The first thing you notice about The Immortal (Electronic Arts, 1990) is the stunning big box artwork with Will Harvey’s name across the top of it. Will Harvey was the same guy responsible for Music Construction Set (1984, Apple) as well as the EA port for Marble Madness to the C64 (1986).
Inside the box - much larger than its rather anemic contents - you are offered a fantastic little manual as well as two disks: a Boot disk and a Play disk. See the Tech Notes below for more about playing this game on original hardware.
At a high level, The Immortal is a game that requires arcade skills, puzzle solving abilities and a very, very strong will not to quit. The game is absolutely brutal in its constant desire to kill you, the player, in almost every step that you take.
While the game looks like an impressive fantasy RPG, it is actually meticulously linear. Presented in isometric 3D, the graphics are simply gorgeous. Full stop.
Had the game been pressed to laser disc, we would have sworn we were playing some new incarnation of Dragon’s Lair at times - not due to its artistic style, however, but due to its excruciating cruelty towards gamers. You are forced to learn the “one true path” to clear each level in the game. And you learn this path by dying hundreds
of times. And each time you do (Mr. Immortal) you re-start back at the beginning of the level you last entered. No crying! There’s no crying in baseball.
In fact, the game is so difficult that Will Harvey and his small development team must have been a tad nervous about unleashing it on the public without any warning. Thus, a huge portion of the paper manual is actually a well-written and beautifully illustrated and detailed walk-through of the entire first level (with hints for the other levels as well)! And it’s still hard.
The Immortal offers a level of gruesome violence that would have been remarkable for its time, and as such the atmosphere and game tension can make the hair on your arms literally stand on end. We can’t recall a game from this era or earlier where we could direct a character to repeatedly stab another in the gut and watch blood spurt out, save for perhaps Barbarian (aka Death Sword). But even then the grotesque violence was tongue in cheek and a bit cartoonish. The Immortal looks much more realistic and the battles feel more real. There is an eerily satisfying feeling when you land a deadly blow yet avoid major damage in return. And when you die? Your body usually just deflates into a puddle of bloody ooze (or you get cocooned by a large spider and slowly stop kicking).
The music, at first, seems almost manic - like a virtuoso accordion player with broken fingers playing at ludicrous speeds who’s gone ferociously insane. At times the music borders on sounding broken. Yet it oddly grows on you over time. You actually come to memorize each tune as you’re stuck on each level for ages to where the mere sound of it can evoke quite a thrill.
Sound effects are used sparingly and seem almost to be triggered at random. Sometimes the music and sound will completely cease for no apparent reason. But the sound effects are most often heard during sword fights and when entering doors. Other than that, it’s the insane accordion player setting the acoustical mood.
In the very beginning of the game, you encounter a fairly longish level which does a ton to train you in how to fight, find and cast spells, collect keys and avoid (or not) deadly traps. Traps consist of hidden pits in the floor (with no way to detect them except by trial and error), arrows that shoot out of the walls, fire spouts in the floor or ultimately spider eggs that reduce you to rubble… because. You soon learn how to navigate the gorgeously isometric 3D dungeon via joystick - use a good one with a fire button you trust.
You are depicted as an old mage with a staff like our mental image of Merlin or Gandalf, offering intricately detailed character animation the likes which is rarely seen in games of any kind from this era. Sporadic breaks in the action offer old-school “slides” of animated text that either explain part of the story you’ve reached, notes or clues you might have found along the way, or dreams you have (often) that help fill in the story.
After you kill foes in the dungeon (typically various sized green goblins or light-brown trolls) it’s integral to the game that you search the fallen for items; items that if they aren’t retrieved you won’t finish the level you’re on.
This game looks a lot like the inspiration for Diablo. But as previously mentioned, it plays like a 3D isometric version of Dragon’s Lair with a bit more arcade feeling added. Literally every step and action much be tested and retested until you are rewarded with minor progress. Only the strongest of wills shall survive. At first the very name of the game seems a cruel joke as you will likely die within the first 2 minutes of playing the game. Once dead, you have to restart at the beginning. In a strange way it’s almost a fantasy-based game of Groundhog Day (the movie). You try different tactics to get to the end of the level endless times. It can get incredibly frustrating, make no mistake about it.
And yet the graphics are so compelling and the theme and mood so charming, it does become a bit like a Siren calling to you (only to have your boat crashed upon the waves leaving you to drown).
