Immortality review: getting some real Persona (1966) vibes

“Immortality is an astonishing work of interactive fiction that is every bit as unsettling and unforgettable because the movies that inspired it.”


  • Engrossing mystery
  • Meticulously detailed
  • Exceptional performances
  • Thematically wealthy

There’s a moment in Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (no, not that one) that has haunted me since I first saw it. Late within the film, Elisabet, an actress recovering from a mental break at an isolated summer cottage, and her nurse, Alma, begin to lose their sense of self. After delivering a monologue revealing Elisabet’s darkest secret, Alma enters a cabin fever-induced panic, terrified that she and Elisabet may very well be the identical person. The film suddenly merges the 2 characters’ faces into one alongside a discordant music stab. In that moment, it’s not only Alma who’s stranded on the outskirts of reality, however the viewer too.

Elisabet and Alma's faces grafted together in Persona.

It’s no surprise that I had a similarly unsettling moment playing Immortality, the newest game from director Sam Barlow and his studio, Half Mermaid Productions. The psychological horror game plays like a wildly ambitious modernization of Persona, riffing on its most harrowing ideas and pictures. During one scene (a disturbing moment I couldn’t sufficiently explain even when I desired to spoil it), I set free a sound somewhere between a befuddled gasp and a guttural scream. It wasn’t due to an affordable jump scare. Fairly, it was since the game had robbed me of an important human skill: the power to distinguish reality from fiction.

Immortality is an astonishing work of interactive media, one which fully realizes the potential of Barlow’s signature full-motion video (FMV) style. It explores our complex, and maybe unhealthy, fascination with art, all while delivering a level of craft that’s light-years beyond what every other game has even attempted to realize.

A cinephile’s touch

Even in case you’ve played previous Barlow works like Her Story, you’re sure to be shocked by the sheer scope of Immortality. Presented as a fictional film restoration project, players are tasked with uncovering the mystery of Marissa Marcel, an actress who has all but vanished from the general public eye. To piece together the mystery, players sift through hours of footage pulled from her only three movies, a trio of unreleased projects made between 1968 and 1999.

The dedication to craft here is unlike anything we’ve seen in interactive media.

It’s a formidable pitch on paper, but much more astounding in practice. Half Mermaid essentially created three movies here, all of that are painstakingly detailed period pieces from different many years. As an illustration, 1968’s Ambrosio is a smutty adaptation of gothic horror classic The Monk, complete with giant matte paintings. Two of Every thing, however, is a Nineties Hollywood thriller that’s a dead ringer for Basic Instinct. Each film is an authentic homage to an era of American cinema, right all the way down to the aspect ratio of the footage.

What’s more impressive is how Immortality weaves Marcel’s complicated past between movie scenes via increasingly clever video snippets. Rehearsal footage, screen tests, on-set dailies, behind-the-scenes clips, late-night talk show appearances — the Half Mermaid team has a field day turning various varieties of archival footage into effective storytelling vehicles. Even essentially the most mundane on-set footage can contain subtle clues, whether that be through a stray line picked up before a slate claps or an acting moment that feels suspiciously real.

A scene from the fictional film Ambrosio appears in Immortality.

A high-concept idea like that demands strong performances, and Immortality is loaded with them. Specifically, actress Manon Gage, who portrays Marcel, accomplishes an astonishing feat here. She’s not only portraying a lady on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but developing her over a 30-year span while playing all of her film roles too. Gage’s ability to seamlessly blur the lines between fact and fiction (well, fiction and fiction inside fiction) sells Immortality’s entire magic trick, creating disorienting scenes that take multiple replays to untangle. I hesitate to even call out her performance, because it looks like I’m breaking a sacred oath with the sport to acknowledge the way it’s made.

It’s clear that Immortality is a game created by cinephiles. The dedication to craft here is unlike anything we’ve seen in interactive media. It doesn’t just raise the bar for FMV games, which regularly struggle to realize film quality; it picks that bar up and sets it down 30 years into the long run.

True crime, deconstructed

The genius of Barlow’s work is that he’s secretly crafting puzzle games as much as he’s narrative ones. Like Her Story and Telling Lies, Immortality hands players an enormous box of puzzle pieces and doesn’t offer any guidance from there. Consider it as a deconstructed true crime podcast. Players essentially tackle the role of a researcher here, painstakingly mulling over footage and mentally piecing the true story together.

It plays out like a classic point-and-click adventure game, where curiosity at all times yields reward.

The important thing difference between Immortality and Barlow’s previous work is how players actually sort through the clips. Fairly than having players type words right into a database to look for footage, the sport features an ingenious — and narratively fitting — mechanic: match cut. At any time during a clip, players can click on an object or person. The sport will “match” what they clicked on to a picture in one other clip, transitioning them over to a latest discovery (imagine being a prop master on a project like this). It plays out like a classic point-and-click adventure game, where curiosity at all times yields reward.

