Martha Is Dead Review
Can you imagine what Tuscany, Italy might have been like during World War II? With Martha Is Dead you don’t have to. You can experience some of the darkness that prevailed during that time for yourself. And given the fact that this game is a psychological thriller, don’t expect anything to give you a sense of comfort or safety. The countryside may look peaceful and calm at the beginning, but it’s disguising something more sinister. Though Martha Is Dead isn’t without its glitches, developer LKA does an excellent job keeping you hooked until the very end.
It’s a peaceful morning and Giulia, the daughter of a German soldier, is setting up cameras along the lakeside. She’s enamored with the tale of the White Lady and hopes to catch her spirit on camera. Unfortunately while looking through the lens she sees something a lot more disturbing. There’s a woman’s body floating. You’ll quickly discover this is her sister, Martha. She’s dead. The narrative unfolds as Giulia begins her hunt to discover what happened to her sister. She won’t stop until she uncovers the truth; however dark and twisted it may be. And believe me, even without jump scares, Martha Is Dead is plenty creepy.
Short and Creepy
It takes about 4-5 hours to play through if you take your time, less if you focus on the main story. There are cutscenes, marionette scenes, and dream sequences. Each pulls you further down the rabbit hole in search of the truth. Of all three, the marionette scenes are my favorite. They’re incredibly fun and interesting. It doesn’t hurt that you learn a lot from them either.
Since the camera is Giulia’s comfort in the days following Martha’s death, you’ll spend a lot of time with it. You’ll take photographs with an old school camera that uses rolls of film. You’ll need to focus the image and ensure the lighting is correct before snapping the shot. And then you’ll have to go through a few steps to develop each one in Giulia’s dark room. The more you do it, the more fun it becomes.
Snap Those Photos
This camera, and all the steps required to obtain a single photo, provides the biggest “puzzles” and interactions that you’ll encounter in Martha Is Dead. I use the word puzzles lightly however because there aren’t many involved. There are moments where you’ll have to find specific items to move onto the next objective in the storyline. Like finding a key to unlock a specific door or a lens for your camera. The dream sequences are the only time where you’ll have to put a few pieces of information together. Choose the wrong words here and you’ll have to start from the beginning. All of this is still very straightforward though.
There’s also little white triangles that show up on places and items of interest (letters, telegrams and next objectives). Though these can be helpful they’re also slightly annoying. They don’t disappear as they should after viewing an item. Well, they do, but then if you leave the room and return, the white triangle is back. The same goes for cameras that you pick up while exploring the map. These are used as skins to customize your main camera but once picked up they keep reappearing. If you’ve played any action-adventure game you’ll know just how annoying this can be. After all, you don’t want to discover the same treasure again and again.
More Than a Walking Simulator
Throughout your experience at the main house, in the surrounding areas and forest, there are plenty of items to be discovered or photographed in order to move the narrative forward. Though I said Martha Is Dead is mostly a walking thriller simulator during the first few chapters in my preview last month, it becomes more interactive as you continue on. And that is a great thing. Sure, you can only move within the confines set by whichever chapter you’re on, but at least you can explore the house and acreage surrounding it at your own pace. I would’ve loved to see a few more trinkets as a reward for exploring outside of the main storyline but it’s a small gripe. Plus, if you pay attention to areas you can photograph you’ll earn additional trophies along the way.
Gorgeous Set Pieces
After playing the demo I was a bit worried about the camera movement and angles, as well as the load times between chapter scenes but it seems LKA has smoothed these issues out. Riding a bicycle is the one exception. Its movement is a bit more robotic and stiff and turning it around feels awkward. That being said, walking, running and taking photographs are all very fluid, if not a little on the quicker side. In fact, try not to take too many corners in a row quickly – you could end up feeling very mildly dizzy.
Martha Is Dead may not be the graphical masterpiece that a AAA game like Horizon Forbidden West is, but it’s still gorgeous. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the game is set in a beautiful place like Tuscany either. The way the light plays off the water, the blades of grass, and the walls of the house is impressive. The way shadows look when walking past a lamp, a candle, or with the sun at your back really puts the attention to detail on full display. The set pieces for the marionette scenes are colorful and child-like in artistic design (in the best way). In fact, the art design is very well done throughout. Each piece of decor, each piece of art hanging on the wall, each gory scene you may encounter, lends itself to the eerie and dark narrative.
Powerful Production Values
The sound design and music is just as impressive. The Italian voice acting is emotional and powerful – especially from Katie McGovern who voices Giulia. It adds a little extra authenticity to go along with pieces of history on full display within the house. It’s well worth listening to the game in Italian. The English subtitles will get you through just fine. Footsteps, waves of water lapping on the shore and Giulia’s heartbeat allow for an even more immersive experience. The musical score, from Between Music: Aquasonic, Aseptic Void, and Francesca Messina is incredible. In the moments where you’re watching horrific scenes play out or when Giulia is scared, the notes are suspenseful and exciting. In fact, the only thing I really didn’t love about the sound within Martha Is Dead is the way the Dualsense controller vibrated intensely and was almost too loud during some of the most intense moments.
Not Without Faults
This isn’t the only thing that threatened to ruin the immersion unfortunately. There are a few glitches throughout, including screen tearing and movement stuttering, as well as a few bugs where reading a letter and listening to the radio overlap. The worst is when the game outright crashed multiple times during my playthrough and at one point it was so bad I had to reinstall the game in order to continue. While bugs and glitches are often part of a brand new game, it’s rough when you have to uninstall and reinstall just to finish the game. I’m hopeful this will get ironed out quickly after launch.
Martha Is Dead offers a narrative that’s provocative, intense, dark, and emotional. And yes, it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s plenty gory. Given that it takes place during WWII the story doesn’t seem out of place either. It pulls you in right away, keeps its intensity and pace, and holds your attention until the very end. The sound and graphical design really fit with the overall vibe and atmosphere of the game. Sure, it’s not perfect, but most of the issues aren’t game breaking. Martha Is Dead is riveting and if you’re a fan of psychological thrillers you won’t want to miss it.
*** PS5 game code provided by the publisher ***
- Incredibly detailed
- Solid narrative from beginning to end
- Sound design is fantastic
- Bugs & glitches
- Hints not disappearing
- Puzzles a little too easy