GAME REVIEW: Martha Is Dead–A Traumatic Psychological Experience

  • TitleMartha Is Dead
  • Developer: LKA
  • Publisher: Wired Productions
  • Release Date: February 24th, 2022
  • Platforms: PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One and S/X, PC
  • Reviewed on: Xbox Series X

In Martha Is Dead, the story is the true protagonist of the game. Complex and
intricate, entirely based on a distorted vision of the world, alternating between
dream and reality sequences which are often hard to distinguish from one another.

marthaisdead.com

Psychological horror games are a sub-genre of horror that is incredibly difficult to pull off. Not just simply filled with jump scares, grotesque imagery, ghosts, or large monsters out to kill your character, these types of games play with your mind and make you question everything you’re seeing and witnessing. Video games can create this sense of dread better than any entertainment medium out there, in this writer’s opinion. LKA’s Martha Is Dead is a prime example of a great psychological horror game that leaves you questioning and doubting every step of the way on what’s real, and what isn’t.

Synopsis

Martha Is Dead takes place in 1944, in the hills of Tuscany, Italy. Giulia is born from an Italian mother and a German father, as was her twin sister Martha. Tragedy strikes when one night Giulia finds her sister, Martha, drowned in the lake on their family’s property. Overcome with grief, Giulia and her family try to process Martha’s death, as well as navigating the real world around them as World War II rages on outside their home. Suffering from the acute loss of her sister, Giulia tries to navigate the real world around her to find out how her sister died, all the while dealing with her own inner demons, suppressed memories and traumas, and questioning her own motivations, as well as those around her.

Gameplay

The game mechanics are simple and can be likened to a walking simulator game; you navigate Giulia as she interacts with the highly detailed and stylized environment of her home, the lush and green property surrounding it, as well as the vast lake nearby. She can pick up side quests along the way, mostly focused around her love of photography. Much of this game is spent in the dark room of their home, where Giulia develops pictures she takes of her environment. This involves you as the player placing negatives on a large light machine that burns the negative onto photo paper, and then moving the photo into a development bath that bring out the photo detail. Many of the main quest-lines of the game require the use of the camera, and you are equipped with many camera features like flash bulbs, focal lenses, a tripod, color filters, and film that can emulate infrared light captures. One can get lost in trying to capture the perfect shot in the areas that you wander into, as there is much to see as you navigate the world! Thankfully, the game helps you in achieving that perfect shot by informing you if the shot is out of focus, under low light, or not exposed properly, which can be adjusted on the fly.

Many objectives in the game require the use of a camera.

Content Warning

As has been stated, Giulia is the main protagonist of the game; however that doesn’t tell the whole story. The game has already encountered some press concerning Playstation’s need to censor some parts of the game because of content. Martha is Dead deals very heavily in trauma, violent child abuse, self mutilation and suicide, body dismemberment and disfigurement, animal abuse, psychological complexities of personality and experience, and more. The themes of this game are extremely heavy, and there are many sequences in this game that are extremely uncomfortable to watch. Many of these scripted sequences require control by you, the player. Some can be extremely difficult to move forward. This game is not for the faint of heart, and if you are sensitive to these themes please tread carefully. I’m not one to be easily squeamish, but there were quite a few scenes in this game that made me cringe, and hit me hard enough that left me in temporary pause afterwards.

The creator of the game, Luca Dalcó, has stated that “the game can be interpreted many different ways, to where the point of view can be changeable depending on your experiences and interpretations on what’s in front of you.” As you play, you are bombarded with traumatic experiences left and right that shake you, and Giulia’s narration all the more adds to the feeling of unease and trauma. The voice acting in the game is stellar (I was playing in English, however the developers recommend playing with Italian voice acting because it provides a more authentic experience). Giulia’s narration of events, thoughts and feelings are powerful and full of emotion. Especially in the “puppet show” sequences where Giulia tries to make sense of the world around her through a marionette-like puppet show. These events help to paint the world around her not only for Giulia, but for you the player as well.

In-game Effects and Music

The world around her is highly detailed, and beautiful, even the most darkest of places. The developers made the shift from Unity after developing Town of Light to the Unreal Engine, which resulted in stunning detail of environments, props, and lighting. Even the darkest corners of this game are hauntingly beautiful. There is a “performance mode” and “quality mode” to choose from, however I recommend the “quality mode”. If you’ve played Town of Light previously, this game is a fantastic leap in quality for developers LKA. Composer Aseptic Void provides moody and spine-tingling tones, scores, and vintage re-imagining of old Italian songs like Schubert’s “Ava Maria”, “O Bella Ciao”, and more. The music can put you at ease or delve deep and pit you in a sense of dread and fear.

Much of the game relies on your understanding of folklore, especially the tale of the Lady Of The Lake.

Final Thoughts

Upon finishing the game (a roughly 5-6 hour journey) I was left with more questions than answers, and saddened beyond what I thought a game could drive me to. Silent Hill 2 was one of the only games to leave me with an immense amount of pause upon finishing it, and I can say confidently that Martha Is Dead has left me with an even more traumatic experience on what I played and witnessed. Throughout your playthrough, you will question everything you see, hear, witness, and act upon. The lines between what is reality and what is happening inside Giulia’s head is extremely blurred and up to your own interpretation. It’s not an easy game to play, not in the least bit.

As stated, there are many disturbing scenes in this game that deal heavily with traumatic experiences and psychosis of the mind. The developers leaned very heavily on these concepts as being the core of the game and its story. Whether you agree with these thematic elements being necessary in video games is up to you; however the developers are unapologetic when it comes to telling their story. Mental health and taking care of ones’ self, especially through trauma, is something that is encouraged to be discussed openly and honestly, so that those that are survivors can seek help.

The game ends with a great message about that “life is worth living” and to “not be afraid to seek help” when needed. I was enthralled and entangled in this game unlike any other game I’ve played. (My experience was interrupted slightly by one side quest that took up a lot of time. Let’s just say, with regards to this particular side quest, look up how to transmit Morse code.)

This game isn’t for everyone, and many may not understand what it’s trying to tell or why. Many may find extreme difficulty in getting through this game, as its themes (and events) are very dark and disturbing; however I can say the journey was well worth it and left me questioning at the end.

FINAL SCORE:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

If you are in crisis or you think you may have an emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. If you’re having suicidal thoughts, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to talk to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area at any time (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline). If you are located outside the United States, call your local emergency line immediately.

What do you think of this game? If you enjoyed this “spoiler free” review of Martha is Dead , drop in our Discord group here and reach out. I need to talk to someone about this game!

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