Immortality review – A masterpiece without compare in the medium

Brad Norton
Immortality screenshot

Immortality is more than just any old game. It breaks the mold of traditional works in the medium and exemplifies what’s possible by exploring new avenues with a unique non-linear narrative that unfurls at your behest. Sam Barlow, the creative geniuses at Half Mermaid, and the extraordinary cast throughout are all operating at the top of their craft, merging to create something truly special.

If you’re at all familiar with the work of budding auteur Sam Barlow, you’ll know going in that Immortality is no ordinary gaming experience. You won’t find objectives here, there’s no progression system, victory or fail states are absent, and there’s no clear path to a defined conclusion.

No different from Her Story and Telling Lies, this interactive experience places you in a unique perspective. Rather than simply witnessing a story unfold or living in the shoes of its protagonist, you’re an active participant in its reconstruction, stacking blocks and manually building the narrative in any which direction you please.

Only through this level of engagement, only as a video game is Immortality able to shine. The complexities of its intertwining acts, the subtleties of its production, the enormity of its scope, none of it would come to fruition under the constraints of any other medium. Making this not only one of the industry’s greatest triumphs in recent years, but one of the most important too.

Immortality: Key Details

  • Developer: Half Mermaid
  • Price: TBA
  • Release Date: August 30, 2022
  • Platforms: PC, Xbox Series X | S, Android, iOS.

Immortality trailer

The curious case of Marissa Marcel

Marissa Marcel was plucked from a crowd for her debut acting gig, bursting onto the scene with a major role in famed director Arthur Fischer’s next flick titled Ambrosio. This highly anticipated film never saw the light of day. Years later, Marcel assumed an integral role in Minsky, a murder mystery that similarly never released for public consumption. After an extended break, the actress returned for Two of Everything, yet another project ultimately kept under wraps and shrouded in secrecy.

Why were none of these large-scale productions able to cross the finish line? Was Marcel purely a victim of bad luck and happenstance or is there more to her misfortune than meets the eye? What happened in the gaps between? These questions serve as the foundation for Immortality’s central mystery. With just that context provided, the onus is on you to carve a path backward in time, recount the story of each movie along with their underlying troubles, and find an answer for how Marcel’s career was ultimately derailed.

Mirroring the format of Barlow’s previous titles, Immortality presents an empty puzzle board in the form of a film grid. This time, various scenes from Marcel’s three projects have been recovered along with an assortment of behind-the-scenes footage, casting calls, and even talk show interviews scattered throughout. It’s not a perfect timeline, however. Far from it. Scattered out of order with essential links missing, your job is to scrub through every available scene, often frame by frame, dissecting the visual elements on display while mentally mapping their place in the bigger picture.

Immortality film grid gameplay
You’ll quickly get familiar with Immortality’s film grid and its intuitive features.

Through this collation of once-lost footage, you’re able to click on elements of any given shot. Be it a cast member appearing for the first time in your specific recollection, a piece of fruit in the background, or even just a lighting rig used across multiple projects — simply by interacting you are able to transport to a different moment in time.

In one instance, your attention may be drawn to a particular prop used in pre-production on the first film. By tapping on said item from the initial scene, you might be launched forward a few decades to a clip associated with Marcel’s third project wherein, that same prop has been reused. This simple act is the essence of Immortality as you jump through history to unravel the secrets long thought buried.

Mechanically, it couldn’t be made more effortless. Through a number of organizational tools, the process of scrutinizing clips and keeping on track is more efficient than you’d think. Namely, one crucial feature enables you to display clips in one of two ways. First is a narratively chronological order, piecing the story of the movies together from start to finish with a mishmash of actual scenes, rehearsals, and basic script readings. The alternative is a sequential timeline, mapping clips in the order of their production dates. The former helps to keep track of the storylines themselves while the latter helps to keep tabs on those involved and what might be influencing their performance at a given moment in time.

Through bookmarking footage you deem essential, you can quickly find your way back in the timeline to revisit significant moments. By fast-forwarding or reversing the video in focus, you’re able to pinpoint certain objects and engage with exactly what you want. Whether it’s a small painting out of focus in the background or a boom mic that briefly appears in the corner of a shot for just a second, you’re able to hone in and interact with everything you think could progress the story. The core loop is simplistic enough for anyone to digest without overbearing features or needlessly complex systems.

Even hours into deciphering the story, with dozens of clips piling up and a multitude of characters and production staff to remember, you never get lost in the chaos of it all. In and of itself, that’s an extremely impressive feat given the complexity of the overarching narrative, one that comes into focus in any number of ways depending on your observations and subsequent actions.

