There is a moment in the movies when a restless, investigative protagonist falls down a proverbial rabbit hole and reveals a shocking truth, reframing everything they thought they knew. The appeal of Immortality, like other Sam Barlow and Half Mermaid games, is that it places the player in this exciting role and develops the ultimate reveal of it. It’s almost impenetrable at times, as both A to B’s basic plot and main themes are much more opaque than the team’s previous puzzles. And yet, it’s not really any worse for it. Despite, and sometimes because of, the dizzying effect of falling down the rabbit hole, Immortality becomes another standout narrative. It’s similar to its predecessors, Telling Lies and Her Story, in some key ways, but also more thought-provoking and certainly more unnerving than you’ll be prepared for.
Writing this review has proven difficult because pretty much the entire game feels like a spoiler. I can allude to things, like the game being scarier than I would have imagined, but I can’t really tell you why. I can vaguely mention dramatic story twists, but given the sparse timeline, you may not see certain moments until long after I do. I can at least explain how this game works, because if this is your first time experiencing a game from this small team, you will feel completely strange.
Playing Immortality is like operating an old-fashioned Moviola machine, once used by editors in the movies, but now repurposed to allow you to sift through hours upon hours of old live-action movies in an attempt to solve a mystery: What happened to Marisa Marcel? As a 17-year-old fictional actress making her film debut in late ’60s Hollywood, Marissa was poised to be the Next Big Thing, but for the next 31 years, she would only appear in three movies, and none of them would ever. mountain release.
Figuring out the why of the matter is up to you, and with this Moviola machine, you’ll be able to rewind, fast-forward, pause and zoom in on any detail of your choice in any given scene. Doing so will bring up a similar image from elsewhere in the files, so at one point clicking on Marissa’s face when she’s playing Matilda in 1968’s Ambrose can take you to a table read for 1999’s Two of Everything. Clicking on the same scene at another point, even Marissa’s face in a different frame, can take you back to 1970s Minsky.
You can’t predict where the Moviola machine will take you, but you’ll soon understand that it’s best to explore the faces and objects that you find interesting. The point is to keep finding new scenes by clicking on different things and then clicking on items in those new scenes to find plus scenes As you see more and more footage, you will begin to piece together the larger story.
These three films are intermixed without any classification beyond the dates they were shot, but it’s enough to start building the multi-layered narrative over several hours of playback. On one level, you need to figure out what each of the three movies is about, because doing so informs the mindset of the cast and crew, their artistic inspirations, and perhaps their darker sides. But the footage you’ll discover extends beyond the movie scenes. It also includes auditions, behind-the-scenes moments, and, well, you’ll see.
Like Telling Lies and Her Story, the things you think you’ve come to understand will routinely be undermined by the information you learn as you continue to investigate. Each recontextualization feels like the surprising end of a chapter in a great book. Is this a crime drama? A terror story? A love story? It’s a bit of all three, and more, at different times. It plays out like most literary readings, in that it’s more concerned with its underlying themes than its plot.
Immortality’s straight-forward approach to unraveling its many threads is perhaps less rewarding here than in previous Half Mermaid games, due to how confusing it remains to the very end. But it’s more fascinating for the same reason and it left me thinking about what I saw versus what he wanted me to understand. I don’t think Immortality is intended to be a game that leaves players misunderstanding what happened, but because it has a definite end point, you can come to its conclusion less clearly than someone who played for the same number of hours.
The footage from 1968 and 1970 feels incredibly authentic, with film grain, muffled audio, dated camera techniques, and an authentic set to send players virtually traveling through space-time. Although the 1999 film is much more recent and therefore requires a very different approach than the other films, it also manages to feel like a time capsule from a bygone generation.
The performances are generally excellent, and by working with unknown actors, Half Mermaid prevents players from being distracted by recognizable faces. After all, Marissa is said to have disappeared. The illusion of a mystery waiting to be solved doesn’t work as well if Anya Taylor-Joy plays the role of the missing actor.
When you consider that each actor in the game plays up to three or four characters in the entire timeline, it’s really unlike anything that’s been done before in games, even between the team’s previous works. The general opinion of live action games is that they are seen as half awkward movies, half games that don’t do half justice. For the third time, Sam Barlow’s team defies that stereotype with a thoughtful script, brilliant actors, and a player-driven unboxing of Pandora.
There are moments in this game that I can’t go into detail about, but they are the main reason I’ve given this game the high rating you see below. The first time I came across an example of a particular game mechanic, I jumped out of my seat with excitement, alerting my wife that what she thought would be Immortality had changed drastically in an instant. Even once I learned What Immortality works, it continued to surprise me with what it would show me, what it would tell me, and best of all, what it would refuse to tell me, leaving me wondering long after I finally found out Marissa’s fate.