The role of the auteur is something we discuss quite a lot on this website, but it’s something that is relatively new to the field of video games.
Names like Hideo Kojima and Ken Levine are thrown around, and now Sam Barlow can be added to the list.
‘Her Story’ was a sensation upon launch in 2015, with Barlow able to effortlessly mix the tropes and conventions that bind film and video games together, and with ‘Immortality’, Barlow has elevated gaming to a new level.
We recently wrote about how ‘Bioshock’ represented the promise of gaming as an artform by telling bold and fresh stories in a way that film and television can’t, and ‘Immortality’ represents a landmark moment for gaming.
In writing about such a plot-heavy game that is predicated on story twists and turns, we can’t give too much away, but suffice to say the game always finds a new way to blow you away.
Reeling In The Years
The hook of ‘Immortality’ is simple; you are tasked with solving the mystery of movie star Marissa Marcel, and you must trawl through three unreleased films starring the actress in order to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Players must also trawl through interviews and behind-the-scenes clips to piece together the mystery, and the game is told in a non-linear fashion.
Players are given the control of a scene, and they can click on an object that catches their eye, and the game then deploys what is known as a “match cut” to proceed to the next scene.
The “match cut” is one of the first things someone learns in film school, and the most famous example of one is from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey.
It is in this way that ‘Immortality’ is indebted to the language of cinema, but also rewriting the language of video games.
The story is told over decades, and piecing together the order of events is the core gameplay loop.
‘Immortality’ isn’t a game in the traditional sense, but that is what makes it so novel and groundbreaking.
It would be hard to imagine this game being made at a triple-AAA level as the game would be difficult to explain in an elevator pitch, but that is what makes the game so special.
There are very few games like ‘Immortality’, and the Sam Barlow brand of combing through footage to complete the puzzle is one of the most unique and rewarding experiences in gaming.
‘Immortality’ is a story that could not be pulled off in any other medium, and for that reason, it is a watershed moment for video game narrative.
Of course, it would be merely enough for the game to do something novel with its presentation style, that alone would make ‘Immortality’ worthy of acclaim, but the actual story has a David Lynch quality to it where everything seems fine on the surface, but slowly peels back to reveal a harrowing tale of deceit.
Gaming has often taken cues from the works of David Lynch, with the likes of ‘Life Is Strange’ and ‘Deadly Premonition’ springing to mind, but ‘Immortality’ captures the strange, serene horror seen in ‘Mulholland Drive’ and ‘Inland Empire’.
The contribution of frequent David Lynch collaborator Barry Gifford (who co-wrote ‘Lost Highway’ with Lynch) explains the game’s Lynchian tone, but it also feels Lynchian in the surreal horror elements that we will not spoil here.
Ace Of Database
Like Sam Barlow’s breakout hit ‘Her Story’, there is a certain amount of trial and error involved in combing through the database trying to find the missing link or missing detail, but when it all clicks into place, the satisfaction is unlike any other gaming experience.
Knowing when to pause a scene so you can zero in on an element to unlock the next scene engages the traditional gaming muscle memory, and the game turns you into a Sherlock Holmes or Columbo type where you realise you missed a crucial piece of information in a scene and rewind it.
There is a ‘Papers Please’ quality to ‘Immortality’ where you couldn’t possibly think sorting through a database could be gripping and exciting, but just like how ‘Papers Please’ made passport checking gripping back in 2013, ‘Immortality’ makes combing through a database fresh and exciting in 2022.
The game is anchored by a powerhouse performance from Manon Gage, and like Naomi Watts in ‘Mulholland Drive’, you are entranced by this aspiring actress who gets drawn into a slow-burning horror.
The supporting cast around her aren’t all as they appear, and figuring out their motivations is just one part of the jigsaw.
Going back after the mystery is solved to see how it all clicked into place adds a great deal of replayability to the game.
All told, ‘Immortality’ is a gaming experience like no other.
The level of creativity, novelty and innovation on show is nothing short of astounding, and it is a reminder that not all games are soulless cash grabs.
The craft and care that has gone into making ‘Immortality’ shows that gaming can still be an auteur-led artform, and the next time you hear a complaint about gaming becoming too samey and repetitive, just remember there are phenomenal games like ‘Immortality’ out there pushing gaming forward.
In the HD era of gaming, the triple-AAA sphere believes that selling unfinished games and season passes is acceptable.
It is up to games like ‘Immortality’ to push the envelope.
‘Elden Ring’ has been our pre-emptive lock for Game Of The Year since it launched in February, but it finally has a worthy rival for the crown.
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