IMMORTALITY is the third game in Sam Barlow’s full-motion video (FMV) portfolio. Although I haven’t played Telling Lies and the critically acclaimed Her Story, they have been on my ‘to play’ list for a while due to their high praise and my love for puzzle games, especially within the crime genre. After playing IMMORTALITY, these ‘to play’ entries immediately became a purchase.
Sam Barlow’s FMV games all follow the same kind of play style: there’s a mystery to solve, and you must sift through countless found footage videos to solve it. In Her Story, a woman has been interviewed seven times about her missing husband and in Telling Lies, you’re watching recorded video conversations to discover an overarching lie. IMMORTALITY takes a unique dive into the world of filmmaking, and follows an actress who was set to become the next big star in the 70s, Marissa Marcel (Manon Gage), and her acting career before she mysteriously disappeared.
Marissa was involved in three movies which were never released and the footage of which was either lost or destroyed. They are spread out across three decades while Marissa strangely never ages. To solve the mystery, we must sift through a database of film recordings derived from the movie dailies, auditions, table reads, interviews, and behind-the-scenes footage.
The first film, intended to be Marissa’s debut in 1968, is Ambrosio, an adaptation of a goth novel by M.G. Lewis, The Monk. Marissa plays an alluring nun, Matilda, who gets involved in a passionate love affair with a monk called Ambrosio. Two years later, John Durick writes Minksy, a mystery thriller which he wrote with Marissa in mind to play a muse who is suspected of murdering a famous artist and starts a dangerous love affair with the detective who is investigating the case, played by Carl Goodman (Ty Molbak). After a tragic incident on set leads to the death of a cast member, Marissa then takes a nearly three-decade hiatus, only returning in 1999 to star in Durick’s next film Two of Everything, a thriller exploring the relationship between a pop star and her body double.
The gameplay mechanics are simple. You start off with one video in the database, the setup is designed to feel like an old Moviola machine, and you can fast forward and rewind the footage at will. The aim of IMMORTALITY is to go into the picture mode to pause the video and select a face or an object which will take you to another video which also has that face or object (or something vaguely similar), like match cutting in film editing. You must gradually hop from video to video with this tool to slowly build up a database of footage and reveal Marissa’s acting career and demise. The database can be sorted via the date it was recorded or the order they appear in the film, and you can also filter it down to focus on just one movie. There is also a favouriting tool so that you can single out certain recordings. I used this to save footage which had quite a few faces and props to interact with so that I could make sure that I had covered everything.
Because IMMORTALITY’s main mechanic is watching found footage videos, there’s not a lot to judge when it comes to the gameplay. To put it simply, if you’re not looking to play a game which requires a lot of watching videos, then this isn’t for you. But if you are looking for that, then it’s a great choice because the film aspects are great.
IMMORTALITY perfects the feeling of filmmaking within the three decades that it features and it really looks as if each recording was taken within the 60s, 70s or 90s. The acting is also pretty great for an FMV, especially with the likes of Manon Gage, who does a superb job of portraying Marissa over three decades and the way she grows between each film. During Ambrosio, Marissa is a budding star who seems quite anxious on set, in Minski she’s much more confident, and in Two of Everything, she’s almost withdrawn into herself after a traumatic accident during her previous film.
The writing is also top-notch, which is unsurprising given the involvement of writers Allan Scott (Don’t Look Now and Queen’s Gambit), Amelia Gray (Mr. Robot and Maniac) and Barry Gifford (Wild at Heart and Lost Highway). Although each film fully embodies the B Movie vibe in terms of story, I still found them very interesting to follow, especially when partnered with the behind-the-scenes events.
IMMORTALITY offers absolutely nothing in terms of pointers or explanation. You simply find the footage, and then it’s up to you to formulate an idea of what happened. Once you find the answer, the game will end. The only hint towards your progress is the trophies, which will usually let you know if you’ve explored every link concerning a certain object (such as a gun). Sometimes the game will tip you off on certain pieces of information which may be valuable using audio queues, but you’re on your own the majority of the time, as intended by the developers.
Some of the negatives that I can summarise from my playthrough include the fact that some of the “match cuts” were a bit of a stretch; the objects that are supposed to be linked are completely unrelated, so wouldn’t really work as a match cut. One example I can think of was a shot from Marissa’s blonde hair to a white wall. I also would have liked to see more footage from interviews and other pieces outside of filming as there were so many behind-the-scenes videos and dailies, but only one interview with Marissa and another with John Durick, it would have been interesting to have maybe seen some news reports surrounding the accident on the Minski set or even something on Marissa’s disappearance to further drive that sense of mystery.
I also think it would have been handy for there to be more options in terms of sorting and filtering the database, as there is a huge number of clips to go through. It would have been useful to maybe be able to make folders for certain videos, or be able to list them in order myself rather than using a sorting function. I also would have liked to maybe be able to save specific parts of some footage, so that I could go back on that certain piece of information without having to move through the whole clip.
My final piece of criticism, and probably the biggest of all, is that the wigs that Marissa wears are absolutely awful, especially the long blonde one which she dons while filming Two of Everything. It’s so bad that it’s actually pretty distracting in most scenes. At first, I thought that they were maybe supposed to show the low budget of the movies, but the wig is also on during rehearsals, so it’s supposed to be Marissa’s real hair. I’ve bought better online that cost close to nothing.
Although IMMORTALITY may not be for everyone’s taste, those who walk in wanting an FMV will get one which not only has an impressive production that’s well put together, but has a fascinating story too. This is definitely a game for cinephiles who will appreciate its theme and also those who don’t mind putting the pieces together themselves in terms of the story. I also can’t wait to see some of the analysis videos on this game once it releases as I’m really interested to see other player’s interpretations of the story. In total, it only took me four hours to complete, but in my opinion, this was a perfect length for an FMV. It’s safe to say that, despite its flaws, I enjoyed unravelling the mystery of Marissa Marcel, and will be checking out Her Story and Telling Lies.