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Martha Is Dead Review: "Desperate To Know How It Ends While Longing For The Credits"

Martha Is Dead Review: "Desperate To Know How It Ends While Longing For The Credits"
Images via Wired Productions

Written by 

Daniel Conlan

Posted 

24th Feb 2022 13:49

Martha is Dead is a beautifully crafted single-player experience that will leave your palms sweaty and your mind racing, but it fails to make good on its early promises. This is an experience that would be perfectly happy as a six-part Netflix series than the seven-hour campaign it offers.

With that said, campaign may be the wrong word for Martha is Dead. Played through the eyes of Giulia, from a first-person perspective, it’s a game with a carefully plotted story quite unbothered by the player’s own wants, that will see you largely go from place to place trying to figure out who is behind your sister’s murder. You’ll take the odd photograph and press the correct button during sequences to do things like spool a camera, row a boat or cut off your sister’s face, but there's little else in the way of actual gameplay.

An Interactive Movie

Martha is Dead letter

It’s a strange experience; there is no combat, at least not any you partake in, and the puzzles aren’t really puzzles at all, instead just simple instructions to follow. You wake up each day - often after nightmarish dream sequences - get dressed, read the paper, then follow up on the next clue in the search for answers in your sister’s murder.

Martha is Dead wouldn't feel out of place as an interactive installation at the British War Museum. Don't get me wrong - this game is a ride - but with all the little touches to sell the late-WW2 'Axis near Doomsday' setting like radio broadcasts of encroaching Allied bombings and evidence of increased partisan activity, it often feels educational at times.

For what is ostensibly a horror game, there's a real difficulty issue. It's impossible to ‘die’ or face a game over screen at all. You can become momentarily lost when going from one place to the next, though even then the game’s map will quickly inform you exactly where you need to go to progress the story, rendering your prior detective work defunct. 

Through The Lens

Martha is Dead photography

Core to the game is Giulia’s love of photography, a passion encouraged by her father, and used to help piece together what has - or hasn’t - happened to Martha. But what starts out feeling like it will be similar to Alan Wake’s flashlight quickly dissolves into nothing more than a way to tie certain plot points together.

Much is made of the ability to photograph at the game’s outset because you will even learn how to develop them in the family’s own darkroom, but the desire to photograph anything outside of the narratively mandated shots was something you'll rarely feel inclined to do. - even if you can equip cosmetic skins for the camera.

 

 

But having said all that, there is something both genuinely chilling and endearing about the story in the way it is portrayed. Free to move around the villa and surrounding areas, the area quickly becomes familiar. Where Giulia keeps her bike, the opening by the stream where the girls hid as kids, the path to the beautiful and ominous lake all become second nature and exploring these areas fully will open up some side quests, albeit relatively minor ones. The details are masterfully layered in and offer up the onus to see the story to its conclusion.

Martha is Dead photograph dark room

And what a story it is. The voice acting is superb with both the Italian dub (the default with English subtitles) and the English dub as they both will have you yearning to hear more from each and every character - a rarity in any game. The soundtrack is also of the highest calibre, reimagined versions of Schubert’s Ave Maria are balanced against more experimental fare from "underwater music specialists" Between Music. It’s gripping, notable, and stays with you long after you finish playing.

Nightmares Made Real

Violence and gore take centre stage throughout Martha is Dead and while some scenes have been toned down if you're on PlayStation due to guidelines by Sony, it would be remiss not to discuss just how impactful these parts are. There are several extremely violent scenes in the game that undoubtedly have the ability to upset and appal some. However, in the context of the story, they're not overly gratuitous. They proved to be both central to the story and - without giving too much away - possess a mystical quality, having you question what is and isn’t real. They are some of the game’s standout moments, despite having to wince through most of them.

Martha is Dead review gore

As the game nears its conclusion, it does offer players a couple of points to diverge from the storyline, but the game plays quite a neat trick to mean that these crossroads can be explained away. The most powerful aspect of these choices is that they come when they do, forcing you to question your own belief in what you’ve seen, a feeling that is shared by the character you inhabit.

The craziness continues to ratchet up as you reach the finale, and Giulia proves an evermore unreliable narrator. While the narrative here is undoubtedly the strongest element of Martha is Dead, the gameplay loop lets it down enormously, meaning you'll likely be desperate to know how it ends while simultaneously longing for the credits to roll. There are far worse horror experiences out there, but this is one that would be much better off on a streaming platform instead of as a game.

6/10

Reviewed on PC. Code provided by the publisher.

 

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