February 24, 2022
I’m conflicted with Martha is Dead. On one hand it’s a brave story about abuse, self-harm, and the pain of war. On the other, it seems to show some content that feels out of place and feels far too unnecessary. I’m a believer in shock value and if done right can have an important impact on a story. At times, LKA get it right. While it is a psychological horror, it also plays a part in highlighting mental health and other psychological conditions. However, some decisions regarding what is shown, and what is said don’t quite have a place. They may shock, but they don’t have any value.
Martha is Dead is up for interpretation. My opinions may differ greatly from yours. Being cryptic is a pre-requisite for most reviews, but I do feel the line does get crossed for reasons I’m not sure of. I played and loved Town of Light. I understood what was being said and thought LKA was brave for broaching the subject matter it dealt with. For much of Guilia’s story, I felt the same. Her mother doesn’t love her and she is grieving after the loss of her sister. Saying that, I’m not sure what I was supposed to feel after the credits rolled.
Martha is Dead: Psychological warfare
After finding your twin sister dead by the lake, Guilia takes the identity of Martha. Her parents (who oddly can’t tell them apart) believe she is Martha, and it is Guilia that has died. What unfolds is a story about how her mother, Irene, would torment and abuse her growing up. Her father is a general in the German army, and is much more compassionate than his wife. What Martha is Dead does very well is blend the harsh realities of war with the main narrative running through it. With each new day, the Tuscan setting becomes more embroiled in World War II.
Uncovering the truth about your past and the relationship with your sister and mother is interesting for quite some time. Secrets are exposed, and it leaves you unsure of how to feel about Guilia. The house where you live is filled with locked doors and hidden truths. The only escape you have is the darkroom. The core focus of Martha is Dead is photography. Taking photos plays a role in completing objectives. Not only that, you can also go out and snap anything around you. New lens’ unlock, providing various filters to your photos. Infrared, blue, orange, and green filters, magnified lens – there’re plenty of options.
It’s quite detailed in how you go from taking the photos to developing them in the darkroom. Adjusting the focus and aperture when taking your photos; using a flash when at night; adjusting the enlarger to print onto paper; and using chemicals to ‘wash’ your print are just some of the steps. Certain locations or objects are marked with an icon. When taking photos of these, you get a brief description to build on the story of your family, or the time at which you’re living in. Martha is Dead is a good-looking game. For those who enjoy a good photo mode, it has an important role whether going through the story or simply exploring.
Martha is Dead has some wonderful locations. In the day, the Tuscan sun shines down on the lush forests. At night, the woods become less inviting, offering an eerie atmosphere. The lake where much of the story revolves around is as serene as it is evocative. It takes you back to a time buried in the mid-twentieth century, to a place in Italy many, including myself, are unfamiliar with. Cutscenes are employed in a unique way. It doesn’t jump from gameplay to cutscene. Instead, it tries to blend the two in interesting ways. With it being a psychological horror, some of the game goes from reality to nightmare. This terrifying territory is designed with fear at its core, and for much of it, these imbalanced states of being leave you completely vulnerable.
Martha is Dead: Exploring every recess
Through much of this narrative journey, you’ll go back and forth between rooms in the house, or from the woods to the lake, or a mix of both. Objectives aren’t too complex, and hints will often be available. Some of these goals feed into one and other. You may need to find keys to your childhood room but not see them anywhere, however, they might pop up in another questline later on. Much of this structure blends together. It isn’t until the last hour or so where Martha is Dead begins to drag on a bit and lose track of its footing. Finding the puppet theatre adds a new kind of gameplay mechanic, but it can be drawn out.
Despite being potentially too graphic for some and unnecessarily crude at times, Martha is Dead is an interesting narrative adventure. The story of Guilia and Martha has some strong moments, even if it does begin to unravel at the end. The photography elements are enjoyable, especially for those who appreciate the lovely visuals on offer. There’re many additional features that show how much work has gone into making this more than just another ‘walking simulator.’ Thankfully, there are a fair few options. Playing with tarot cards, finding skins for your camera, or even reading the daily newspaper gives you a feeling of living a life, rather than just watching one unfold.
Photography is enjoyable
Some smart artistic choices
Story loses its way
Some scenes are unnecessarily graphic
Martha is Dead deals with losing loved ones and losing your own self through a powerful narrative that can be quite uncomfortable at times.