Martha Is Dead is a new indie horror title by Developer LKA. The game recently made the news due to the controversial censorship on PlayStation. The censorship didn’t affect my enjoyment of the game however as it was only a small scene. What exactly was changed won’t be revealed here though as this is a spoiler-free Martha Is Dead review.
I didn’t know what to expect going into Martha Is Dead. It’s a horror title without many scares but does have disturbing moments. It relies heavily on its narrative to engross players. It’s a psychological horror that will place you in the mind of its character and plays like a mystery. While I quite enjoyed Martha Is Dead, those going into this hoping for a good scare or think this will play like a survival horror, might be disappointed.
STORY – A MYSTERIOUS DEATH
On the surface, Martha Is Dead has a straightforward narrative. It takes place in Italy, 1944, during the second World War. As the title states, Martha is dead. We follow her sister, Giulia, who goes through that emotional loss. Unsure of how her sister died, Giulia sets out to uncover the truth. Her journey takes her to some strange and disturbing places. The story plays out more like a mystery than a traditional horror one. Whether or not you enjoy this game will probably depend on how the narrative feels to you. Personally, I loved the story and learning more about the world. I interacted with every object I could find to know more information on what was happening.
The title starts off with a simple enough premise and then quickly descends into madness. There is one main narrative here but it always felt as though I was following 10. Being a psychological horror game, Martha Is Dead has a fair amount of reveals throughout its runtime. Some of these were surprising and some of them, I saw coming. While I loved the narrative, there wasn’t anything here that blew me away in terms of reveals though.
Martha Is Dead is in first-person and narrated by Giulia. She’s somewhat of an unreliable narrator and she admits as much, often losing track of time and her memories. As a result, while we’re trying to piece together the mystery of Martha’s death, we’re also trying to figure out what is real and what isn’t. Oddly enough, I never found this to be an annoying cliché. I found myself enjoying Giulia’s character due to the performance. I played through part of the game with Italian voice over and part of it with English. In both cases, Giulia’s actress was stellar. There was this sincerity in her voice each time she spoke and genuine intrigue into what was happening.
WHAT GIULIA SEES
Martha Is Dead likes to play around with how it tells its story. While players will mostly experience things firsthand, there are moments in the game where pieces of the narrative or Giulia’s thoughts are recreated through flashbacks, dreams, or puppet shows. There is an odd segment that is repeated a few times for example that I didn’t quite understand at the start. It’s a dream sequence where Giulia is running through the woods and where players are forced to choose a path. One path might have the word “Martha” while another says “Giulia.” Players choose the path they want and then another set of words appear. In the end, they make a sentence. It’s a cool way of expressing Giulia’s thoughts or emotions albeit a bit confusing to show at the start of game.
Martha Is Dead is full of cool narrative choices such as this. Another stylistic choice included heavily is the use of the puppetry. Giulia has an old dollhouse where she used to play with puppets. Sometimes, in order to give players information on past events, Giulia will attempt to recreate these scenes with her puppets. I love these different stylistic approaches to storytelling as they add diversity. They each play as interactive cinematics and were always engrossing and well done.
GAMEPLAY – PHOTOGRAPHS OF ITALY
Not knowing much of Martha Is Dead going in, I was surprised by the size of the world. This isn’t a large open world title like Assassin’s Creed of course but it was fun to explore even if content was sparse. Giulia is a photographer and uses her camera to take images of events. Sometimes these images contain clues that help progress the mystery surrounding Martha. Players can take optional images as well and the game encourages to do so. Martha Is Dead goes in depth with the camera as well as the process of developing images. It plays like a minigame and although it’s not the most engaging gameplay element I’ve played through, I never got bored or tired of doing it.
There is also a day and night period but you only progress from one to the other by moving along in the story. Mornings were always relaxing and often made me forget I was playing a horror game. Players will typically have a task or two to complete during the day that involves light exploration or the use of the camera. Some tasks are completely optional but completing them will give more context to the story or the events surrounding this time period.
When night comes around, things start to get dark. Although I didn’t find myself scared to move like other horror titles such as Outlast, the night did bring along a sense of dread. Sound design and creepy visuals were often more prevalent during the night. Outside of tasks, players are free to explore the woods and surrounding areas. While there are some things to see, I wish there was more work here. The world felt more empty than I would have liked with key points being gated behind story progress.
STABILITY AND TRAVERSING
While I enjoyed my time with Martha Is Dead, I unfortunately didn’t have a great experience when it came to stability. During my roughly seven hour playthrough, my game froze at least 15 times. Sometimes this occurred whenever I scanned an area for interactable objects. And sometimes it felt completely random. The game has an auto save feature so I never really lost more than 10 minutes at a time but it adds up after 15 freezes. I played on PlayStation 5 so I cannot comment on how this title runs on other platforms.
Outside of freezes, I also had some issues with collision where my character would get stuck or fall out of world. Players are free to explore, but there are some areas that seemed to have been missing collision. As a result, I sometimes got stuck or fell into a place I couldn’t leave. If you don’t have patience for these type of issues, I’d highly recommend waiting before picking this game up. If I wasn’t writing up a Martha Is Dead review, it’s possible I would have waited for a patch before proceeding.
Traversing also felt a bit rough around the edges. Again, it’s possible this is due to collision in some way. It’s not terrible, but it didn’t feel smooth. I sometimes felt as though something was attached to Giulia’s ankles. Giulia also has a bike players can use to traverse more quickly (although you can’t take it into the woods), and it felt really clunky to control. It’s possible this was intentional since the ground isn’t smooth and bikes weren’t as great back then as they are now. Still, turning around with the bike or turning in general felt stiff. This isn’t a bug but something that I think really could have been worked on more.
GRAPHICS AND AUDIO: BEAUTIFUL NIGHTMARE
It was visual treat exploring this world due to the photorealistic graphics. The world felt more lived in as well. I frequently went through the woods and around the house and was easily able to distinguish different areas from each other. Part of the reason for this is the size of the world of course, but I think art direction needs to be applauded here as well. It’s very easy for woods in a videogame to just have this general aesthetic but the graphics and direction here really made the area stand out.
The only time things went south visually is when there were bugs. It wasn’t often, but there were a few issues I came across that muddied some of the textures. Also, when it comes to objects in the background, the quality of the imagery is not nearly as good. This is expected of course, but it was a very sharp drop from the rest of the game and immediately noticeable.
Audio is another area where Martha Is Dead excels. We’re mostly alone with Giulia and her thoughts. It’s only at night when things pick up. There are a ton of ambiguous noises that are heard at night that often made me question what was about to happen. This audio sometimes sounded like mechanical objects being used or broken instruments being played. They were odd and played into the chaos of disturbing moments. And when it comes to moments of revelation, the music picks up dramatically. It’s haunting and mysterious. The music never scared me though. It felt as though it was there to reinforce the narrative. It was always saying something.
Have you played Martha Is Dead? Do you agree with this Martha Is Dead review? Let us know!