There are plenty of games coming out this summer that are worth getting excited about. RPG fans will have their hands full with it Soul Hackers 2 and Xenoblade Chronicles 3† Saints Row will try to hold on to Grand Theft Auto fans as they continue to wait for its distant sixth episode† And of course, strayed wants to melt hearts with his cat-focused gameplay†
However, the most exciting game of the summer is one that you may not have heard of. Immortality is the latest project from Half Mermaid Productions and Her story director Sam Barlow. Like Barlow’s earlier works, it is a narrative game in which players search a database of full-motion video clips (FMV) to solve a mystery. The difference is that players don’t see through police interviews and surveillance footage; they delve into lost film footage spanning decades.
Based on a demo I played on Tribeca Fest† Immortality will not only be Barlow’s most ambitious work to date, but arguably the most impressive FMV projects ever. It’s a dazzling interactive experience that keeps me thinking about it for days after playing.
Immortality revolves around Marissa Marcel, an actress who has mysteriously disappeared. Marcel had three leading roles to her name between 1968 and 1999, but none of those films saw the light of day. The game gives players access to a wealth of footage, from daily newspapers to practice clips to filmed readings of table scripts, which they can browse to find clues about her disappearance.
It’s much more subtle than something like Her story† In that game, players watched police interviews with a murder suspect to solve a criminal case. All the dialogues related directly to the research, so it was easy to put together. Immortality requires a much sharper eye. Players must separate moments of filmed fiction from reality on set. One-off lines and simple body language become important cues.
In one clip, I see two actors hugging on set after the director mentions cut. Soon I’m down a rabbit hole trying to figure out who the mystery man is and where else he pops up in Marcel’s life. Was he present at every table reading? Did he say anything suspicious on set? Is there a double meaning behind some of his script lines or am I just reading too deeply into it? There is much more brain work involved than just listening to important rules.
Therefore, Immortality has a very different gameplay setup than Barlow’s previous titles. Instead of typing in keywords to discover new images, players click on the images themselves. Tap on a script that’s on a table and you’ll jump to another clip where that script appears on the screen. So do humans, as players can click on an actor’s face and switch seamlessly to another clip via a ‘match cut’.
It’s much easier to get lost in immortality than, say, Telling lies, another Barlow game. I found myself jumping between clips at a rapid pace without watching them all in full, probably missing important details. Fortunately, while it can be a bit overwhelming at times, the game does its best to organize clips for players by putting discovered footage into a handy timeline. Within 30 minutes I had discovered nearly twenty video clips, all packed with nuances worth studying.
I cannot emphasize enough how mind-bogglingly ambitious the project is. Half Mermaid has essentially made three fiction films, all of which are historical pieces. Take, for example, the 1968 portion of the game, which revolves around a gothic movie called ambrosio† During my demo, I saw scenes from the fictional film itself, which are a dead letter for a historical drama from the 1960s. But that level of detail should also be reflected in the behind-the-scenes clips and additional footage. Later I find a late night talk show interview from that era that resembles an episode of Johnny Carson’s run on The Tonight Show.
It’s an impressive trick, but also a functional one. It creates visual literacy in a game that revolves around a complicated timeline of events. I can always tell the year by looking at the quality of the images or the hairstyles (a casual behind-the-scenes clip features some undeniable 70s hairstyles). This allows me to examine clips more smoothly without stopping to check the timeline.
Part of me wished I hadn’t played Immortalitysimply because I can’t get it out of my head. I’ve only scratched the surface of Marcel’s story during my 30 minutes with the game, but it still haunts me. I re-enact scenes in my head, trying to connect the dots, even though I only have a few to work with. If the last game is this mysterious, I imagine it will be high on my list of games of the year in December.
Immortality launches on July 26 for PC and Xbox Series X/S, with more platforms to be announced. It will be available on Xbox Game Pass at launch.