Before starting most games, I feel that I have a good knowledge of the experience I am about to have. With Martha is Dead I didn’t know exactly what I was getting into. My only indicator before starting this was that it was a horror type game. So would I be terrified by my 5 hours of playing, or will it be a bit of a damp squib? Let’s unravel the mystery and find out.
Developed by LKA and published by Wired Productions, this is a walking simulator that comprises many other genres. Its main concept combines elements of a psychological thriller and a horror come murder mystery. Consequently, it’s an eclectic blend that may not be to everyone’s liking, but I kept an open mind throughout. Those who are familiar with this genre know to expect a lack of gameplay mechanics. However, what makes up for this is usually a stunning story experience that will leave you thinking about what you have just played for hours or days after. The pinnacle titles of this genre are What Remains of Edith Finch, Firewatch or Dear Esther. Therefore, Can Martha is Dead reach this level, or will it be destined for the bargain bin?
Martha is Dead lacks an open-world experience.
The game is set in 1944 in Italy during World War II. Death and destruction are the new norms, and the survivors are damaged goods. You control Giulia, a young lady who seeks the truth while masking her terrible secrets. You explore a dark period of history while exploring loss, relationships, and psychological undertones. There is a limited environment to explore, a house, a lake and the surrounding wooded area. You do venture very briefly into other places, but don’t expect to find a vast area to search around.
As you start this game, you are hit with a disclaimer regarding disturbing scenes that some will find distressing. There is no doubt that during my time with the game, I found some scenes to be gruesome and unsuitable for younger audiences. However, I have to say with this warning I expected more dark material. Yet, it wasn’t any more disturbing than a modern horror or snuff movie. The horror aspects leant towards jump scares rather than being terrifying. Furthermore, the disturbing emotional aspects that are obviously linked to mental health appeared unnecessarily over the top. Subsequently, the final product felt cheap and underwhelming.
Whenever I think of a computer game with a genuinely disturbing feeling, I think of Hellblade: Senua. It really hit a nerve and was exceptionally well presented. Moreover, the presentation was extremely thoughtful towards the sensitive subject of mental health. The developers for Martha is Dead have attempted to get a similar feel, but sadly fell short.
The story requires the protagonist to solve multiple mysteries that have a common theme of superstition. This is combined with a mechanic of taking photographs that must also be developed. This, in theory, sounds interesting, however, in practice, it doesn’t feel dynamic, nor does it age well as the game evolves. The fact that you have to get the photo in focus while having to pick different attachments and lenses slows the gameplay down while also breaking its immersive nature.
The storyline is set over 4 days which doesn’t sound a lot, but it offers great depth and interesting ideas along the way. Sadly, however, it is confusing and does not flow well. Subsequently, this makes an already unusual plot much harder to understand. After completing the game, the key aspects of the plot are clear. However, in the midst of experiencing it, you are often left thinking, what was the point? This is exacerbated by an optional subplot. Annoyingly, the developers fail to explain this from the off, and that just muddies the water further. If you take on the additional chapters, you’ll experience an incoherent and jumbled mess that is underwhelming and disjointed.
So many bugs.
I played the game prior to mainstream release. This, unfortunately, led me to discover many glitches and bugs. My issues included multiple crashes, environments not loading correctly that would prevent you from progressing, and not being able to pick items up. Furthermore, there was also a point where the game crashed but allowed me to reload. Everything appeared as it should, but for a reason unknown to me, it prevented me from progressing. Subsequently, I wasted 2 hours trying to find objectives in vain and this is an unfortunate game-breaking issue. However, I am assured by the developers that a patch will resolve these issues, but for me, it tainted my experience.
I’ve played many walking simulator games, yet what I didn’t expect to find were Quick Time Events (QTE). This is certainly an unusual mechanic to include, but I was open-minded. Sadly, the gamble did not pay off! The QTE were tedious and if you got them wrong; they had to be restarted. This led to frustration and the occasional loud sigh. I applaud the developer for trying something different, but in this instance, it failed miserably. They did add a small mini-game within the subplot that demands you partake in deciphering Morse Code. I can see how some people would enjoy this puzzle. I initially found it confusing, but once I got the concept, it was simple enough.
Martha is Dead lacks polish.
Graphically, Martha is Dead looks like many indie games. Consequently, it is not spectacular but equally it is not awful. There are texture issues, items appear blocky when zoomed in, objects will float in the air or lights from the inside of a building can be seen through solid walls. These are all minor issues that fortunately don’t impact the gameplay and, luckily, they can easily be overlooked. Strangely, these weren’t my biggest gripe. Annoyingly, the icons that highlight the points of interest are far too small and this makes them more of a hindrance than helpful. If the developers had made them bigger, it would have improved the gameplay significantly.
I am no history buff, but the developer has appeared to create a world that seems legitimate to the era. I liked the small details such as written guides on how to use the telephone, the Morse Code, pictures, and clothing. These add to the immersion the developers are trying to create while transporting you to this bizarre world.
The audio and soundtrack are beautifully composed and appear to be era-specific. The buzzing of flies when walking around makes it atmospheric, and the odd scratchy horror effect during key moments helps to define the emotion. I enjoyed the fact you have a choice to pick the audio language of your character. The fact she is Italian and you can have her speaking her native tongue while using English subtitles adds to the realism of the game. The only negative is that during some cutscenes, the subtitles can randomly disappear and as such you miss the story. This was disappointing, as many of the key moments relied upon the information within the cinematic.
Limited replay value, but easy to play.
The controls are fortunately simple to understand. Thankfully, they are clearly displayed on the screen and it makes for a seamless experience. Furthermore, the clean UI helps to highlight the control system without being overwhelming. Moreover, the action runs fairly smoothly with few performance issues (other than the aforementioned bugs) and the controls are as responsive as you expect from the genre.
Is the game worth replaying? Yes, and no! If you wish to play through both sides of the subplot, then yes, you’ll enjoy the rounded but weird story. Furthermore, it is a fairly quick game and I am sure you could cover both in under 10 hours. If the developers can fix the issues and make sure your experience isn’t disturbed, then I’m sure you’ll enjoy exploring the backstory of both Giulia and Martha.
Martha is Dead is so, so.
This game is not terrible, however, it is not fantastic. This genre has to have a strong story to be remembered due to the lack of action, thrills, and spills. Martha is Dead just lacks that spark to make it great. The ending of the game is fairly predictable, and it was not the most enjoyable journey to get there. Unfortunately, it falls short of its peers but is still worthy of your time. All in all, I liked it despite its shortcomings, and for that reason, I recommend you to buy it here! Will you be able to discover the truth while keeping your deepest secrets?