I feel ill-equipped to talk about Immortality. It's a complex production that layers metaphors on top of its convoluted story, and makes parallels and references that make me question my media literacy. But the fact remains that the game has been living rent-free in my head for a while now, so I might as well try to elaborate on why.
The idea behind Immortality will be familiar to anyone who played other Sam Barlow games: it presents a video database that is searchable only in a convoluted way, and the goal is to find as many clips as possible so as to piece together the story of the game from them. This time, the database consists of production clips from a series of movies, and they are unlocked by means of a mechanic called the Match Cut: by stopping playback and clicking on a person or object in the scene you’re in, you are taken to another scene with that in it. Click on a person, and you'll watch another clip where that person appears; click on a book, and find a scene where another book, or something resembling a book, appears.
It's novel to have scene composition employed as something of a maze to be explored, each frame emphasizing different people and objects that can be seen as paths leading elsewhere. When put against the central mechanics of Immortality's predecessors, the Match Cut feels delightfully fresh, though it does come with a couple of downsides. One of them is that it is not entirely deterministic: in previous games, you could guarantee that searching for a word would always yield the same new scenes, but the match cut can have wildly different results and leave some people stuck. Also, counterintuitively, the interface in general favors those who use a controller, and I’m still not 100% sure how some mouse interactions are meant to work even after fully completing the game.
The clips are mostly from one of three movies: Ambrosio, a 60s adaptation of an 18th Century novel; Minsky, a crime thriller from the 70s; and finally, Two of Everything, a mass-market thriller from the 90s. These movies have two things in common: the first being that they all star actress Marissa Marcel, and the second, that they were never released. Your goal, at least at first, is to find out why those releases were held back. Her Story players that were disappointed with Telling Lies will be happy to hear that, this time, we're back to having a mystery to untangle, as well as a varied cast of characters with depth to their personalities. Although, I can't say Immortality won’t be polarizing: there’s an overarching plot tying the movies together, and it will draw out different reactions from people, mainly because, at one point, it forces a shift from engaging with the text in a metaphorical sense to a literal one -- and that can be a tough pill to swallow.
What isn’t controversial, however, is how stunning the production values are, and how much care went into making the game. Starting with the performances: Manon Gage is phenomenal as Marissa, Hans Christopher makes Durick an incredibly believable character, and Charlotta Mohlin -- playing my favorite character in the game which I won't spoil -- puts on such raw displays of emotion, every time she's on camera, it hits hard. There's an essay by Jacob Geller on one of these moments (heavy spoiler warning) that I think is a must-watch for those who finished the game.
What makes the performances even more impressive is that these people are acting that they're performers in a movie set: in another of my favorite clips, an actor -- Robert Jones, played by Miles Szanto -- tries to get into character for a scene, and shifts between the mannerisms of the character and the actor whenever the clapperboard sounds. We see similar things happen in many other clips, the actors shifting from actor to character, and sometimes, that very line being blurred, leaving one to question what exactly is going on on-camera.
Add to that the careful filming and editing, the choices and variety of sets, the costumes, even the attention to details like the different types of camera and post processing used for each period... all of it makes Immortality feel authentic, to a point one could probably take clips from any of the three fictitious movies and pass them off as the making-of of classics from their respective time periods, and most people would be none the wiser.
And there’s much more, like how the game uses light, color, dance, music… but for those things, I can only describe how they affect me on an emotional level, so I’ll leave it to the more media-literate to dissect. I’ll end by saying that Immortality is a unique experience, one that deftly uses film to discuss themes of art, control and relationships, and is definitely a standout from 2022.
Reviewed on Jan 20, 2023