Immortality Minsky footage
Your interactions all but direct the story. Depending on your choices, you’ll influence the order in which the narrative plays out.

The order in which I pieced together the production of Ambrosio could be entirely different from your experience. The objects I interacted with and the secrets they guided me towards could go amiss altogether in your playthrough. The way in which I discovered the truth behind it all feels exclusive to me alone and that there is the magic of Immortality.

Attempting to read through the key story beats in book form wouldn’t make sense. Passively watching the footage along in one continuous movie wouldn’t accomplish the same results. The story’s construction is an essential part of the process. Interactivity is crucial and thus, can only be achieved in the form of a game. Immortality epitomizes the medium we all know and love, offering a glimpse at what’s possible when exploring beyond conventional design.

If ever there was a time for The Academy to recognize video games

It goes without saying that for a game so dependent on footage, performances throughout need to be up to snuff. The entire project would collapse under its ambition with anything less than stellar writing and superb acting holding it all together. Perhaps unsurprisingly given Barlow’s previous works, the crew involved has once again hit a home run in both regards. From leading characters to those in minor positions, every single person that appears on screen delivers a captivating performance.

Making matters more complex is the fact we see beyond the commands of ‘action’ and ‘cut.’ From extended takes that would never reach the final edit, to a look at their real personalities in behind-the-scenes interviews, we see far more than just the characters of a given movie. Instead, we get to perceive the actors behind them, the relationships blossoming over weeks and months of intense filming, we learn of their tendencies, and we gain insight into the methods behind the madness.

It’s one thing simply reading lines from a script. Though to breathe life into not only their respective characters but also the humans behind them is an incredible feat.

Miles Szanto, Jascha Slesers, Hans Christopher, Ty Molbak, Amanda Joy Erickson, and many others in between are all worthy of praise. Although they may not be household names just yet, they all deserve recognition for their efforts in ensuring Immortality reaches its potential.

Immortality Ambrosio footage
Immortality goes beyond the lost films themselves, giving insight into the productions, relationships among cast members, and so much more.

While it certainly takes a large team to bring these projects to life, it’s Manon Gage as Marissa Marcel that unquestionably steals the show. Where aforementioned actors may have key roles in one specific project, soaking up a considerable chunk of screen time, Gage is the connective tissue between all three films. Not only is she portraying vastly distinct characters in each of the productions, but she’s giving a personality to Marcel at different stages in her turbulent career.

It’s the moments between takes where Gage questions a director. It’s the subtle expressions towards other crew members when takes go awry. It’s the emotions on display before and after pivotal scenes. It’s the changes in personality as she evolves from a newcomer in Ambrosio to an experienced yet deeply troubled hand by the time Two of Everything comes into focus.

On paper, stepping into the shoes of Marcel is no small task. Though Gage handles it all with confidence, providing one of the most impressive performances you’ll ever witness in a video game.

The three projects all tackle vastly different themes set among distinct locations and have Gage run the emotional gamut with unique arcs for each of her protagonists. Yet no matter how well Marcel as an actress executes on the more demanding scenes or lengthy takes, we’re always reminded of the human layer underneath.

Immortality gameplay
Glimpses of real personalities often shine through in brief moments before, between, and after takes.

Adding to the quality throughout and further throwing you down the rabbit hole is a tremendous score from Nainita Desai. What typically begins as simple orchestral notes in the background, gently nudging you through quieter scenes as you pick up on subtle breadcrumbs, soon ramps up to thunderous, intoxicating themes punctuating more intense moments.

Though the tracks themselves are wonderfully fitting, it’s also when this music accelerates that’s equally brilliant. As you uncover a particular clue, the game all but detects your next move, triggering key musical notes to provide a rush of momentum as you connect the dots. As you make these narrative leaps and happen upon one of many mind-bending twists along the way, the soundtrack intrinsically heightens the shock through overbearing and often chilling sounds that refuse to cut off when the clip reaches its end. Instead, the tones linger as you ponder the film grid and consider where to look next.

A defining work of art

For a game so wildly complex with dozens of moving parts, its astounding Immortality even forms a cohesive experience, let alone one so compelling. With all its pieces laid out and the many variations factored in, it seems a herculean effort to bring everything together in a way that not only does justice to the individual stories, but in a manner that remains riveting for the player regardless of what they find and which direction they push towards.

The Verdict – 10/10

Somehow, Immortality does the impossible. From its extraordinary cast to the tremendous writing and elegant systems that enable us to interact with every frame of this stunning creation, it really couldn’t have been executed any better.

Go in unspoiled, let the interactive story sweep you away, and enjoy all the twists and turns of this masterfully designed game.

Reviewed on PC.