Review – Martha Is Dead
Horror is one of my favourite genres and it has had a sort of renaissance in recent years. Some examples of the best titles released over the years include the fantastic and terrifying Visage or even The Medium, a game not all liked, but I sure did. Martha Is Dead is an exploratory horror game with a heavy emphasis on story. It was developed by PK Studios, the same team behind Town of Lightm which gained some praise over the years. The game attracted significant attention before its release due to Sony’s decision to censor the PS4 version altogether due to some graphical imagery. Is the game all that? Is it that controversial? Let’s find out.
Set in an Italian countryside of a Germany occupied Italy in 1944, you play as Giulia, who, after taking photos near a lake, discovers that her twin sister, Martha, has been murdered. Taking place in the immediate aftermath and the week after, Giulia sets out to discover the truth behind her murder, all while trying to deal mentally with her loss and the ongoing war happening in Europe (do I need to remind you?), with some supernatural elements sprinkled in.
It’s actually hard to discuss Martha is Dead’s story without spoiling too much of it, but what we have here is an incredibly dark story with some heavy themes and twists. One that had me questioning every character each time a new development happened, with some shocking and truly surprising twists and turns that put an entirely new perspective on the events. It’s a cleverly twisted tale that peels back more and more layers in each chapter. I was thoroughly compelled throughout even when it delves into much darker territories with scenes that could be disturbing to some.
Whilst the story may be an excellent and twisted affair that surprised me from beginning to end, it’s the gameplay that will prove to be divisive. It’s a very, very slow burn of a psychological horror game, and the core gameplay loop could very much be off-putting to some. Martha is Dead is not a traditional horror experience. Don’t expect for something to chase you or sneak around, or even jump scares for that matter. Unfortunately, whilst this serves the narrative, it impacts the gameplay negatively, making it rather slow even for walking simulator standards like The Suicide of Rachel Foster. I was often rather bored and wanting to just move the story along.
Much of the game has you exploring the estate on surrounding area of the villa, taking photos of various clues that could relate to Martha’s murder and then manually developing the films that you find to unlock clues to uncover the truth of what happens. Whilst this is great through a narrative viewpoint, it’s a tedious task that has you running back and forth from the forest to the dark room to complete a simple mini-game. Each of the game’s chapters does have a unique mechanic, from puppet shows to Morse Code solving, but they really don’t add a lot to the experience, all six hours of it. There’s some optional content, sure, but nothing that actively encourages replayability or further exploration.
One surprise is the game defaulting itself to Italian voice acting. Sounds weird at first, but once you stop and think about it, it is a very pleasant surprise and absolutely the way this game should be played. It lends an additional degree of authenticity to the wonderfully realised setting. The voice acting itself is fairly solid, with some believable performances, especially from our protagonist. Alongside this, we have a genuinely creepy soundtrack that gently ramps up to the more intense moments.
Graphics are also pretty good, with a well-realised Italian countryside accompanited by a dark forest area. The environments themselves are well detailed and do a great job of immersing you into the setting. With that said, environments are repetitive as hell. That’s what you’re getting: fields and forests. There are some moments full of gore as well (which have gained some attention for being censored on PS4 and PS5). These force you to get up-close to the gore in full detail and it’s incredibly effective.
However some pop-in and frame rate drops and stuttering can bring the experience down a touch. It’s also worth noting that this game lacks proper ultrawide support, zooming the game in, which can be problematic for some of its puzzles forcing, me to resort to playing in 16:9 in a handful of sections. I also did encounter a number of bugs, including infinite loading circles and falling through the floor during some exploration sections.
Martha is Dead’s compelling narrative is let down by some dull gameplay that just can’t support it in any meaningful way. It does deal with themes of loss in a uniquely told story that had me guessing what was happening every step of the way, but the sheer amount of monotony annoyed me more than I could stand. If what you are looking for is a proper horror experience, this will not be for you. With that being said, if you want a compelling narrative, then, as long as you can get past some tedious lack of proper gameplay, I can recommend picking this game up.
The game does look pretty nice graphically-wise, but it suffers from an overall lack of visual variety..
The core gameplay loop (or lack thereof) of Martha is Dead just can’t pull its weight to keep up with the stronger narrative.
The Italian voice acting, soundtrack and environmental sound design make for a authentic and horrifying experience.
Fun Factor: 6.0
Whilst the narrative remains compelling, Martha is Dead‘s core gameplay leaves a lot to be desired.
Final Verdict: 7.0
Martha Is Dead is available now on Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X and PC. PS4 and PS5 ports were delayed.
Reviewed on PC with an RTX 2060, Ryzen 5 3600X and 16GB RAM.
A copy of Martha Is Dead was provided by the publisher.