A snake slithering past a rose. A foot curled around someone else’s ankle. A crucifix made of polaroids of a murder victim. In Sam Barlow’s newest game, Immortality, power is found in rich and specific images: they feel precarious, as on the edge of dipping into something deep and murky. This full motion video game sends you into a trove of the lost films of the fictional actress Marissa Marcel.
Like in many of Barlow’s games, the player is an investigator, but this time they traverse the content using match cuts. The player can jump from clip to clip by selecting a face or prop. Clicking on the face of an extra or a bowl of fruit can send the player down a rabbit hole, uncovering the films Marissa worked on and glimmers of her loves, frustrations, and tragedies. The story of Immortality is primarily navigated using two features, the match cut and scrubbing backwards.
The first method allows one to jump from one similar image to another. To do this, the player has to pause the video, and select a face or item to jump from. At one point in the game I jumped from an image of a cat to an actor pantomiming petting a cat. Another time, jumping from an imposing crucifix brought me to a dainty cross necklace.
However, when jumping the game starts the videos at the first instance of that image, which frequently is not the beginning. Having to constantly remember to restart the video once it started playing felt clunky. The second feature for uncovering information became clear to me while searching for images to jump from. While scrubbing backwards in certain videos, other images or videos may reveal themselves. The idea that there is something or someone hiding inside of this footage caught me off guard in an exciting and frightening way.
In the first moments of Immortality, the player is presented with an archive of footage, and through text boxes is told how to navigate it. At the same time, the game is also explaining the player’s task, restoring said footage. Additionally, one of the chunks of text explaining all this becomes damaged, somehow, with missing letters. While this section succeeds at teaching players how to explore the footage, it felt like too much information all at once.
Explaining all at once how to play, what the task is, along with the idea that the film is damaged was too much for me, at least to fully understand only through sections of text. Following that unclear introduction, I spent the first hour or so feeling unsure of what I was looking for, which made the game’s events feel low stakes. This feeling did not last forever, though, as once I discovered the second navigation feature, scrubbing backwards, I felt a sense of eerie unease that drew me in more fully.
While Immortality offers several interactive mechanics, the gameplay remains simple, as the player will spend most of their time watching clips. Personally, I found the story and characters compelling, but those who need more involving gameplay and an active role in the unfolding of the narrative may feel bored. This is definitely one for fans of visual novels, films, and story rich games, which will likely appreciate the fully imagined world that Barlow invites us into. Overall, uncovering Marissa’ story and the reasons behind her disappearance will take about five to six hours of gameplay.
The films that Marissa stars in are lavishly imagined and executed. Each is set distinctly in its own time period, complete with thoughtful costumes and set dressings (I could have done without Marissa’s unseemly wigs though). The film grid, where the videos are stored, feels richy inspired by classic cinema (the Moviola machine is mentioned in the tutorial) with a clean visual aesthetic. The clicking of the machine as the film is played and the instrumentals that get more tense as the story progresses enrich the gameplay experience.
How much of ourselves are we willing to lose in our art? This question rattled through my brain as I played through the trilogy of movies that defined Marissa Marcel’s life. Throughout the clips, Marissa comes across as intelligent, passionate and talented, but as the story progresses, the player sees less of her fire, and more of her moments of panic, fear, and doubt. The clips and images depict her relationship with the industry, the men in her life, and her own art rotting away.
There is a sense of anger lurking in the folds of Immortality, especially in the hidden images. Anger that so much was sacrificed so that these beautiful films could become a reality, only to then never actually be released to the public to be consumed and praised. Playing this game feels akin to being haunted by a ghost who wants you to know their suffering, and feel the full weight of it.
Platform : [PC], Xbox, iOS and Android
Developer: Half Mermaid and Sam Barlow
Genre: Full Motion Video adventure
Release Date: August 2022
Immortality: Sam Barlow’s newest game is a compelling and richly imagined full motion video game. After a slow start, exploring the lost films of Marissa Marcel made for an eerie and captivating experience. – Isabelle Smith