A game that is as much a story about creating stories as it is a story. A gripping tale of love, loss, and guilt set in the snowy forests of Russia’s Karelia region. It starts out with something small: an ordinary night before Christmas Eve when two friends find themselves alone after their loved ones leave them to go back home for the holidays. They decide they might be better off without each other so they kill Martha-the imaginary person who has been living with one partner or another during every holiday meal since childhood-and then try to reconstruct her into someone new for next year’s Christmas dinner

Martha is Dead Review: A Grueling Psychological Thriller. “Martha at dead of night” is a psychological thriller that will make you feel like your life is in danger.

Martha is Dead Review: A Grueling Psychological Thriller

A specific violent moment in Martha is Dead will be restricted on PlayStation platforms, it was stated before of its release. Many prospective gamers assumed that LKA and Wired Productions’ newest release was a horrific, gory horror title as a result of this. Martha is Dead, on the other hand, isn’t aiming to terrify you with its visuals. It’s a psychological thriller rather than a horror film. Consider a walking simulator or an adventure game with no failure states. There’s no sneaking around here to dodge monsters. 

Instead, Martha is Dead is about immersing yourself in a character’s world, feeling her anguish, and reliving long-forgotten memories. It’s a bleak game with graphic violence and gore. It’s also a game that loses its focus over time, an experience full of intriguing concepts that don’t quite come together into a coherent whole. While the novel finally left a sour taste in my mouth, I was compelled to finish reading because of the realism of the scene and surroundings. 

Review of Martha is Dead: A Brutal Psychological Thriller

Martha is Dead is set in 1944 Italy, amid the terrible background of WWII’s last days. You play as Giulia, who is determined to uncover the perpetrator after blacking out and then waking up to the death of her deaf twin sister Martha. Giulia feigns Martha’s infirmity in order to deceive her cruel mother and Nazi father into believing she is the one who has died. 

This sets the tone for a game that starts off as a slow-paced exploration of the Italian house that this fractured family calls home. By taking notes and moving through the novel, you may discover more about Giulia and Martha’s childhood and family life. A task log begins to fill up with clues and possibilities, giving you control over the sequence in which you unravel the story, which is otherwise pretty straightforward. Giulia’s major instrument for advancement in the beginning is a camera. 

Photo games are one of my favorite new genres, and Martha is Dead offers a unique spin on the genre. Taking images that are appropriately lit and framed is a gratifying and entertaining method to solve the puzzle here. All images must be processed in the house’s darkroom via a series of mini-games, which contributes to the period’s realism. It also aids in the development of stress. A picture can’t be completely developed until it’s fully developed, which is a harsh reminder of how things were before the digital era. 

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A telegraph mini-game may be found if you complete an optional questline. You converse with Italian resistance troops battling the Nazi occupation through morse code here. It provides a brief historical lesson while also firmly placing you in the scene, similar to the photography mini-game. It’s not really enjoyable in the conventional sense, and it’s sometimes buggy, but it’s appropriate for the game’s pace. 

It’s worth noting that LKA is an Italian company, and Martha is Dead’s default language choices are Italian with English subtitles. I played this way to respect the game’s objectives and brush up on a language I had previously mastered in school, but I strongly advise you to stay with the default. 

The speed of Martha is Dead is slow enough that you may be involved with the mechanics while reading the subtitles. There’s also a journal, similar to what you’d find in a visual novel, that maintains note of every spoken speech. If you’ve ever played a Yakuza game, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that the English dub of Martha is Dead seems odd. The narrative is so bound to a certain time and location that playing it in Italian is the best way to enjoy it.

It’s also worth noting that, despite its modest budget, Martha is Dead regularly achieves photorealism in its environments. The textures are a little murky up close, and the faces are a little creepy, but it’s impossible to ignore how wonderfully the LKA team caught the natural beauty of the Italian countryside. 

The beauty of Martha is Dead comes to a halt at this point. Martha is Dead isn’t afraid to have you commit heinous acts of violence again and over again. In a dream scenario, you remove the face of your deceased sister and wear it as a mask, which was expressly noted as one of the edited parts for the PlayStation version. Turn back now if it makes you gag. It’s just going to get worse. 

As I got closer to the finish, my reservations about Martha is Dead were stronger. Martha is Dead’s rhythm is periodically disrupted for two long segments of marionette puppetry in the closing portions of its six- to eight-hour duration. These sequences, which seem to be Giulia’s favorite pastime, are tiresome, and in my experience, both resulted in game-breaking glitches that required me to redo the whole section. Much of the puppeteering time is spent reviewing past plot beats before the unveiling of Giulia’s suppressed memories begins. Martha is Dead has chosen this location to have you perform its most horrible actions. 

I won’t go into detail, but two portions in particular cross a line. One of them includes animal mistreatment, which has a strong emotional impact on me. Worse, it seems that the creators took use of the marionette framing mechanism to “get away” with incorporating these bits without notice.

I mention this because Martha is Dead decided to issue a special content warning for self-harm less than 15 minutes after finishing this section. While I generally like trigger warnings — such as the game’s broad content warning – this one made me feel dismissed. Why is it essential to issue a warning for this one incidence of self-harm when an egregious and unwarranted representation of animal maltreatment appears out of nowhere? 

The finale is particularly frustrating since it hastily rejects numerous key story elements in favor of a major surprise. The assurance Martha is Dead previously emanated disappears totally in the last seconds of the film. The grounded tangibility that distinguished the game’s fascinating early hours fades as it goes toward presenting its tale via metaphor. I was left pondering about Martha is Dead’s worst moments and questioning its inclusion due to a mix of hackneyed twists and misplaced ambiguity. 

Review of Martha is Dead – The Bottom Line

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Pros

  • A dynamic and rigorous approach to photography.
  • Setting that is both unique and real.
  • In various languages, there is excellent voice acting.

Cons

  • Sequences using marionettes are tiresome.
  • Many of the most distressing events are undeserved.
  • There are a number of story twists that are cliched.
  • In certain places, it’s a little buggy.

In many respects, I believe that, like The Last of Us Part II, the reception to Martha is Dead will fall into two factions. There will be many who enjoy a game that pushes the limits of interactive violence and morality, as well as others who believe the game’s gloomy subject matter is an edgy pretext for the game to wallow in its own sorrow. 

Regrettably, I belong to the latter group. The inability of Martha is Dead to land leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Despite several fascinating concepts throughout, the narrative and technological goals do not combine into anything larger. It tries to portray a thoughtful narrative about mental health, but it finally devolves into hackneyed plot beats and emotionally manipulative scenes that serve only to shock you.

[For the sake of this review, Wired Productions donated a copy of Martha is Dead.]
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