Well folks, I have no idea what Immortality is. I played half an hour of Sam Barlow’s upcoming FMV title as part of the Tribeca Game Selection, and it was probably the most interesting half an hour I spent across all the demos I sampled – but I’m not sure I know why.
I can explain what it is literally, of course. Immortality is the story of fictional actress Marissa Marcel and the three movies she starred in before disappearing. Through watching various clips, you need to uncover the mystery behind her disappearance. How it works in practice, at least while you’re getting to grips with the mechanics, is that you click through clips at random and feel like you have absolutely no idea what’s happening. I was often completely lost, but I think that’s a good thing.
I have struggled to get on board with the recent spate of ‘go anywhere!’ games. Breath of the Wild, Elden Ring, and even Sable felt a little too directionless for me. I know there’s an issue with open-world games being soulless checklists, but just taking away the instructions has never worked for me. With Immortality though, I finally get it. This definitely won’t be for everyone, especially as even as someone on board with it I can’t really make a sales pitch for it, but it’s unlike any other experience I’ve had in gaming. After a Summer Game Fest full of outer space sludge, we should be lifting up fresh perspectives like this.
Immortality begins with Marcel on a chat show as she promotes her new movie with the game’s first clip, and where it goes from there is completely up to you. In each bit of footage, you click any person in the video, and you’ll be transported to another clip starring that person. This order seems to be random, but I suspect it’s not, because I ended up repeating clips before seeing them all. Sometimes clips start in the middle, and you don’t realise you’ve seen it until it is caught up, encouraging you to scrub forward and back to see the whole thing and understand the context of what exactly is going on.
The presentation is especially slick. There seem to be three different types of footage here: rehearsal (split into table reads, run throughs, and early takes), finished shots (ones that conceivably come from the actual movie, with editing and lighting etc. in place), and real life (such as the talk show, or time between takes being filmed). In my first half of the demo, I was just watching these clips on the surface level – viewing them as a movie, and enjoying them on merit. After a while though, I began to notice the supporting cast repeating, sometimes in very different roles, or noticing changes in Marcel herself. You are going to have to make Immortality work for you to get the most out of it, but I think enough people will be willing to put in the effort like they did with Barlow’s previous games Her Story and Telling Lies.
Once it establishes the types of footage it has, it plays with our expectations. In one scene, an actor breaks down during a take, leading to confused questions from the (off camera) crew. In another, the actor yells at the director through the camera, which may or may not be a piece of meta cinema. Takes run over, and change from rehearsals to real-life candid footage. The divide is less clear than it first appeared.
It’s not just the mixture of clips that makes Immortality such an interesting prospect, but the freedom it gives you. I started experimenting with what I could click on, and while the mechanic advertises itself as being for characters, I struggled to find something actually off-limits. Shoes, tables, guns, knives, masks, and scripts all linked up to another clip. A door was the one thing I had no luck with.
I don’t think it’s a negative that I’m more confused about Immortality after just 30 minutes of play – think of how confused you might be if you had to describe The Matrix, Paprika, Brazil, or Eternal Sunshine after only watching 30 minutes. Now imagine how much harder it might be if those 30 minutes were given to you in random clips? Trying to tell you about Immortality is like that, except given how much longer video games are than movies, imagine it’s 30 minutes of random clips from The Matrix Quadrilogy. Immortality is one of the most compelling upcoming releases for the second half of 2022. Just don’t ask me what it’s about.
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