Martha Is Dead from developer LKA is a psychological thriller that has garnered considerable attention between a controversial face-cutting scene and Sony censoring such content for the PlayStation version. Surely it must be a gripping horror game, right?
Set in World War II Italy, you play as Giulia, the teenage daughter of a German general hiding out in the remote countryside. When your identical twin sister, Martha, is murdered, it’s up to you to solve what happened, while masquerading as her.
Pretending to be Martha affords you the ability to freely investigate – at the cost of haunting visions. Well, until it doesn’t for long stretches of time. Despite a great premise, Martha Is Dead is wildly unfocused. Calling it a horror game is generous, as midway through it turns into a PBS drama.
There’s no central gameplay loop – at best, it’s a walking sim peppered with unpleasant QTEs and minigames. The inconsistent pacing doesn’t help with this. You’ll never know which quests will suddenly drag the plot forward, with next to no sign posting to guide you.
One key moment relies entirely on a sound that’s hard to narrow down; I’m not sure how a deaf player could navigate this sequence. Another requires you to translate Morse Code, with a translation key that’s hard to read on a 50 inch TV. The accommodations for accessibility are extremely lacking.
There’s also a barely functional bike and bugs that can send you spinning in place out of nowhere. It got to the point that the game nearly crashed my entire PC with a memory leak so bad I was legitimately scared it had done something to my rig. This isn’t even a particularly high-fidelity game. Such instability is inexplicable.
I’d love to say it’s in service to some jaw-dropping horrors, but Martha Is Dead has no real tension outside of its first hour. The minigames can’t hold a candle to actual survival horror mechanics, robbing you of any sense of immersion. The most supernatural element in the game segues from a threat into an asset strikingly quick. Other attempts to shock the player just leave you raising your eyebrow. There’s a random puppet show aside with the Grim Reaper that feels like it’s the ending, but then the story just keeps going, heedless. Taken altogether, the narrative feels hastily assembled and really needed editing.
The only well-executed aspects are the music, voiceovers, and the photography. The audio balancing is a mess, but at least the score and vocals shine through. Although, it’s remarkable that the vocals stand out given how the game contrives increasingly convoluted ways to keep other characters out of sight. It’s clearly an attempt to avoid having to lipsync, but it grows old quickly. If you do play, make a point to use the original Italian voiceover with English subtitles.
Taking and developing photos is also delightful. Unfortunately, the lifeless locations you navigate aren’t really worth photographing. Worse still, typically whenever anything interesting is happening, you can’t even use the camera.
On paper, Martha Is Dead has boundless potential, but it never coalesces into something worth playing. Instead, with a constantly shifting tone, rough gameplay, and odd storytelling, it’s hard to care about Giulia’s plight. It’s not a funny kind of bad, but just bland incoherence grasping at meaning.
Martha Is Dead is out now for $29.99 on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X | S, and PC.
Watch the Review in 3 Minutes for Martha Is Dead.