It’s 1944, you’re Guilia, the daughter of a high-ranked German SS officer, and live in a home in the countryside of Italy. You have a twin sister named Martha (well, had). At the start of the game, you go to the lake to find your sister has drowned. Was this murder? A horrific accident? Your parents come to embrace you. Plot twist, your sister was wearing your clothes and you decide to borrow her identity because your parents have assumed it was you who had died. She was deaf, so now you cannot speak and must do things as she would. You’re now in the position you can’t break their hearts again. This takes place during WWII and you have a relationship with a rebel that opposes the Germans. This is just the start of a complicated life you’ll now have. Armed with a camera, you try to piece together the mystery surrounding your sister’s death. This game does not hold back when it comes to some seriously dark topics which include murder, suicide, dismemberment, animal abuse, and even cutting open a corpse. It is a story-driven psychological thriller set in a first-person perspective.
Here’s what I liked:
Twisted Story — Make no mistake, you’re in for quite a confusing and mysterious story that is complicated yet intriguing. One you’ll want to see the end of. The idea of taking a twin sister’s identity after her death will drag you right in. Add all of the other drama that goes on as you’re trying to uncover why it happened will keep you hooked. As you play, you’ll be subjected to content that can be difficult to experience. You are exposed to things that are completely tragic, if not disgusting. That is what makes this game different. It is bold and in your face. It does not shy away from shocking the player multiple times. It’s content that will stick with you for days. You’ll want to talk to someone about it and see what they thought. You can’t be crazy for enjoying it right? It’s not a scary game, but there are some types of horror that don’t involve monsters. Sometimes what’s scary is the evil humans are capable of.
Disturbingly Beautiful — Beyond the messed-up stuff you’ll see, there’s also a lot of gorgeous scenery around you. You’ll be walking around a lot, inside the house but also through a forest to a lake. It’s a quiet area and almost peaceful (besides the drowning). You’re able to free-roam most of the game, allowing you to take on the main objectives at your own pace. Even being in the same area most of the game, it never gets boring. When you watch the disturbing scenes, there’s still a lot of detail to appreciate. There are a lot of things in the environment to interact with, especially at the start, that give little details about the world around you. Your character talks to herself a lot, giving you a narrative in Italian with English subtitles (the dialogue can be changed to hearing in English). I went ahead and enjoyed it in Italian for a few hours before changing it so that I could just listen while I walked around. It’s a pretty world but one with the ugliness of tragedy.
Say Cheese — Gulia is a photographer, at least as a hobby. You’re able to pull out a camera wherever you are and take photographs. Because smartphones or digital cameras aren’t invented yet, you’ll be developing these yourself in the darkroom, conveniently located inside your home. They act as almost a mini-game, where you must get the photo in focus and dip it in a liquid for a specific amount of time. There isn’t much to it, but it’s pretty fun. If you search around, there are different filters and even skins for the camera. Kind of a cool type of collectible. There are some objectives that require you to develop specific photos and even optional ones you can take. I don’t really know why I liked it, but it was a nice escape from walking around the forest.
Here’s what I didn’t like:
Closed World — While you’re in a decently sized area, you are surrounded by invisible walls that won’t let you pass. If you somehow manage to find yourself beyond these walls, you are stuck and can only reload a previous save in order to escape. This happened to me on a few occasions. If you go to the lake and take the boat, you’re able to find a secret area. Once you dock and complete the side mission, when you go back the boat is gone. I walked into the water and was able to make it back to shore but could not get back into the game world. I was stuck outside of these invisible barriers, the ones that were meant to keep me out also kept me from being able to complete the chapter. There’s also an issue later towards the end of the game. You’re tasked with taking a bike to a town. I got on the bike and peddled past a “do not return area”. I had no clue I couldn’t return. I hopped off the bike and decided to try to finish a side objective I missed. I ran back and completed it, but was not able to take on the next objective. When I tried to go back to the bike, I was informed I “needed to get the bike first”. So, again, I had to restart my chapter. There’s just a little too much control when it comes to free-roaming that I felt was a bit overkill.
Optional Objectives — Besides the disturbing yet interesting main storyline, you are able to complete some optional things. There are some good ones, like reading the newspaper every day to keep your secret safe, helping rebels, and fixing a bike. However, you may find yourself disappointed overall. Doing the morse code messages was time-consuming and annoying. The chart to tell you how to do the code made absolutely no sense to me at all. I just had to search online for an actual morse code graph. Objectives that had you pretending to be your sister were compelling and at first, awesome. I thought it was great, trying to be her to trick your parents. However, they were never around (or sleeping. Therefore, there was actually no merit to doing these things because they never saw you walking around. It felt like a real missed opportunity. The thought of tricking them seemed fun until I realized it didn’t matter at all. The worst chapters are when your mother is downstairs near the darkroom. You cannot develop photos you took for several chapters. This really screws up some objective progress and becomes so infuriating that when the scene plays out following you’re almost relieved instead of horrified. Finally, you can develop that film and complete the remaining objectives. Except now it’s pitch black and you get locked out of taking certain photos. Just let me finish what I started!
There are rare times when a story impresses me so much, that I can overlook bugs and game mechanics. This is one of those times. I loved it so much that I thought about it for days, trying to piece together what happened in my mind to figure out what actually happened. There are events I couldn’t even type out. Not because of plot spoilers, but because I feel bad for anyone reading it. The mere thoughts are enough to make someone feel uneasy! It’s not just one or two things either, there are several very horrible things or ideas that are shown in the game. What’s crazy to think, is that during the time period it takes place (WWII), there were actually atrocities going on that are severely disturbing. Like concentration camps and war in general. So even though it feels like a fantasy world that you’re in, it’s not too far off from reality. This world is a dark place, and Martha is Dead is a reminder of how fragile mental health is.
Score: Highly Recommended
Martha is Dead was published by Wired Productions and developed by LKA on Xbox One. It was released on February 24th 2022, for $29.99. A copy was provided for review purposes.