This review contains no spoilers for events that take place after the opening minutes of the game.
It’s rare that a game can push the real buttons of a gamer, both pulling at the heartstring with tragedy whilst also shocking the senses with gore and horror.
LKA are a studio with a focus on storytelling, combined with a horror filter that weaves throughout their new title in an amazing way. With a previous award-winning title “The Town of Light”, this studio is more than capable of crafting another compelling game to stick in our minds. Their new title “Martha is Dead” proves to be a tale that can only be described as both curious and horrifying, weaving an investigation plot whilst also introducing a supernatural connection.
As horror games go, I tend to lean towards the thrill of being chased, the adrenalin of making a move that could be my last, and the intensity of death-based puzzles. Martha is Dead is a different vibe altogether, the question is what exactly is it trying to do? And does it succeed?
This tale takes place within the Italian countryside during the last few breaths of World War 2, however, we aren’t looking through the eyes of the war’s victor. We play as Giulia, a young photography enthusiast who also happens to be one of the twin daughters of a Nazi general. Escaping to Italy within the heat of war we watch through Giulia’s eyes as some very traumatic events unfold before her.
As the title's name would suggest Giulia’s twin sister Martha dies within the opening minutes of the game. Due to some strange circumstances (and to be fair strange choices), Giulia takes on the identity of her now-deceased sister, pretending to be deaf and piecing together how her sister died.
Weaved into this murder mystery is also some elements of the supernatural, as the lake is home to the legend of the fabled White Lady. The legends of this woman are not fairy tales, as she is rumoured to pull young maidens into the water from a sense of her own loss. Although at first these are seen as just legends of the land, Giulia bears witness to some strange events and visions that support this supernatural force’s existence. The story is truly compelling, haunting and at times downright hard to watch as Giulia makes some very morally questionable choices in her grief.
Martha is Dead has some open-world elements, as the estate that the family now resides in is almost fully explorable and features much to see. It also goes without saying that the game is drop-dead gorgeous, with beautiful yet creepy forests and astounding views of the Italian countryside. It can be easy to get lost within this world’s beauty, with a silence of the countryside that can be both haunting and refreshing. This visual realism can be both a blessing and a curse, as the beauty of the world can be easily forgotten by the realistic gore and horrific actions that are encountered. The amount of detail that was put into both the environment and the character models (whether in pieces or not) is impressive, however, the context can make this difficult to enjoy.
As a standard for progression, Giulia is a photographer, and both taking and developing photos is a core mechanic within this game. Mostly being used to piece elements together and answer questions from previous days, but also to complete some side quests and answer further lore-based theories.
Although meeting all the elements for a good shot can be difficult, you are given a lot of freedom in this process and it can bring out the photographer in a player. This too has links to some supernatural elements and for any ghost-hunting fans can be an eerie but thrilling time.
All in all, Martha is dead is to its core a full and graphic psychological horror experience, that tells a compelling and twisting story that can pull anyone in. The mechanics are simple, but they are well designed, creating a world that you can interact with and capture just like any Italian holiday you may find yourself on.
On the flip side, there is also a heavy tone that is revisited constantly, tearing you away from blissful countryside. This game truly sets a theme that can leave you shaking, crafting a deathly silence that you will beg to be filled again. The gore elements can be very shocking and even left me needing to take a minute at times. However, for anyone with worries, this is in fact a setting that can be turned off at the start of the game.
Finally, this game has heavy tones for anyone who could struggle with mental health. Although the tones and scenes can be overwhelming at times, the message after the smoke is clear is a real and heartfelt one. To anyone with a love of psychological horror or gore, you will absolutely love this title and it will stand out for multiple reasons. If those aren’t to your tastes, there is still much joy to be found in the various other elements and it would be a marvellous addition to anyone’s spooky story collection.
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