For a while, I was leaning towards making jokes referencing the meme that many people will think of when they read Martha is Dead‘s title. But you know what? Beyond this, I’m not going to do that. If this game was bad or shoddily put together, then, sure, I probably would, but I need to give credit where credit is due. Martha is Dead may not make the most sense and it isn’t lengthy or full of gameplay. But it has an intriguing story and a well-realized setting that make it easy to recommend to anyone fond of psychological thrillers, even if the game is sometimes too edgy and grotesque for its own good.
Martha is Dead is set in Italy circa 1944. One morning, Giulia, the daughter of a Nazi general stationed in Italy, goes looking for her twin sister Martha at the lake where the two agreed to meet. Instead, she finds her floating face down in the water. Giulia drags her back to shore, only to put on her locket and pass out when her parents find the two of them. The thing is, Martha is deaf and mute and Giulia is now pretending to be her.
This is a really interesting, if somewhat silly, setup, but Martha is Dead has much more to it than that. Naturally, I can’t expound on any of this without massive spoilers, so you’ll have to play the game to see for yourself. The dialogue is well written, and I decided to play the game in the original Italian. The English dub has a mostly British voice cast, as opposed to people doing iffy Italian accents. The game will probably take most people around four hours, and I’m pretty sure there’s only one ending, even though a side quest made me think that there were more. I may have completed this quest too late, so I’m not at all positive.
Hear no evil
Practically all of Martha is Dead takes place around a house in which Giulia and her family are hiding. It belongs to her former nanny, and the family has taken up residence there to shelter from Italian partisans who, understandably, aren’t too fond of elements of a fascist war machine. As Giulia, you have free reign of the area, including the house, the nearby lake, and the overall grounds. The game’s visuals are detailed and realistic, so exploring this believable location is enjoyable.
As far as gameplay goes, this is a fairly standard first-person narrative adventure. You walk around and interact with things in order to progress the story. There’s no fighting, no stealth, nothing like that. The outlier is that Giulia can take photos with her camera. Some photo ops are hidden and can only be taken with an IR lens. After taking photos, pictures can be developed by heading to the darkroom in the house’s cellar, which has a semi-realistic, simplified minigame where you expose, print, and immerse the photo. This isn’t the first game to have a dark room, but it’s well done here all the same.
As you progress, you’re given new tasks to accomplish, many of which are marked on your map. There are a few optional pursuits. For instance, you can find a bicycle pump to fill a bicycle tire with air, which will allow you to get around faster. There’s also a surprisingly in-depth optional side quest that requires you to translate and send actual Morse code messages. This is the one that I thought was tied to extra endings, but doing it didn’t change anything. The included notations on translating the Morse code were also indecipherable to me. I had to translate them the old-fashioned way, which greatly irritated me, especially since there were so many messages to decode.
Cut my life in two pieces
In addition to the above tasks, there are also a bunch of quick-time events to take part in. Some of these are unbelievably gruesome. Prior to playing the game, I saw that Sony had censored Martha is Dead on PlayStation platforms. After playing the game, I don’t blame Sony at all. The first one occurs in a dream sequence early on and involves cutting someone’s face off in a believable fashion, bit-by-bit, until you peel the flesh off of them and wear it yourself. It was horrible.
The second one of these is so awful that I won’t offer any description. But it’s truly disgusting, not to mention anatomically incorrect, although there’s possibly a reason. Unfortunately, I had to do this one three times to try to find out if there were extra endings, so it’s likely permanently burned into my retinas. Great. These sequences are, simply, wholly unnecessary and feel like they’re just there for shock value. They are shocking, but I don’t quite get why the game felt like it needed to amp up the brutality so much, as it doesn’t necessarily aid to the story.
Overall, though, the story in Martha is Dead is quite good, even if I wouldn’t say that I have a concrete grasp on what it all means. Narratively, this is a rather strange game and it has a lot of surprises in it. Unfortunately, it also has some technical problems. For one, I couldn’t change the resolution without selecting the game’s RTX mode prior to booting up. There’s also an issue where having a controller plugged in will cause the game’s keyboard controls to mess up, as well as icons to randomly stutter.
I also got caught in place a couple of times and had to reset back to a previous save. It’s worth mentioning that if you wait too long to do a certain sidequest, the amount of light outside won’t be enough to see mission-critical elements, even though the sidequest is still very much active. I think Martha is Dead is fairly captivating and worth playing, but some of its content is hopelessly edgy and the aforementioned technical aspects could use some work. As far as narrative-focused, first-person games go, this is one of the more interesting ones I’ve seen in a while.