Immortality Review: Its Flawed People Are Perfect, But The Game Isn’t

Available on: PC, Xbox Series X and Series S

Developer: Half Mermaid | Editor: Half Mermaid

Spoiler Warning: This review covers the plot and mechanics of “Immortality” in detail. Do not continue if you want to preserve the surprises of the story.

Earlier this year, I learned of sexual misconduct allegations made against a musician whose work sparked my love of music. It was a disconcerting revelation – partly because the musician had existed for me mostly in the abstract. He was an incisive chronicler of teenage anxiety and suburban malaise, a prophet of twentieth-century alienation; Yet I could barely imagine him in the flesh, a person with hobbies, habits, ticks, flaws, and routines, let alone someone prone to missteps, misunderstandings, and well worse. In my mind, he was constantly in the mode of the philosophical poet. Suddenly the blurry image came into focus: an unwanted kiss, a tongue shoved down a young woman’s throat.

How well can you really get to know someone through their art? This question is among the most decided by “Immortality”, a new video game from the famous art game designer Sam Barlow. In “Immortality,” players navigate software that serves as a repository for the work of Marissa Marcel, an aspiring movie star whose non-career and eventual demise from the art world forms the game’s central mystery. browsing through interviews, filmed rehearsals, chemistry tests between actors, behind-the-scenes footage and never-before-seen clips from the three films Marcel starred in – none of which have ever been released – players are told they can solve the mystery of the disappearance of the actress. .

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Through these three films, the thematic concerns of “Immortality” become apparent, with identity and gender-based violence at the fore. Each is turned upside down, interrogated, reformatted into recurring symbols and patterns placed under harsher lighting and sharper cameras. But Marcel is of course not the characters she plays in her films, and what is captured on film is loaded with layers of performance and artificiality, which complicates the basic vanity of the software you are using. Mid-game, the Quagmire of Meaning exposes the mystery of “immortality” as just a ramp to deeper existential questions.

But stories need endings. As “immortality” approaches hers, her desire to conclude with something akin to clarity – an answer – dulls its impact.

Ambrosio, Marcel’s first film, is an adaptation of a novel about the devil’s seduction of Madrid’s holiest man, and the sins and weaknesses that allow his downfall. The titular character’s eloquence and good reputation belies his license. A servant of the devil, manifested as a woman made to look like the Virgin Mary, disguises herself as a young boy to enter the church and tempt Ambrosio. Behind the scenes, an otherwise good-natured director, round and cheerful, belittles his actresses during table readings and on set. The actors, in the spirit of the New Wave, touch and kiss each other with abandon on the set; Marcel boldly proclaims his comfort and artistic interest in the nude. Whether you believe it or not is another story. Can we know Marcel from the way she behaves – not to mention what she says at work?

People aren’t quite what they seem, Ambrosio tells us. With the images too, all is not as it seems. Early on, ominous beeps on some clips prompt players to rewind the reels to find their source; this reveals gruesome alternating images with different characters present: instead of Marcel and his cast mates, two ethereal figures (witches? vampires? angels? all of the above?) conduct a dialogue – about art , death, resurrection of Christ, etc. — from a millennial point of view.

This supernatural element is a compelling addition, until it isn’t. The two androgynous beings, credited as The One and The Other, say things that frame and complicate certain characters, their behaviors, and their arcs; the former is intended as a representation of creation, healing, love and art, the latter a substitute for control, destruction, fear and law. But while for much of the game the conversation between The One and The Other One parallels the central narrative, ultimately “Immortality” attempts to make explicit connections between the characters on screen and the spirits that haunt the images. . As the game approaches an “explanation” to its central questions, the framework provided by these beings becomes a vice.

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Take Minsky, Marcel’s second film, a sordid crime film about a murdered artist after whom the film is named. Minsky’s muse, played by Marcel, is the number one suspect. The detective assigned to the case falls in love with her, and his desire draws him into a more sexually liberated underground culture. During production, Marcel accidentally kills Carl Goodman, the actor playing the detective, with a prop gun. The film was never released.

After discovering What arrived at Carl, I became preoccupied with the question of Why. At some point, I discovered a clip in which Marcel, in a low voice, confided to the director that Carl was hiding something: “He’s not who you think he is,” she said. At this point, with the space of possibility wide open, I was all for “immortality.” I pored over the clips, looking for any wandering glances or thrills in Marcel’s approach to Carl on set.

But after a fruitless search, I was shocked to learn that the game real answer was supernatural: “Carl was possessed by The Other, which brought him into conflict with Marcel, who was possessed by The One”, the game insists. There may be rich symbolic meaning there; I would challenge anyone to explain it in non-illusory terms. Simply put, it was a disappointing resolution to a conflict that was more poignant in its real implications than in the realm of symbols. “Nothing interests me less than explanations,” sings The One in a hidden scene. I just wish “Immortality” would commit to that idea.

Even when the main narrative fails, the instant gameplay is dizzying in all the best ways. During my journey through Minsky’s footage, I found clips that made Carl look like a libertine — the right kind: racy, fun, and sex-positive. Much later, however, in an unattended behind-the-scenes clip, we see that he is a chauvinist; he designates Marcel as the property of the director, for example. Not only are the sex-positive clips on set misleading, but so are the scripted movie cuts, which make up the bulk of Minsky’s footage. Carl, playing a character who was gradually liberalizing, had somehow convinced me that Carl himself was an open-minded social liberal. This characterization sleight of hand is “Immortality’s” most compelling feature. How well can you really get to know someone through their art?

The latest film, Two of Everything, is a story of princess and pauper mixed with a #MeToo revenge thriller; the images from the project’s production crown a limited body of work that nonetheless has clear thematic priorities: violence against women; how the notion of bad behavior by powerful men changes over the decades; instances of mistaken or assumed identity, and how these identities interact with the assumed “true” identity; public perception; Renaissance. They are all excellent interrogation points.

But eventually I ran into the problem of having to to play “Immortality.” The game is fun when the game is a mystery; even less when it comes to a puzzle. In “Immortality”, clips are not available by default, bringing players to the “match cut” mechanic. Clips can be paused at any time and browsed to find points of interest: a face, a prop, a backdrop, etc. Click on it and you are taken to another clip in the Library containing a similar item. (Selecting an actor will take you to a different clip with that actor; clicking on a flower in one movie may take you to a bouquet in the background of another). This mechanic is meant to draw attention to recurring patterns in the game, but by the time I’d seen about 95% of the library material, I wasn’t sure where to go next. After clicking for nearly an hour, I took to Reddit to find that I was missing a crucial snippet of the footage just before the penultimate clip, which I had already unlocked.

Some authors have described “immortality” as being on burnout or authorism (the later scenes can be read as evidence for this theory). But that’s not quite true, like saying Star Wars is on space. Art does not grant privileged access to decency or good nature. This is the game is, not what it is about. It’s text, not subtext. As long as ‘immortality’ uses this as a starting point to delve into, it’s a high point for the game in 2022. When characters are allowed to be people – not vampires or aliens or angels but people who are tired, embarrassed, excited, funny, naive, voyeuristic, scary and more – the richness of each image is its own reward.

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