No one knows what happened to Marissa Marcel. Born in France, she began her career modelling in London in the 1960s before being cast in Ambrosio (1968) at the age of 17. Despite starring in two more projects since then, not a single one of her movies ever made it to a cinema, and Marissa herself disappeared. No one knows what happened to Marissa Marcel, but it’s your job to find out.
IMMORTALITY is the latest genre-defying project from Sam Barlow and the team at Half Mermaid, best known for indie darling Her Story. For the uninitiated, their games involve trying to make sense of collections of live-action footage. You use keywords to narrow your search, and getting lost down rabbit holes is the entire point.
While Her Story and Telling Lies both feature computer databases, IMMORTALITY’s premise centers around the discovery of a film archive of sorts. Using a magical new technology, you are able to select individual objects within a scene (this could be someone’s face, a necklace, wine glass, rose, cat, you name it) and use them to transport you to a new clip featuring the same people or similar objects.
In this way, you are able to pursue whatever line of inquiry takes your fancy. A peculiar painting on a wall may transport you to a completely different film set, a particular face might zoom you 30 years into the future. Over time, you begin to piece together the chronology of events, who is sleeping with whom, and, in some cases, how certain people met their gruesome end.
So, what does the footage you are spooling through actually consist of? As you link one shot to the next you’ll begin to uncover a huge collection of unfinished movie scenes, as well as behind-the-scenes clips like auditions, location scouting, table reads, rehearsals, late-night talk show interviews, and more.
The movies in question are Marissa Marcel’s three unreleased projects: Ambrosio, satanic erotica set in an 18th Century Spanish monastery, Minsky, a grimy New York detective-noir murder mystery, and Two of Everything, a tale of a popstar who uses a lookalike to avoid their commitments.
If this sounds like nothing you’ve ever played before, that’s because it isn’t.
The cast cannot get enough praise here. All the ambitions of this project rest heavily on their shoulders and without actors who were willing and able to sell the premise, IMMORTALITY’s reach would exceed its grasp. Particular shout-outs to Manon Gage, Miles Szanto, Ty Molbak, and Charlotta Mohlin. I didn’t know their names before I played this game, but I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for them now.
All of the footage perfectly evokes the era it comes from. The two earlier movies, made in the late sixties and early seventies, are especially stunning. Whether it’s the forced perspective painted backdrops in Ambrosio, or the softly lit, smoke-filled bars of Minsky, the commitment to the cinematic techniques, fashion, and visual style of each time period is mind-boggling. All three projects feel like they could be actual, real movies.
IMMORTALITY was designed to be absorbed non-linearly and while it might feel a little overwhelming at first, once you get into a rhythm it becomes very difficult to stop. The drive to learn more about these movies and the people who made them is intoxicating. I hit credits at around ten hours in but hadn’t unlocked any of the achievements for finding all the clips from each movie. The idea that there could be even more secrets to uncover is an enticing one.
Every now and then a game comes along that benefits from the player knowing as little as possible before digging in. IMMORTALITY is one of them, making an in-depth, technical review somewhat of a challenge. I fear this piece of writing is going to be insufficient at capturing the magic this game conjures up around itself.
IMMORTALITY is a game about the little moments before and after a director yells ‘cut!’ It’s a triumph: beautiful, endlessly captivating, upsetting, thrilling, and terrifying all in equal measure. The logistics involved in its creation send my head spinning even days after finishing it. It’s a love letter to the art of performance, storytelling, and the communal, fluid craft of filmmaking. IMMORTALITY is a reminder that this medium can still show you something you’ve never seen before and it deserves all the praise that is (hopefully) coming its way.
IMMORTALITY was reviewed on PC using a code provided by the developer.