I know that I haven’t discovered every single footage in the game. Still, that also meant the remaining hours of gameplay felt aimless and random, especially when those occurrences tend to repeat. It’s as though I’ve already “solved the mystery” even if a few pieces of the puzzle weren’t there yet.