Martha Is Dead
Entertainment of any medium where the title tells a story is always interesting to me. Netflix pulled me into their latest drama, The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window, simply because the plot was right there in the heading; there’s no faffing about with an obscure title like A Clockwork Orange, that has neither clockwork nor oranges in it. A good title that (as those old Ronseal adverts used to say) “does exactly what it says on the tin”, is exactly what’s needed in today’s world. Martha is Dead is no exception to this marketing ploy; there’s no spoilers or shocks to find out that Martha is indeed dead in the game, and the purpose isn’t to stop her from dying, it’s to find out who and why.
At A Glance
|Positives||+ Dark, atmospheric story|
+ Visually stunning
+ Multiple options to explore
|Negatives||– Unsettling scenes, not for everyone|
– A fair few game crashes
– Cheap dream sequences
|Price (When Reviewed)||£24.99|
|Our Playtime||8 hours 30 mins|
|Available On||PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC,|
LKA Games have created a first-person psychological thriller with Martha is Dead which is set in the idyllic Italian countryside of Tuscany during the closing days of World War 2. Just before the collapse of the German occupation, Giulia, the daughter of a German general, finds her twin sister Martha drowned in a lake. As she sets about uncovering the truth of the traumatic event, her mind burdened with past abuses, the toll of war and now the death of her sister sends her into a deep spiral that explores the human psyche and dark themes that certainly earn the game’s trigger warnings.
Without straying too far into spoiler territory, Martha is Dead explores the mind of a young girl on the brink of a mental collapse, who uses children’s folklore as an escape mechanism. This is presented on screen as dreamlike sequences featuring ghosts, self-harm and mutilation, which later spreads into the real world. And while there is a question to be had about the need of such detailed plot drivers, particularly about a scene that plays out in the family crypt, there’s a clear link between what the characters are experiencing and the actions they subsequently take. LKA have done a great job in not glorifying the subject matter, and by presenting it in such a matter of fact way made Martha is Dead even more poignant.
Giulia falls into a world where she cannot tell what is real and what is in her mind; she takes photos to prove that she isn’t crazy, and a large part of the game saw me ambling through various landscapes looking for clues and taking pictures and this is where Martha is Dead excels. The visuals are impeccable, perfectly encapsulating the Italian countryside. The vineyards and woodlands that are presented on rolling hills are a delight to behold, and when exploring the villa Giulia and her family are staying in, I was shocked at how much detail was packed into each room. From the authentic illustrations of fairy tales to the furniture that filled up the rooms, everything looked as if it could be plucked from the screen, and even zooming into the brickwork, I could see the mottling. The only slight, and I mean slight, negative I could draw from the visuals was that the farm animals looked as if they didn’t have the same amount of polish applied to them and stood out against the rest of the scenery. Again, this is just a tiny criticism since it has no impact on the game, and to highlight just how beautiful the game is.
For the moments where Martha is Dead slips into the surreal, the visuals continue to hold up, especially when it becomes bloody. At specific points Martha is Dead encourages the player to undertake during a cutscene. Early on, I was taken through the motions of loading film into a camera by pressing a sequence of buttons but as you progress these interactions become more violent. There was a little controversy with the game’s content which forced the publishers Wired Productions to rejig the PlayStation versions at the behest of Sony. I am assuming this surrounds a scene involving a face being carved from a body, but Wired were unusually mum on the subject. After playing the game to completion, I can assure you that the scene is most certainly as graphic as it was in the demo but it is no longer a QTE – instead it simply plays out with no input. This leads me to suspect that Sony took umbrage with the interactivity of certain scenes rather than the content itself.
While it is disappointing that there is some form of censorship on the PlayStation version, LKA have excelled in implementing DualSense features with Martha is Dead. Everything is considered, from the left and right motors matching Giulia’s footsteps, to phone calls coming through the speaker, to the resistance of the camera shutter when snapping a photograph -everything felt more immersive through the controller. Right at the beginning when Giulia finds Martha, the controller conveys the heartbeat of the distressed twin, which gradually gets faster and faster andis a layer of detail I would never have thought would be considered.
Another area LKA seems to have hit the nail on the head is the sound design. Quite often in games set in foreign places you’d hear “English with an accent”,but hearing all of the characters speak in their native Italian was refreshing to say the least. There are options to change this, but the voice acting is superb and not once did I feel the need to change anything. Accompanying the voices was authentic 1940s music, from both Italian and German bands blaring from radios. It’s these cultural touches that just goes to show the level of detail that LKA took to showcase an immersive period.
I have to say that it’s not all perfection though, as there were a couple of times where the design choices didn’t make sense. On occasion, to segue to a new chapter, I would guide Giulia through the woods, taking a left or right and trying to build a sentence that summarises the chapter, which felt clumsy and oddly out of place considering the rest of the presentation. Another struggle was trying to use a telegraph machine in which a list of words had to be tapped out, except that the box that highlights your selection was justa thin black line that was almost invisible, resulting in a frustrated few minutes trying to work out what was going on. That said, these issues are the extent of the strange design choices that didn’t fit in with the rest of the narrative and don’t impact too much on the enjoyment of Martha is Dead.
I unfortunately have to say that during my nine-hour play time, there were more than a handful of crashes resulting in me having to restart the game. Thanks to the PS5’s quick load this wasn’t too much of an issue but certainly pulled me out of the immersion for a few moments. When Wired Productions kindly provided the game for review, they were upfront in saying bugs were present and that a day one patch will be released. Normally we would wait to test the retail version of the game, but I felt that a handful of crashes didn’t dampen my experience enough to affect the overall score and once the retail version has been tested, I will amend the review accordingly.
Martha is Dead isn’t a horror game in the sense that ghosts will try to jump scare you around every corner, but the atmosphere LKA have created certainly made me think that might happen, and after realising that Giulia isn’t as a reliable narrator that you think, the game twists and turns in a way I simply didn’t expect. The visuals are stunning and are a great showcase for the new generation of consoles, and when they are paired with an authentic soundtrack, it really felt as if I was in Italy in the 40s. There are moments in this beautifully dark video game that forced me to change the direction of my playthrough and I am already excited to go back and explore the additional routes, especially once those bugs have been flattened out. The subject matter must also be praised – it doesn’t glorify and isn’t just present for entertainment value, it’s there to make an impact, and as a result, Martha is Dead certainly packs a punch.
In the interest of full disclosure, the publisher provided VGamingNews with a copy of the game in order to conduct this review.