Review: Martha is Dead
Martha is Dead finds you in a remote 1944 Tuscany location while World War II is still raging, and the beautiful art design and immersive soundscape do a great job of convincingly placing you into that time period.
Playing in a first person view as Giulia, you find your twin sister Martha dead and floating in what is known locally as a haunted lake. This proceeds what has already become an infamous sequence in the game (depending on what platform you play it on due to censorship issues) where you cut off your sisters face.
This is the first of quite a few darkly disturbing scenes throughout the 8(ish) hours narrative that may be unsettling for any squeamish gamers out there.
Taking the identity of your deceased sister you walk around the family house, its grounds, and the spooky lake, all while piecing together a story using newspaper clippings, radio news items, and your trusty old camera which plays a big part in the game, tasking you with not just taking snapshots of a variety of things, but getting “hands on” using focal length, aperture, different lenses, etc. Each combination allowing you to discover even more clues as you walk around the family estate.
Using the camera can be highly immersive and extremely satisfying when you get everything just right and compose the perfect shot, but it can be equally as frustrating as you try numerous times to get everything as the game requires. You’ll also get to use the family “dark room” to develop your photographs, which I found a strangely satisfying experience, no matter how many times I did it….Dark Room Simulator anyone!?
Also adding to the immersion is the Italian language with English subtitles, giving that extra layer of “being there” in the moment. I love Italy and everything about the country, so hearing the beautiful Italian language had a relaxing effect on me…which was often jolted into panic during some of the darker sequences.
As well as using the camera to further the narrative, you’ll send morse code messages and also move quickly down dark country paths while random words appear in front of you, where choosing the wrong word takes you back to the start of the sequence again until you piece together a short sentence that gives you another clue to what is happening.
You walk around everywhere picking up items and inspecting them, before moving on and discovering new rooms in the house and other locations outside, and while this can be very rewarding when finding something that gives you the next step of what to do, it can also become quite repetitive as you slowly make your way around the limited locations and have to double back on yourself many times.
As a finely told narrative piece with great audio and visuals, Martha is Dead works great as an interactive story book, but as a video game it can at times be clunky and frustrating, leaving you wanting to just get on with everything, but faced with yet another slow walk and painstaking look around everywhere with your camera.
If you want to be taken back to 1940’s Italy and indulge yourself into a well told, albeit slowly paced, mystery/horror/thriller tale, then you can’t go too far wrong with Martha is Dead.
However, if you’re the sort of gamer who has little patience for exploration and having to take the time to repeatedly complete similar tasks, it could well have you dropping out well before the mystery is solved.
Review by Dave.