Martha is Dead Review

Gaming
8

Great

Martha is Dead

Developer: LKA
Publisher: Wired Productions
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Release Date: 24 February 2022
Price: $29.99 USD / $42.95 AUD – Available Here

Overview

Martha is Dead is a narrative-driven horror adventure. It takes place during the Second World War, a very unsettling and complicated period of human history. Suffering is routine, and now, death knocks upon the protagonist’s door. Many video game authors choose to avoid WWII themes when writing a more serious and mature story. Developer LKA, however, boldly decided to weave its suspenseful and macabre tale using such a controversial time period as background. Everything is presented in a very authentic manner. Nothing is censored: Swastikas can be seen imprinted on letters and elsewhere. There are also depictions of extreme brutality, mutilated corpses among other niceties: All presented in a very photo-realistic way. Martha is Dead is definitely not a game for everyone. Even then, it succeeds in telling a gripping and thought-provoking story that helps elevate video games artistically as a medium, but not without some hiccups along the way.

Story

The story takes place in 1944 at the peak of the Second World War. Giulia, the daughter of a German general, lives a rather tranquil life in Italy, despite the war that’s raging on. That is until she finds the corpse of a woman floating over a river. The corpse belongs to none other than her deaf twin sister, Martha. Giulia is horrified and confused, but deliberately stays silent when her parents inquire about what happened. Since nobody can tell the two sisters apart, Giulia decides to assume Martha’s identity. Now, Giulia is determined to find who killed her sister.

Martha is Dead isn’t a simple story of a girl playing detective to find the culprit for the murder of her twin sister. It’s far more intricate than that. Like a real person, Giulia must deal with her doubts, fears, delusions, and her complicated relationship with her parents. The story is presented in a deliberately confusing and dreamlike way, but not excessively so: It makes sense enough for any player to grasp the overarching plot.

Gameplay

As with many games of its kind, Martha is Dead can be classified as a “walking simulator” of sorts. Exploration is presented in a first-person view. Fortunately, the gameplay is not only limited to just walking from point a to b while listening to Giulia’s monologues (Although I found myself captivated by Giulia’s personality at some points). The player can interact with points of interest, walk, run, and even make use of other manners of transportation such as a bicycle or a boat. 

Giulia is an amateur photographer. Using equipment true to what you’d find in 1944, the player can photograph anything using a variety of lenses and films. There’s even a dark room to develop photos. Some of these photos are key items to the continuity of the story, but you can take photos of whatever you want, if you find the idea fun enough. 

Although Martha is Dead is mostly a linear story, there are some objectives that you can skip. Some of these objectives can change the outcome of a given chapter. The ending you’ll get, also depends on what you did or didn’t do. There are also hidden photo locations, equipment for your camera, and places that are missable: These are certainly a welcome addition because they encourage exploration. I believe that these elements add more enjoyment to the game, besides extending its longevity.

Visuals

LKA, being a developer based in Italy, had the opportunity to collect material in loco for Martha is Dead’s visuals. The graphics are beautiful and feature true to life landscapes of the Tuscany region. The buildings are very well done most of the time, especially the inside of Giulia’s house. The forests that abound in the region feature thick and detailed vegetation. This same artistic care is also prevalent when speaking about human models: Giulia and, by extension, Martha, have detailed bodies and faces. Another graphical aspect worthy of mention, since this is such a brutal game, are the gory scenes: They’re sure to make your skin crawl, unless you’re a hardcore horror movie buff. It’s not only the fact that LKA has put such care in constructing these scenes, but the contexts in which they happen. 

Unfortunately, a number of issues plague the current build of Martha is Dead. There are constant stutters, frame drops, and also graphical inconsistencies: Vegetation and objects flicker horribly at some points. Some of these visual glitches appear randomly, while others persist in certain parts of the game. All this can detract heavily from the overall atmosphere and immersion. This review is based on the version available at the time of publication. LKA is consistently releasing patches to alleviate such problems, so I expect that the game will soon be in an at least near perfect state.

Audio

There’s a lot going on with regard to the audio in Martha is Dead. Besides a variety of dialogues and Giulia’s insightful thoughts and monologues, there is also a radio that, when not relaying news about the war, will play songs from the time that the game takes place in. A cacophony of sounds which seems derived from some stringed instruments will play during the more tense and horrific moments. They’re not exactly fear-inducing, but unpleasant and disturbing, which fits what the developers generally wanted to convey with the story in the game. Other tracks and songs play at certain key moments. All in all, Martha is Dead’s soundtrack is varied and superbly done. There are a number of voice-over options, but since the game takes place in Italy, I decided to use the Italian VO, and I’m glad I did: the Italian voice acting is fantastic and a nice change of pace of all the English and Japanese VOs that I’ve been accustomed to.

Overall

Finishing Martha is Dead was not the easiest of tasks for me. Its themes and depictions of extreme human suffering left me with a knot in my stomach. Martha is Dead is a testament of LKA’s expertise in portraying such serious and mature themes in video game form. Despite my uneasiness and the unfortunate technical problems present in the PC version, Martha is Dead was an awesome experience. There’s still more that I need to see, since I got what I presume is the worst ending. I’ll leave the conclusion for when I’m over digesting this bittersweet meal.

Capsule Computers review guidelines can be found here.

Summary

A very well crafted piece of cinematic video game. Its extreme depictions of physical and psychological violence aren't for the faint of heart.
8

Great

I have been playing video games for 36 years. I should be put in a museum by now, but here I am, writing about them.

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