Immortality review: “One beautiful headf*ck”

I hold the pieces of Marissa Marcel’s life in my head. Tiny fragments of missed glances, passionate kisses, forbidden lust, and things that maybe we weren’t meant to see. Three movies, all unreleased, and at the center of it all – a missing woman. What did happen to Marissa Marcel? From one clip expands a hundred, and through them, Immortality implores you to find out. 

Fast Facts: Immortality

Immortality, the third game from Sam Barlow

(Image credit: Sam Barlow / Half Mermaid)

Release date: August 30, 2022
Platform(s): Xbox Series X, Xbox One, Android, iOS, PC
Developer / Publisher: Sam Barlow, Half Mermaid

But it has to start with one. Immortality’s detective gameplay might span three movies, but it always starts with one clip. It introduces you to the fairly simple mechanics that involve the ability to watch each clip, scrub back and forth through the footage, and also pause it to engage ‘image mode’. This freezes the action on a single frame and allows you to interact with an element to find any other clips that may feature the same person or item. It’ll regularly drop you into a clip part-way through and leave you to locate it in time and relevancy. 

Quickly, one clip becomes two, which becomes a handful of vaguely connected threads held together by a look, a smirk, or the face of an emerging talent. Marissa is the star of her own story, of course, but it’s in the items and other people that she interacts with that you begin to find out what’s happened. You’ll eventually build up a whole library of clips, viewable en masse with each clip frozen at the last point you interacted with it, presenting themselves like streams of old-fashioned movie reels. You can move through them, favorite them, and even start to see some more connections from this god-level view. 

Reeling

Immortality, the third game from Sam Barlow

(Image credit: Sam Barlow / Half Mermaid)

Immortality spins its threads through some thirty years, spread across three movies that never made it to cinema, along with some tendrils of other captured moments – some rehearsal spaces, others more personal that almost seem to have been included in the collection by accident. In Immortality, real life and cinema merge within the fiction of the game, and it’s mesmerizing. I find myself following a single face, curious to follow a clue that’s mentioned in another clip I stumbled upon. I start frantically traveling through clips to find something new, using the search to travel through time and place often without even watching each clip in its entirety. It’s almost a fervor at one stage, a desperate race to find that one moment that will unravel this particular spool. You learn quickly how to unpick what, if any of it, is real or at least of value to your mission. 

Immortality, the third game from Sam Barlow

(Image credit: Sam Barlow / Half Mermaid)

Like using the keywords for navigation in Telling Lies and Her Story before it, the connection between Immortality’sclips isn’t always what you expect. But sometimes how they link is as much a hint as the moments themselves. It’s easy to turn yourself in circles with them, replaying the same events over and over in an attempt to unlock something new or find a new thread to explore. It’s a game – like Barlow’s others – where a hint system would be almost blasphemous, but that means figuring your way through can sometimes feel like a total dead end more than another puzzle to overcome. I worry that that could mean that someone who bails out too early may miss some of the darkness and depth that lies beyond what’s on the surface.

Immortality is the third game by Sam Barlow and the Half Mermaid team, and it’s easily the most provocative yet. Some of the scenes are deliberately uncomfortable, with sexism rife in the earliest movie – Ambrosio – and violence and abuse found throughout. The game does come with a content warning right up front, with the kind of language and behavior faithful to the eras in which each film was ‘created’. The first, Ambrosio, is an adaptation of M. G. Lewis’s notorious Gothic novel, The Monk, and filmed in 1968. The second is a classic 1970s detective crime thriller called Minsky that tells the tale of a dead artist and his muses. The final movie, Two of Everything, comes much later – in 1999 – and explores the narrative around a Britney-esque pop star and her body double. We’ll leave you to address the question of why Marissa never seems to age…

The muse

Immortality, the third game from Sam Barlow

(Image credit: Sam Barlow / Half Mermaid)

As with Barlow’s previous titles, the acting capabilities here are astonishingly high. The entire game is, of course, real cinematics (there’s no gameplay footage here), and you’re going to be watching these clips on repeat for as long as it takes for you to solve the game’s various mysteries – none of which we’d dare spoil here. There are some familiar faces here, but the intimacy with which you’ll come to know the characters will render all recognition totally pointless. They are just Marissa, and John, and all the others who’ll you’ll come to know so well – especially in those moments outside of scenes, and beyond the yells of cut and scene. 

Barlow’s games have always dealt with themes of voyeurism and how that makes you feel as a player behind the lens. It’s somehow even worse when you’re physically interacting with the footage, as you find yourself scrubbing back and forth through faked orgasms and sexual escapades. And yet I find myself using the nudity as yet another thread, as it becomes clear Marissa’s promiscuity is another crucial thread to tug at. Suddenly I’m simultaneously laughing and feeling pretty gross as I use an exposed nipple to start connecting the clips instead of a face or a bowl of fruit. Without ever being explicit about it, Immortality asks you a lot of questions, reflecting your own thoughts and emotions back on yourself, as if those you’re watching see you – and your flaws – too. 

Immortality, the third game from Sam Barlow

(Image credit: Sam Barlow / Half Mermaid)

Because of that, it’s quite capable of messing with your head. Not only will the very NSFW parts make you wary of where you’re choosing to play Immortality, but it also makes you second guess yourself. It’ll start with something you think you almost see in a scrub back and forth, and before long you’ll realize there’s much more to Marissa’s story than you’ll initially ever imagine. 

Immortality is one beautiful headfuck. Once again Barlow has surpassed himself, with this game surpassing anything else that’s come before it in the genre. 


Immortality was reviewed on PC with a code provided by the publisher.

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