Immortality is the first of Sam Barlow’s games that I have ever played and it’s something else. Barlow’s previous works like Her Story, Telling Lies, and even Silent Hill: Shattered Memories sit in my decades-long backlog, but that will certainly change after playing his latest game.
Recipient of numerous ‘game of the year’ awards around the web in 2022, including our very own and Gareth’s, Immortality is a nonlinear adventure game that has you skim across hours of all manner of video footage in order to find out what happened to a fallen starlet.
It is quite unique in the way it delivers its narrative, since everything that there is to its gameplay is looking through those videos and following the trail in a way I can only compare to falling into a Wikipedia hole, where one seemingly unrelated article takes you to another and another, for hours on end.
In his article, Gareth put said that “the amount of technical skill that has gone into crafting this experience is almost unparalleled”, and that’s certainly the case with Immortality since I can’t recall playing anything like it before.
The game basically feels what is like to go through the motions of an amateur video editor, only now sitting on a couch and handling it with a controller. Basic controls work surprisingly well on the controller: you can scrub video, moving it back and forth as needed using both analog sticks, and the face buttons are used to either pop back to the menu, select specific frames or even minute details on screen in order to warp to other videos or make discoveries that allow you to progress further into the mystery.
While not exactly a game that falls within the traditional concepts of videogames, Immortality certainly has a winning scenario, after all you are looking to solve it somehow. However, due to its nonlinear approach, you might find it to be somewhat inscrutable at first thanks to its mostly hands-off approach.
More impatient players will find it to be slow and intuitive, but those who are more used to the pacing of more classic adventure games will find it to be exactly that, an investigation that offers plenty of clues if you are in the right frame of mind to catch them. This is the sort of experience that rewards those that challenge themselves to think outside the box, and when it clicks, boy, it’s extremely cathartic.
In terms of presentation, Immortality is also very special. For a selection of video clips, it’s got a wide variety of styles going for it. There are snippets that could just as well have been recorded and re-recorded off of worn-out VHS tapes, with all the expected artifacts and decay one would find in something that was captured decades ago on what’s now considered ancient equipment.
Unlike what many developers attempt to convey and fail, the footage here actually feels authentic, regardless of the format they emulate, and that’s not just because of the treatment the video’s gotten. All the performances are well acted enough to show the overall quality of the production that they are supposed to be real recordings of, especially when it comes to corniness that stems from B and C movies and their expected trademark chewing of scenery.
There’s no denying that Half Mermaid Productions and Barlow have a knack for serving truly unique gameplay experiences, but they go beyond merely having their quirky style serve as a gimmick and crunch on which a game like Immortality can lean on. There’s actually an incredible amount of obvious care that has gone into making it something that folks will want to get through by providing a narrative that in all of its nonlinearity is shocking, but most importantly, very compelling, for as overused as that adjective is in gaming.