Immortality Review – a captivating and cinematic mystery video game

Manon Gage plays Marissa Marcel in ‘Immortality’ © Half Mermaid

What happened to Marissa Marcel? The actress starred in three movies and seemed on a sure path to success. But none of these were ever released, and after her last photo, she disappeared. Decades later, the footage of those canceled projects has been handed to you. Sitting in your editing suite, scrolling through celluloid, you’re tasked with solving a mystery where each answer only brings more tantalizing questions.

Marcel is the star of Immortality, the latest release from indie developer author Sam Barlow, who specializes in cinematic games in which players run through filmed footage — all with real actors, not CGI avatars — to piece together a story. But Barlow doesn’t like to call his games “interactive movies.” “It’s a lot of filmed performances,” he tells me, “but they’re not really movies. The magic of movies is that there’s an edit – you’re given footage in a very specific sequence.

In contrast, his games are defined by non-linear storytelling. Players can uncover snippets of footage in any order, following their detective instincts. In his brilliant escape game, His history, this meant assembling filmed police interviews with a murder suspect. The follow-up, Tell liesasked players to watch video calls between characters to unravel a twisty story of undercover cops and secret identities. Immortality is his most ambitious work to date, a love letter to film history that plays like a postmodern detective story – until it swings boldly into cosmic horror.

An image from a video game shows a grid made up of movie stills
Players arrange their pieces of film on a grid © Half Mermaid

However Immortality is a game you’ll be watching a lot, sometimes without touching the controls for minutes at a time. It’s easy to appreciate because the images are so compelling. Marcel’s work includes an erotic thriller Ambrosiusblack detective Minsky and identity thriller two of everything. Each has a distinct aesthetic, as the game delights in exacting period detail, from cinematography to sets, costumes to aspect ratio, while the acting is brilliant – especially Manon Gage as the role. of Marcel, in a layered performance where she plays a troubled actress in and out of various roles. It’s a cinephile’s dream, packed with distinctive imagery and references to Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch and even featuring an Andy Warhol cameo.

The game’s interface mimics an old Moviola editing machine, letting you wade through miles of footage, looking for clues as to what happened to the vanished star. The clips are mostly taken from the films themselves, but there’s also additional material in the archive to help you on your hunt: behind-the-scenes footage, chemistry tests, location scouting, rehearsals, and a few ending talk show appearances. evening.

In a nighttime scene with city lights in the background, a young woman looks worried
Jocelin Donahue as Amy Archer © Half Mermaid

At the start of the game, only a handful of clips are available. It’s your job to unlock more using the game’s new “match cut” mechanic. Pause a scene at any time and click on something – be it an actor’s face, jewels, or furniture in the background – and the game will teleport you to that same feature in another clip. So click on the apple on a table in Ambrosius and you will find yourself in front of a bowl of fruit in two of everything, 20 years later. You’ll add this new clip to your expanding repertoire of sources, and you might also wonder why, decades later, Marcel doesn’t seem to have aged a day.

“All of my games are about encouraging the player to be obsessive and giving them vanity and the tools to encourage them,” Barlow explains. Immortality invites you down the rabbit hole to follow the rich visual language of cinema, telling the story of a single actor, a member of the background crew or a symbolic object like a rose, a key or a knife. The experience is technically dazzling and frequently inspires dizzying moments of discovery, from shocking twists to a whole hidden mechanic that unlocks an alternate storyline that veers into supernatural territory.

With nearly 10 hours of images, Immortality is most impressive in its dedication to nonlinear storytelling. “For me, audiences are extremely smart and hyper-educated about storytelling,” Barlow says. It’s brave to allow the player to browse the clips however they want, telling the story in their own way.

However, this approach also has pitfalls. The game is sometimes frustrating and slow, while some themes are laid on a bit of thickness. But he succeeds more than he fails. Watching these actors perform, you can feel held at a distance, which makes it all the more powerful when you catch flashes of genuine human interaction between scenes, an errant exchange of words between actors and directors which offer a brief and piercing insight. in their hearts and minds.

“Immortality” is available now on Xbox Series X/S, PC, Mac and mobile. It is currently available on Xbox Game Pass and will be released soon on Netflix


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Raymond I. Langston