I recently wrote about how much God of War Ragnarök‘s father-son story resonated with me.
It’s easily my favourite game of the year, and certainly an all-timer for me on the whole. But while I had the biggest emotional connection to Kratos and Atreus’ journey, there’s another 2022 game that I recently beat which had one of the most fascinating and unique stories I’ve ever seen in a game: Immortality.
It’s the latest game from Sam Barlow, the creator of the 2015 FMV game Her Story and its 2019 spiritual successor, Telling Lies. Like those two titles, Immortality features an assortment of pre-recorded live-action video files through which you have to piece together the larger story.
While FMV experiences have been around for many years, it’s Barlow and developer Half Mermaid Productions’ execution that truly sells Immortality. In the game, you have to figure out what happened to Marisa Marcel, a model-turned-actress who starred in three unreleased movies. As the player, you go through clips of each film — the 1968 gothic romance film Ambrosio, the 1970 mystery Minsky and 1999 thriller Two of Everything. In any given clip, selecting a person or object of interest will jump you to a corresponding piece of footage from one of the other films or behind-the-scenes recordings. Sometimes, this is as obvious as clicking Marissa or one of her co-stars, but elsewhere, it might relate to something seemingly insignificant in the background, like a piece of fruit. This mechanic, which Barlow has dubbed “the match cut,” is incredibly innovative. The ways in which the games 202 clips are connected are staggering, and I can’t imagine the sort of flow chart that was created to map it all out.
It also helps that the three fictional films are also just remarkably well done. Besides tapping into different time periods, they each have their own distinct style and tone, with sharp dialogue and incredible performances across the board. Of particular note is Manon Gage, the newcomer who portrays Marissa, who has to juggle three different roles throughout the films on top of quickly shifting to the real Marissa when the camera stops rolling. It’s a mesmerizing performance and cements her as an up-and-coming actress to look out for. Charlotta Mohlin (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) is another magnificently commanding presence, although her role is a surprise I won’t dare reveal.
Indeed, it’s difficult to say too much more about Immortality without going into spoiler territory, as the game is best experienced going in as dark as possible. But suffice it to say that there are many layers to this tale. With the help of writers Barry Gifford, Amelia Gray and Allan Scott, Barlow has penned a time-hopping narrative that’s just dripping with intrigue. You know there’s something else going on here, but you can’t quite put your finger on it — a feeling that only increases as you get to learn more about Marissa and the rest of the cast. What’s more, Barlow graciously respects your intelligence and leaves it up to you to figure things out — something many games, including God of War Ragnarök, often fail to do. In fact, you can technically “beat” the game within a handful of hours, but you’re rewarded for digging deeper through clips to unlock well-hidden revelations. The moment I discovered the first of these is one of the most bone-chilling and surreal moments I’ve ever experienced in a game.
Because sure, it’s clear pretty early on that Barlow is making a commentary on art and the filmmaking process, but how he explores those themes — and uses the game’s mechanics to make you, the player, an active participant in it — is downright brilliant. It’s the sort of story that could only be told in a game due to its interactivity, and it’s a wholly original one, at that. If you’re subscribed to Netflix, you can play Immortality for free right now on Android or iOS, one of the best value propositions for the streamer’s fledgling gaming platform. It’s also on Xbox and PC, plus Xbox Game Pass, which is where I played it.
If you’re at all a fan of narrative in games, you absolutely should play Immortality.
(Note: a controller is recommended to pick up on vibrational cues.)
Image credit: Half Mermaid Productions