Wednesday, 29 Mar 2023

In Immortality, The Story Is Not The Story And The Game Is Not The Game

It took me a long time to understand Immortality. In theory, it should be the perfect game for me. A slow burn narrative whose core audience is people who like movies and are perhaps a little too proud of that fact? This game was made for me. Add in the fact a few of the earliest critical analyses suggested protagonist Marissa Marcel might be so named in honour of another enigmatic MM movie star, and I was all in. Initially though, it didn't quite work for me. Manon Gage, who plays Marcel, is a fantastic lead, but she doesn't have much of Monroe in her, while the game's core concept of piecing together what happened to Marcel's movies felt a little dull, like we were supposed to be impressed by how technically interesting the whole thing was. After a while, I realised the point of the game was not the point of the game at all.

In a world where gaming often mimics cinema, Immortality pulls off a devilish trick by being actually cinema, and becoming far more of a game as a result. The main story features Marcel's three movies – Ambrosio, Minsky, and Two of Everything. Made across three decades, the movies were never released, and Marcel curiously never seems to age. By watching random clips and clicking around (selecting a mirror takes you to another random scene with a mirror, clicking Marcel to a scene with Marcel, and so on), you uncover what the movies are about. That is how the game was sold to me. That, even for someone who loves film, is dreadfully boring.

The movies are not difficult to suss out. Ambrosio is the tale of a corrupt priest who falls for one of his nuns (Marcel). That's kind of everything the movie is and I don't care about anything else that might happen in it. Minsky is about an undercover detective and we all know how those movies go, and Two of Everything is about two women (both Marcel), who look alike. Essentially one is Hannah Montana and the other is Miley Stewart. They swap lives for fun and it ends up becoming less fun. This sounds like the worst movie of the lot but, if it were real and starred a '90s lead like Sharon Stone, I'd probably enjoy it. Still, I'd know what was going to happen.

I still don't know why Marcel looks so young (but at this point just assumed it was a Paul Rudd deal), or why the movies were never released (they just sound kinda naff), and you all lied to me about this being a Marilyn Monroe game. I was ready to call it quits. Then the controller started to vibrate.

Minor spoilers for Immortality follow, but these spoilers will probably make you want to play it so I don't know, toss a coin or something.

When the controller vibrated, I let the vibrations play out then rewound the reel, to see if I'd missed something glowing, something I should have interacted with. Instead two angelic figures, one androgynous woman and one melancholic man, dressed in silver robes, were superimposed onto the screen over the two actors, a little like in Persona. I watched the clip again, and it played out as normal. I didn't know what was going on, but at least I was invested in something. I watched a few more clips and it continued as usual. I saw the priest and the nun kissing, I saw the detective in a gay bar, I saw Marcel and her stand in rehearse swapping IDs as they exchanged lives like old books. Then it vibrated again.

I started to see these characters more, to understand what they meant, who they were, what their purpose was. They became clearer, not superimposed now but dominating the screen, replacing the real actors. The Marilyn comparison made sense. At times they appeared without a rewind and looked at me, right at me, and spoke. The movies never mattered.

These characters are the game. Nothing else is the game. Everything else is a distraction. I won't go further (I did say I want my spoilers to pull you in, not put you off), but when it shows its hand, Immortality is a startlingly clever game and I hope people put up with how long it takes to get going and how much interest it asks from you when we look back on 2022. Manon Gage might not be Marylin Monroe, but she's the star that helps make Immortality such a special game.

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