Martha is Dead Review – Niche Gamer

Martha is Dead Review

Starting off our Martha is Dead review – the game is many things: psychological horror, historical drama and first-person point-and-click-adventure. Initial impressions present very classy and high quality imagery and promises of an emotional story.

At first, the biggest mystery that eclipses the one in the story is what kind of game Martha is Dead is going to be. After several lengthy and abstract cutscenes, the first pieces of gameplay are button prompts. Is this going to be some kind of interactive movie? No, Martha is Dead just has a very strange sense of pacing.

After a few mandatory sequences of being locked into quick-time events that are not quick, the game can truly begin. What sort of experience does this strange game offer? Who is Martha? Is she dead? Find out in the Martha is Dead review!

Martha is Dead
Developer: LKA
Publisher: Wired Productions
Platforms: Windows PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S (reviewed)
Release Date: February 24, 2022
Players: 1
Price: $29.99 USD 

Martha and Giulia are twin sisters living in Tuscany during World War II and as if things couldn’t be more straining for them; the story begins with one of them dead. Hint: it is Martha. Compounded with unraveling insanity, the line between reality and delusion blurs with every passing day.

Giulia being the less popular one and more awkward of the two siblings takes it upon herself to assume the identity of Martha. This is infamously realized with a graphic and brutal depiction of Giulia slicing off her sister’s face. It is not meant to be taken literally, as many of the events in Martha is Dead are a mixture of metaphors and delusions.

Martha is Dead revels in very artistic imagery that does not hold the player’s hand or spoonfeed the narrative. The designers opt for surrealism, abstraction and layered symbolism to represent many of the story’s events and they are achieved with aplomb.

There are some truly inspired sequences in cutscenes and gameplay where it is on the player to discern the subtext by reading between the lines in spite of the protagonist’s delusions. Characters who seem overbearing or are set up to be evil turn out being good and initially sympathetic characters are proven to be heinously evil.

Some scenes are visceral and the devs do not hold back on the gory details. These are sequences that have a point to the narrative and show how far gone off the deep end a person with horrible repressed memories can get. Graphic depictions of an abortion of a deformed baby are extreme but Martha is Dead is never gratuitous.

Most of the time, the experience is very reserved and it takes its time to build up a profound sense of unease and tension. Through suggestion alone, Martha is Dead is able to convey a lot of information where it counts by cutting corners strategically.

There are moments where characters will have scenes together and will talk. The directing style can be best described as economic to make up for the fact that Martha is Dead had to accommodate multiple languages and not have to animate the lip sync at all.

This was achieved through artistic means and having almost all character faces obscured or having camera placement strategically positioned where a mouth can’t be seen. Other times scenes will be framed at a distance or will use shadows to show interactions.

This style adds to the ambiance tremendously and makes the overall tone of the game feel more cold and distant than it would if it was done in a more conventional means. There is an intense impersonal touch to these scenes that makes Giulia’s alienation feel all the more palpable and puts the player in her head.

The vivid nightmare sequences will play out with unique but simple gameplay gimmicks. These moments are very basic but engaging enough to maintain intrigue. What makes them stand out is the imaginative and inspired imagery.

When Martha is Dead presents Giulia during her lucid and more mundane daily life; gameplay is more like a traditional first-person adventure game. Expect to examine various objects, read flavor text, and solve some optional puzzles.

A standout side story involves choosing to rat out a resistance operation to Giulia’s dad who happens to be an officer for the Nazi military. This is requires many steps with using period accurate photography which has an agonizingly realistic photo development process and learning how to use Morse code.

Code breaking and getting to grips with Morse code is the highlight of the Martha is Dead experience. This was a very challenging but gripping sequence that demands the full attention of the gamer and to reenact a significant activity that was performed during World War II.

The gameplay does dumb things down a bit to make the experience more palatable, but the effort the designers put into this optional gameplay module is very impressive. Throughout all of Martha is Dead, the attention to detail to fully realize the period makes the experience very immersive.

Sadly, Martha is Dead is rife with technical issues that are distracting enough to break the illusion. There are many times when players will be able to access areas they are not meant to and can walk out of bounds. Compounded with a framerate that is never stable even on a Xbox Series S, the presentation always feels rough.

Walking out of bounds mostly happens when getting lost in the wooded between Giulia’s villa and the lake. While wandering, players may begin to notice some extremely low quality assets. They are like this because nobody was meant to see them this close.

Other times, assets won’t load at all and half of Giulia’s home will have no textures at all. Everything will appear as if it was coated with Vantablack and be completely featureless. Even Giulia’s hands and legs will take on these characteristics while venturing into the Vantablack zones.

Why this happens is unclear. It can be assumed that these areas were never meant to for the player to explore at that time and the textures were culled out for optimization purposes, but the programmers possibly forgot to implement a bounding box or collision to prevent players from accessing the area.

The technical issues may be a result of an inexperienced team, but having an on-screen “skip” prompt during every graphic depiction of violence is pathetic. These scenes could still be skippable, but having a prompt that appears constantly during these intense violence is patronizing and the prompts can’t be removed.

The constant reminder that the game is telling me to skip these gory details makes it feel like the game is embarrassed that it has such visceral scenes. Martha is Dead is a game aimed for adults and explores very heavy themes and is set during a very dark time in our history. It is so close to treating the player like a mature adult, but gets a little shy when some blood has to be shown.

The irony is that there are other extremely graphic scenes that are not always given the option to skip. Sometimes players will get cutscenes that depict some raw imagery or will read some passages that suggest far nastier ideas than anything the gameplay permits.

For authenticity, it is best to play Martha is Dead in Italian audio mode. There is an English language option which is mostly serviceable, but some actors opt for confusing accents. Ideally, every English actor would have gone for some semblance of an Italian accent. Regretfully, the actors had a field day with whatever accent they wanted.

Fans of adventure games with a driving psychological story will adore Martha is Dead. Even with the bugs and technical issues, it offers enough intrigue and stimulation to keep the player engaged in the narrative. It might have fewer issues on other platforms but during this Martha is Dead review, the Xbox Series S version was troubling.

Martha is Dead was reviewed on Xbox Series S using a copy provided by Wired Productions. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy hereMartha is Dead is now available for Windows PC (via Steam), Xbox one, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.

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