I shot myself in the foot, so to speak, when starting Martha is Dead, due to attempting to not see or read about the game prior to playing. Of course, that’s almost impossible to do and I ended up catching wind of other players saying that the game was a horror experience, grisly and disturbing, then news dropped that the game had been censored on PlayStation. Upon hearing these out-of-context snippets, I had built up the expectation that I would be embarking on a journey that was sure to get freaky and hopefully have me on edge the entire time. I, unfortunately, was completely wrong, and it caused my first few hours of playing to be the most unenjoyable slog. It wasn’t the game’s fault at all — I just thought it was taking an unnecessary amount of time to get to The Good Stuff, and that it was missing every opportunity to build tension. This was my fault, but after a few hours of play everything clicked into place (or my noggin finally started working) and I found myself enjoying the game for what it is: a psychological thriller.
Martha is Dead is not a horror game. It’s not meant to be, it doesn’t try to be, and if you’re a hardcore horror fanatic, you might be a little disappointed. It’s a mystery, a story that unfolds at its own pace, which sets the scene by offering up a slow and picturesque experience filled with character-building, before slapping you in the face with a gritty scene that’ll have you saying, “I didn’t see that coming.” Are there horror elements? Sure, the game delves pretty deep into the struggles of mental illness, child abuse, self-harm, and the horrors of war, mixing it all with corpse mutilation and murder. Nothing felt like it was there to scare you, though, only to shock you and throw you off balance when attempting to piece together the overarching narrative. Of course, this all depends on each user’s ability to handle the game’s darker moments, of which there are many.
The story follows the daughter of a German officer called Giulia, who finds the body of her twin sister Martha floating in the lake of their Italian home in 1944. The story then falls into a horrifying string of questions strange goings-on as you explore the surrounding area, your family’s motives, the war happening around you, the mysterious Lady of the Lake, and your own psyche. I found it to be extremely engaging the whole way through, and while many times the outcome was going to be an obvious one, others left me wondering what the hell had happened. Of course, this is all mixed with gruesome scenes that shook up the whole ordeal, causing me to chuckle in delight and shout “no way” on multiple occasions. One minute you’re enjoying a leisurely stroll through the woods, and in the next, you’re cutting a corpse open — it’s beautifully bizarre and hits pretty hard at times, making for a really interesting experience. Good luck to whoever attempts to guess what happens before the end. In fact, good luck attempting to work out what had just happened once you get to the end because it’s not entirely clear, and it left me a little lost, to be honest.
LKA has done its due diligence and ensured you’re greeted with ample warning before starting the game, with a message pointing towards the Safe in our World organisation’s website. I can see many aspects of the game being distressing for some players because it is graphic in its quest for realism, so if you’re not into the darker realms of gaming, heed the warning. Martha is Dead refuses to hint at disturbing scenes, choosing instead to make you play them out piece by piece. Everything the game offers is aimed towards giving you an authentic experience, and it handles it extremely well. From the small country villa in which the game takes place, to the surrounding countryside, everything is well detailed. Visually it looks lovely, but the largest problem I faced (aside from the character’s overly slow run speed) was with the game’s performance; it only runs in 4K/30fps or 1080p/60fps on the Xbox Series X. It’s the biggest letdown I could find within this well-crafted piece of Italian countryside, and in a world where 60fps is becoming the standard for 4K content, dropping down to 30fps is not a pretty sight. I really hope LKA can get an update out soon because it’s extremely easy to see how much care has been taken to ensure that the experience is authentic in every way, only to then be marred by less-than-ideal performance limits.
Meticulous attention to detail stretches far beyond Martha is Dead’s visuals; with photography sitting in the centre of everything you do. It’s like a little 1940s photography simulation, allowing you to choose from infrared lenses, zooms, filters, and films. Once you’ve taken your shot, you can develop it in the red room, which has simplified the process but still allows you to develop photos in a realistic way. One side mission asks you to use morse code and gives you an opportunity to learn how it works. Due to it taking place during the war, your family has to have the radio on at all times, offering you the chance to hear wartime reports intermittently between songs, while the daily newspaper has columns pertaining to the war and the aforementioned planes buzz overhead periodically. It’s these little additions that made me fall in love with the game and had me engaged the entire time I played it.
It’s a short affair and one that will only take you around 15 hours or so to complete, and each of the Martha is Dead achievements can be unlocked in a single playthrough, thanks to the game autosaving at the beginning of each mission. Short and sweet is the game’s secret recipe, and it ensures that it doesn’t overstay its welcome. The story was wrapped up in a timely manner, although it could have delved into the supernatural side a little more, I think, but it didn’t feel rushed, which to me is the focal point of the game anyway.
Martha is Dead is a game that looks to throw you off balance at every turn, to seduce you with picturesque scenes before forcing you to witness Hell on earth. Aside from its 4K/30fps performance, Martha is Dead is a well-polished and appealing ride from start to finish, offering those looking for a dark thriller game filled with rich details an entertaining ride. Horror fans looking for an adrenaline rush, though, won’t find anything here to sate their appetites, unfortunately, but some fairly gruesome scenes certainly lean into the psychological horror tropes, and never cheap out on the gory details.
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