When you do manage to finish a level you are rewarded with a “Certificate”. This is essentially a cheat code so that the next time you sit down to play, you can start at the level where you left off. Thank goodness, too, or we would have given up on this game early on. It takes so much work and effort to beat a level that these codes feel like the least the game designers could have done. That being said, once you insert the certificate code (a 13-digit hard-to-read font, which I transcribed incorrectly more than once. Damn you, Will Harvey!) you have to then reference two different images in the manual and transcribe more codes found in the pages within. Put simply, the copy protection scheme is annoying when the game is first loaded. After you die on a level, though, you simply have to keep mashing the fire button until the level restarts.
As you pick up found items you are introduced to one of the most attractive and easy to use inventory screens we’ve ever seen. It only shows 6 items at a time with as many inventory pages as needed. The advantage here is the art for your found items is shown very
large and is gorgeously rendered. Seriously cool.
You will also find piles of hay throughout the dungeon which are places for you to sleep and regain much-needed health. However they also often serve as a place to further the storyline, which is told through vivid dreams.
The key storyline has you on a mission to find your master who you think has been taken captive, the green goblins you have battled and kill seem to potentially be rational and, quite possibly, good guys. Whoops! This was an interesting twist to virtually every fantasy game we’ve personally ever played. Not only that, but at one stage you will find a magical object that will allow you to shape-shift into a green goblin - an extremely cool achievement the moment you do it, even if for only a very brief period of time.
There are also light-brown heavily armed trolls in the dungeons who are always eager to kick your ass. You eventually come to learn that the goblins and trolls are mortal enemies of one another, yet both cohabit this strange labyrinth.
Another of the peculiar things about the apparent goblin/troll war you’re fighting through is that in some rooms you can walk right past these creatures. In others, they stand still waiting for you to kill them (and you’re expected to in order to find and use certain items). In others, they will attack you upon entering and you have to use your best fighting (i.e. joystick) skills to beat them quickly and take as little damage as possible.. There isn’t really any rhyme or reason to when and where you should battle, other than unraveling the bizarre path the game’s creator drew for you to learn to follow. This makes going down every ladder you discover a total heart-in-your-throat moment paradox. You’re relieved to find the ladders down, but you never know if they’re going to drop you into total chaos, or offer you a certificate to the next level. To say the game is stressful is putting it mildly.
One of the most ingenious and exhilarating moments in the game - for us at least - was about half-way through. We had just entered a new level and immediately fought off a troll with the help of an NPC who threw a dagger into his back. After that, the NPC gave us - no joke - a magic carpet! This item was required to survive the neighboring rooms to avoid some insidious flaming floor traps. And while it sort of felt like we were doing a sport in the Winter Olympics as we slid from hall to hall, it was just so freaking cool to experience and see.
By the time you get to the end of the game, you come to realize what has become obvious along the way - your mentor is actually a very evil magic user who has to go. In addition, you have to get past an incredibly kick ass dragon and use that dragon’s fire-breathing powers to help finish things for you. To be honest, I’ve yet to figure out how to do this, but know this has to be the final stage of the game.
By the time you’re reading this, there is a very good chance that I will still be playing this game and might even look like the old mage in the game, long white beard and all. But don’t worry about me. I’m immortal. I’ll get it. . . eventually.
It is important to point out that The Immortal
as it was originally created will not work on an accelerated Amiga
. It even says so on a sticker on the box as a warning, as accelerators were common by 1990. We’ve not tested it, but we believe that specifically means any Amiga not running at 7 Mhz (sorry, A1200’s). You can have as much RAM as you want - at least 1MB is required - but you can’t install to a hard drive nor use an accelerated Amiga. It has to be 7 Mhz and it has to be off of floppies if you want to play it like folks did in 1990. WHDLoad does have an installer script, but we didn’t go that route.
On a stock Amiga 1000, it can take quite some time to get the game loaded. First you have to load your Kickstart disk, then the game’s Boot disk, then the Play disk. On first-boot if you enter a certificate (passcode) to get you to a level other than level 1, you’ll need to enter three separate codes
. Did I mention the passcode was using a font that is really hard to read? It can be trying at times just to get things going. Also, the Boot and Play disks were given the exact same names by EA when they created the disks. So, if you decide to download the ADF files found elsewhere on this page, know that the disks are indeed named correctly. Don’t mix them up! Label your disks accordingly.