It’s an incredible trick, even when it’s a bit of finicky at times. On multiple occasions, I’d click on something, just for the sport to exit me back into the clip I used to be already on. Immortality has no way of marking clips you’ve already seen, so I’d often find myself bouncing back into scenes I’d already viewed searching for a path to something latest. That’s a minor quirk though, because the system is so fast and fluid that it’s satisfying to slide out and in of clips.

Clips from Ambrosio appear in Immortality.

The one real frustration comes from the clip playback controls. To further sell the archival premise, the sport mimics the motions you’d need to make use of on an old film reel editing machine. Which means pushing forwards and backwards to rewind or fast-forward fairly than scrubbing a digital timeline bar. It’s a cumbersome process, especially with a mouse, because it’s hard to get a reel moving at a gentle, consistent speed. There’s a excellent reason it’s so difficult to wrangle, but it could actually be a pain point late in the sport when precise scrubbing becomes crucial.

Technical eccentricities aside, Immortality is a subtle, but major step up for Barlow relating to interactivity. I’m not only typing words right into a search bar and watching clips. I’m transported to a vintage edit bay tucked away in some dimly lit room — I can practically smell the mold. It’s a more physical process, making me feel like an lively crew member in Marcel’s world.

Transcending mortality

“What happened to Marissa Marcel?” makes for an engrossing mystery hook, but Immortality uses that as a springboard to explore much larger questions on art. The sport’s title is a loaded one in that respect (and lots of more, because it’s as multilayered because the narrative itself). Marcel is a specimen trapped in amber. It doesn’t matter what her fate is; she has transcended mortality, with every aspect of her real and fictional lives preserved on film

That’s where the sport’s psychological horror comes into play. I got a radical image of Marcel by the top, but was I ever really seeing her true self? Once we see her, she’s at all times engaged in some type of performance: acting on set, auditioning for a job, turning on the charm for a talk-show host. The lines between Marcel the human and Marcel the actress are hazy, and there’s a way that not even she’s in a position to separate them at a certain point. She’s the image of Alma and Elisabet’s face grafted together, silently pleading for help because it stares out from a celluloid prison.

Marissa Marcel wears a green dress in Immortality.

Like Persona, a few of the game’s most annoying images are its subtle ones. In a single clip, she dances in a motion capture suit after which watches as her body is immediately digitized, her entire identity distilled right into a featureless 3D puppet. Even when Marcel tries to flee, she might be resurrected as a vague icon for the general public to devour — her digital doppelganger is even split into three an identical wireframe models to actually twist the knife. Immortality is her curse.

There’s one other layer to each the narrative and the sprawling thematic puzzle — each of that are best left to be discovered. All I’ll note is that the sport reflects on the audience’s obsessive relationship with art. The human urge to flee into stories and insert oneself into fiction is a core focus here, and one that provides the sport its most unsettling moments. If Marcel is a victim, who’s complicit in her downfall? Is it just the industry that manipulated her? Or are the individuals who desperately desired to pass though her indirectly accountable for devouring her?

I still feel it wriggling and squirming somewhere inside me, daring me to dig it out.

Those searching for a tightly gift-wrapped narrative that answers every query can be left puzzled as Barlow wears his David Lynch influence on his sleeve here (if the sport’s homage to Mulholland Drive isn’t clear, its Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me-inspired promo art ought to be a dead giveaway). Some mysteries are left unsolved, leaving players to piece it together and interpret its meaning. That call stands to offer Immortality as long a life because the eternally puzzling cinematic works that influenced it.

It’s been well over a decade because the first time I saw Persona and I still can’t escape it. It’s just a part of me now. So too is Immortality, a game that has a way of burrowing its way into your chest in case you’re patient. Long after rolling credits, I still feel it wriggling and squirming somewhere inside me, daring me to dig it out. Perhaps that’s Marissa Marcel pounding on the partitions of her latest prison.

Our take

Immortality is a landmark release for Barlow and Half Mermaid Productions. It’s an all-engrossing FMV horror game made with the very best level of cinematic craft I’ve seen in a video game, though its interactive systems are a touch clumsy. Marissa Marcel’s story is a harrowing one, filled with haunting moments that unsettled me to my core. For those who’re patient enough to let its slow-burn story engulf you, you’re in for an unforgettable arthouse experience.

Is there a greater alternative?

You’ll must look toward film to seek out anything remotely similar. Persona and Mulholland Drive each immediately spring to mind, as Immortality neatly slots into that storied lineage of psychosexual thrillers.

How long will it last?

That’ll vary considering the staggering amount of footage in the sport that’s explored in nonlinear fashion. I rolled credits at around eight hours and definitely didn’t see all of it.

Do you have to buy it?

Yes. Immortality is unlike anything I’ve ever played, including Barlow’s previous works. Whether or not it’s your thing, it’s sure to keep on with you for much longer than the rest you’ll play this yr.

Immortality was reviewed on PC.

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