The Immortal might be the most ironically titled game in history. This is a game where just about everything will kill you. On the very first screen, there’s a spot where a giant worm will pop up through the floor and devour you. You can get killed by goblins, by falling in pits, by mushrooms that spew poison gas, by invisible monsters, by accidentally luring another giant worm to you, by walls that shoot arrows at you, or by reading the inscription on an item you find. That’s just on the first level. Later levels find even more creative ways to bring about your demise. No game has ever perfected the art of killing the player instantly and unexpectedly quite like The Immortal.
All this untimely death might make for a challenging and fun game if it were the least bit fair about it, but it rarely is. Fighting enemies is an uncontrollable nightmare, and while it happens with rare frequency and can sometimes be avoided entirely, almost every single encounter is fatal.
The Immortal’s Genesis cover – Wicked awesome yet remarkably appropriate.
Picking up quest items is also fraught with danger – about half of the deaths I described earlier were the result of me making the apparently unforgivable mistake of trying to figure out what an item I picked up did. Searching bodies and opening treasures may yield vital equipment required to progress through the game… or it might cause you to die without warning. And as a final little “Fuck You” to the player, the game forces you to retype your password after every single time you run out of lives, rather then letting you continue from the beginning of the level you were already on.
As a result, playing through the game is mostly a process of trial and error (and retyping passwords). Every minuscule amount of progress is generally followed by an instant death. You’ll find a cool new sword, and two seconds later be devoured by a slime. Or you’ll find the key to a treasure chest, and then fall into a pit. The whole game is like that. It’s like using some kind of exercise equipment that drops all the weight directly onto your face every time you complete a set. I find it incredible that this game had any fans at all in an era before prevalent strategy guides, GameFAQs, or emulators with save states. Yet it did.
For reasons that are beyond my comprehension, The Immortal enjoys a fairly positive reputation amongst most of the people who have played it. The game also retains a relatively high resale value, and if you dig up some old reviews, and you’ll probably see more than a few high scores. Doubtless, some of these people are cranky “old-school” gamers who believe difficulty and quality have a direct relationship. “Back in my day, all the games were this hard,” they’ll say. Sure, maybe they were, but was every single one of them good? Anyone who has ever played Timelord already knows the answer to that question.
I’m sure some people appreciate the way it takes the puzzle-oriented approach of some of the old PC adventure games and blends it with the action-oriented style of console games. But here’s the thing – if you get stuck in King’s Quest or Myst and try something that doesn’t work, generally you don’t die as a result. Also, since most of the “puzzles” in The Immortal require you to use the items you’ve obtained along the way, and since finding out what the items do usually gets you killed, you end up dying at least once to learn what things do, and then once again if you fail to use it at the right time. “Hmm, how do I get past this part? Should I use the potion that melts me into a skeleton, the amulet that kills me with a flash of light, or the spores that create a poison gas?” Assuming you eventually guess right, you’ll probably be rewarded with a nearly-impossible to win fight against an orc.
Graphics: At least the game’s numerous animated death sequences give you something to look forward to.
Sound: Given the frequency with which I kept dying, there’s only two things I can say with about the sound: 1. Your character doesn’t scream when he dies. 2. The first ten seconds of the music are pretty good. Beyond that, I really don’t know.
Control: These combat sequences play kind of like Mike Tyson’s Punchout, except your character ignores about half the things you tell him to do, and your opponent gets to hit you 5 times at the start of the match before you can do anything.
Final Verdict: Let’s recap: Illogical puzzle solving, poor control, instant deaths, and somehow still really popular. On a list like this, that’s pretty much like hitting a grand slam, and the fact that it only finished in second place says less about the quality of the game as it does the fact that we live in a truly terrifying world.