IMMORTALITY: a contender for narrative game of the year

Let’s get this out of the way before we get into the specifics of IMMORTALITY: I am a massive fan of FMV games. I grew up with Goosebumps: Escape from Horrorland and have since had an affinity with any title that borrows from the genre, as these days I find games of this type to be both familiar and innovative.

While more modern FMV games such as Death Come True and The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker tend to miss the mark or never quite reach the potential of their premise, there is a certain specialist of the genre we can continue to trust: Sam Barlow.

Sam Barlow is one of the most consistent creators of FMV games. Most people’s first encounter with his work will have been the brilliant Her Story, where players play detective in putting together the correct timeline to solve a mystery by discovering the most significant dialogue within video footage.

This was followed up by Telling Lies, the first game produced with his studio Half Mermaid Productions. This was another mystery set in the comfort of others’ homes, with the player once again piecing together a thriller narrative by analysing strangers’ video conversations.

IMMORTALITY, meanwhile, has completely blindsided me with its excellence, creativity and highly memorable nature. It’s of the highest standard that I’ve seen in the genre, with impressive production values, sublime attention to detail and incredible acting and writing. Now that I’ve played and reached the credits after seven hours of gameplay, I will not go another minute without talking about this game!

You have no idea what’s in store for you – keep it that way


IMMORTALITY really needs to be played blind, so there’s no spoilers to be found here. Please don’t go out of your way to find out much more information about the game, and just play it as soon as possible before its contents become common knowledge and widespread on the Internet. You can easily access the game via Steam or Xbox, including on Game Pass.

Do pay attention to its themes and content warnings, however, since this is a highly mature game. It deals with material including murder, abuse, nudity, suicide and blasphemy, so without spoiling yourself it’s worth being aware what you’re getting yourself into. You can find a full list of content warnings on the game’s main menu or the developer’s website.

So let’s give a general overview of IMMORTALITY. The game focuses on a model-turned-actress named Marissa Marcel, though she only performed in three movies, none of which ever released. Her movie career began in 1968 with Ambrosio, the movie adaptation of M.G. Lewis’ Gothic novel The Monk — expect corruption and blasphemy aplenty.

In 1970 she followed this up with Minsky, a noir thriller where Marissa’s character is the suspected murderer of a famous artist who regarded her as his muse. And finally, in 1999 she starred in Two of Everything, returning to acting after a lengthy hiatus to play a pop star living a double life.

The game establishes who Marissa is with some footage from a 1969 late-night TV show. She’s immediately appealing with her spunky, can-do attitude, and she feels easy to talk to; you naturally gravitate towards her. This is all down to Manon Gage’s electrifying performance as Marissa. She’s mesmerising — and there are plenty more performance highlights to discover throughout the game, but those are for you to discover!

The truth is at the very tip of your finger


Sam Barlow’s games all have one thing in common: how deep the narrative goes is all down to how far the player explores. There’s no explicit explanation of anything, and the tutorial is so vague as to perhaps leave many players perplexed as to what they should be doing. It couldn’t be any simpler, though, despite no handy objectives list: there’s just one central mystery to solve. Marissa is missing, so what happened to her?

To figure things out, you’ll have to watch each clip, play around with rewinding and fast forwarding and look for certain spectacles. Gradually you’ll see everything fall into place. Interactivity comes into play with a point-and-click interface that allows you to pause clips and select areas of interest within a scene to jump to other parts of Marissa’s lifetime and career. These points of interest can be individuals, objects or even landscapes, with each clip providing the potential to add to the overall context and narrative.

While this aspect of gameplay is achieved by selecting props that can sometimes feel a bit random, when you think about it, it starts to make a lot more sense — and feels very rewarding. For example, a scene plays out in one of Marissa’s movies where she can be heard being thrown into a body of water, so I began searching for other clips featuring water, and ended up discovering something interesting through such a selection. Clever me!

While the main “puzzle” of the game is to solve the mystery of Marissa’s disappearance, the real aim feels like discovering the complete picture of Marissa’s career over the course of three decades. The more you play, the more you’ll discover of the context behind her movies — it’ll take numerous repeats of every clip to truly see every line of dialogue, every frame of footage and reveal all the hidden secrets through all the tricks and cleverly hidden information.

You can piece together the three movies by jumping around different clips, and these each have their own stories that run for up to an hour long each. It’s a delightful part of learning about the game world while seeing how relationships were established and developed over time.

Sublime in every sense of the word

IMMORTALITY spans the course of 30 years, and it accurately depicts this passage of time in how the movies are shot, the way in which the cast and crew behave and the depiction of the societal changes that have occurred outside of the confines of the movies. It all feels very organic and authentic. For example, the first directly Marissa works with is grossly misogynistic, frequently mistreating and verbally undermining his female cast members, while one of the very last clips is Marissa attempting to break out into music with a pop album just as the millennium is about to turn.

The whole thing makes for a convincing “found footage” kind of experience. It’s particularly interesting to see when the movies cut and Marissa moves from acting as a character to being “herself”. She starts to flirt or act playfully towards the camera and her colleagues as a bit of mindless, easy-going fun after the stress of shooting a scene. It’s all very realistic.

The acting and directing is terrific thanks to the raw talent of the cast — it really helps to sell the unnerving events and emotional scenes. The music complements everything on screen well, also, changing and heightening during particularly important scenes that are worth digging further into. It’s worth using a headset and controller to play the game, as that way it’s easier to pick up on certain audio cues, and the vibration helps in places also. It all helps provide even better payoffs for certain scenes.

IMMORTALITY feels like a nicely streamlined way of playing an interactive movie compared to Sam Barlow’s previous work. It’s a welcome design choice that accommodates those less familiar with the genre without sacrificing its depth; I have nothing but admiration for the overall design of the game.

A truly layered mystery and bewildering experience

IMMORTALITY’s many revelations are very exciting and layered. Surprises in the plotlines of the movies are one thing, then the uncovering of what has been transpiring in the real world off the set makes things even more complicated. Then there are things that are going on in the background that triple all the intrigue. To call the game as a whole complex is an understatement.

And to make things even deeper, each of the in-game movies has its own selling point, cast, writers and crew members for you to learn more about. Each movie helps to capture each of the three time periods through set design, costumes, hairstyles, cinematography, overall style and even the way the subtitles are presented if you happen to have them on.

The whole thing can be looked upon as a critique of cinema: how actors are pushed to their limit; how they completely lose themselves in their roles; and how they are forced to behave a certain way in order to maintain their fame. As the title suggests, the question at the core of the whole thing is exactly what someone might sacrifice in the name of being remembered forever? Is it worth attaining immortality at any cost, even if it’s through infamy?

IMMORTALITY has a thought-provoking narrative; it features unassuming but difficult to master gameplay design, and there’s a harrowing truth to discover, plus plenty of additional mysteries to uncover over subsequent playthroughs. It’s an incredible experience, and I urge you to try it for yourself.

IMMORTALITY is available on PC and Xbox Series X|S, with iOS, Android and Netflix versions following soon.

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Lilia Hellal
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