by Lord Badger
Martha Is Dead is the brand new horror title from Italian indie developer LKA Games. Now when it comes to horror games these guys really do have the pedigree. They made the unsettling and disturbing masterpiece that is Town of Light. Those who are familiar with Town of Light will not be surprised to find that Martha Is Dead is also a psychological horror game. LKA know what they like to produce and you cant fault them for that.
I have been following the trailers and press releases for Martha Is Dead for a fair while now. Wired Productions are amazing at promoting indies games and building up hype for release and this was no different this time around. The kerfuffle caused by the “censorship” on PlayStation has certainly helped people sit up and take notice. For those that are not aware. Quite a lot of interest was made online about a scene being censored on PlayStation versions of Martha is Dead. Now, this wasn’t outrage that content had been cut or that PlayStation users were getting a substandard game compared to Xbox and PC. In fact, the attention was over how stupid the censoring was. But we will get to that later…
“Martha Is Dead is a dark first-person psychological thriller, set in 1944 Italy, that blurs the lines between reality, superstition and the tragedy of war. As conflict intensifies between German and Allied forces, the desecrated body of a woman is found drowned… Martha!
Martha is dead, and her twin sister Giulia, the young daughter of a German soldier, must alone deal with the acute trauma of loss and the fallout from her murder. The hunt for the truth is shrouded by mysterious folklore and the extreme horror of war that draws ever closer.”
One day Guilia and Martha, a pair of twin sisters, are down by the lake setting up cameras to help with Guilia’s photography hobby. Whilst refocusing one of the cameras you notice a dead body in the water. You quickly run down to help and discover it is your sister Martha!
You scream out in terror and in a moment of shock put on Martha’s necklace that you find on the floor. Seconds later your parents arrive to find one of their girls in shock and the other dead. Apparently, the necklace is the only way for parents to tell the twins apart and they believe it is in fact Giulia that is dead.
This decision leads to some interesting narrative dynamics. Both her parents believe that it was in fact Giulia that died on that fateful day by the lake and it affects them both in vastly different ways. Guilia was her father’s favourite of the two girls. A general in the German army who has spent too much time away from home. He was looking forward to making up for lost time with Giulia. Time that is now lost forever.
Guilia’s mother on the other hand never had any time for Guilia and because Martha is deaf (yes Giulia is pretending to be deaf now) she has no problem talking crap about her recently deceased daughter.
Giulia takes on the role of her sister and that brings us to the “censored” scene in the game. As far as I am aware the scene is there in its entirety but on other platforms, it is interactive and not simply a cut scene as it is on PlayStation. Now I am against censorship generally but can’t really get my head around this censorship. Martha Is Dead is an adult-rated game, has the obligatory statements and trigger warnings before the game and even gives you the option to play a censored version if you wish.
The scene (which I am not going to spoil) is quite graphic and I can only assume making it interactive makes it all the more unnerving. You would have to ask my good friend S.L Perrin over at littlebitsofgaming.com for his opinion as he reviewed the Xbox version.
Martha Is Dead employs some truly beautiful graphics and lighting. The graphics hold up better than most AAA titles and seriously the standard of graphics on show on PS5 this year are really starting to move the bar of what is considered standard.
The creative use of lighting and sound makes for a really immersive atmosphere that draws you deep into the life of Giulia. LKA Games are masters of these techniques and it is no surprise that their two biggest games are both psychological horrors.
Everything up to this point in the review has been pretty positive but unfortunately, that is where it ends. Most people are going to describe Martha Is Dead as a walking sim. Whilst technically correct it is predominantly a walking sim the truth is that it is a lot more confusing than that.
Martha Is Dead doesn’t seem to know what genre it belongs to. It is mainly a walking sim, tries its hand at being a point and click adventure in places and has quite a few sections that I can only describe as Quick Time Events without the Quick!
Not forgetting the completely pointless running sections in the forest. You are in a sort of dreamscape running through the forest and you come up to a fork in the road with two different word or phrase choices. Pick the correct one and keep running through the forest. choose incorrectly and start again. There is no need for this to be a choice. It serves no purpose other than to remove you from the game.
The best way I could describe Martha Is Dead is jarring. And not in the context, I think the developer’s LKA would like that word to be used. Martha Is Dead does such a great job setting up the atmosphere and narrative I find it baffling that the gameplay jars you out of the world so easily and frequently.
Setting up the camera at the begging for example is ridiculously convoluted and drawn out. The photography development seems boring and unnecessary. I am sure there are people out there who enjoy it I just found it pointless and time-wasting.
Whilst the horror genre isn’t on my list of favourite game styles I can still appreciate a good effort and workmanship. Martha Is Dead is both atmospheric and immersive. It looks stunning and uses all its tools to pull you deeper into its mystery. It just seems to omit all aspects of gameplay.
Decades ago there was a big debate on whether games could be considered art. Martha Is Dead makes me muse that not all art can be games.