Martha is Dead Review – Martha is Dead Scary
Martha is Dead24/02/22
Martha is Dead, but her story is very much alive. With a handful of previews to keep us excited, it can feel like you know what to expect from Martha is Dead, but there's always more to it than you expect, even when you go in knowing exactly what to expect.
For those that haven't read our earlier coverage on the game, Martha is Dead is a paranormal, psychological horror, and adventure game. You play as Giulia, the estranged identical sister of the titular Martha, who almost accidentally steals her identity when she discovers Martha's body floating in a lake. It's a sobering start to any game, but from there, things become even more intense, strange, and unnerving.
Martha is Dead merges the past and present through its story. The sisters' relationship feels fleshed out, even if you never experience it firsthand, and the history of the region you're exploring is filled with fragmented details and stories. Most notably is the story of the ghost woman that preys on beautiful women that approach her lake. All of this merges with the events happening through the game and the aftermath of the fateful discovery at the beginning of the game. Like other horror adventure games, this often plays out in scenery that changes as your meander through it. Quaint paths that would normally lead uphill instead descend into bone-covered trenches and catacombs. Often, these impossible and shifting locations are used incredibly well to invoke a scene of confusion and building fear as you grapple with the potentially supernatural horrors swirling around you.
Other times they slightly miss the mark. This is mostly felt in the chase sequences where Giulia is forced to flee from some imagined or unknowable threat. Here you're subjected to something akin to the QTEs that plagued the industry a decade or two ago as you strive to avoid the obstacles or choose the correct path. While the sound design and the visual effects are impressive, these interactions add little to the atmosphere and often become more of a drag than an exciting rush.
I've spoken before about the surrealist horror that punctuates Martha is Dead, which continues throughout the entire game. It's uncomfortable and almost impossible to describe - perfectly filling in the brief of something dream-like and impossible. These moments, which are often much slower than the chase sequences, truly capture the mood of a fractured young woman wrestling with grief, guilt, and nightmares. The strange imagery could be interpreted a dozen different ways, but the subjects are haunting and horrifying even without further analysis. Martha is Dead recently got some attention for its graphic depictions of surgery, and if those made you feel too uncomfortable, the rest of the game will not act as a balm. Martha is Dead wants to trouble you in the most primal ways and does so with every trick in the book.
But some of the best moments come when it is less overt. The full game allows a frankly huge level of exploration, approaching your missions in whichever manner, and whichever time, you desire. On your bike, you can speed across the landscape with the wind in your hair and almost imagine this is some Italian Holiday Simulator. But while the Italian farmhouse and surrounding countryside are beautiful, it's also just as scary to explore thanks to the incredible audio design and lighting. Stepping inside from the bright sun causes the rooms to appear darker for a moment and give the impression something might be lurking in the shadows. The sound of the wind through the trees and the old house setting give way to imagined or real whispers.
One incredible moment was when Giulia had to take a self-portrait in the house's basement. You patiently position yourself with your back to a long corridor and pose as you set the timer. But as you do, the unmistakable sound of footsteps approach from behind, down the long corridor. They get closer and closer as the timer buzzes, and Giulia does not look away for fear of ruining the photograph. As the camera flashes, you can seize control again and turn around, although there's nothing behind. Rush to the darkroom to develop the photo, and you'll find no evidence of anything on the picture either. But that corridor will never feel safe again.
Some moments fail to live up to the terrible depths that Martha is Dead achieves. Some instructions are confusing and waypoints can be hard to identify, but these moments allow you to explore and don't feel worse for it. What lets it down is the character animation. The world of Martha is Dead is hauntingly beautiful, but the ghost apparition that stalks you doesn't quite fit. It's jarring to look at, which is a shame because the game often forces you to look at her as you round corners or feel a skeletal hand reach out for you. It's a letdown, but each disappointment is forgotten by the stellar storytelling and beautiful yet terrible level design.
Martha is Dead is an actively sinister game. It is trying to upset you. It is trying to cling to the shadowy thoughts as you sleep. It tells a genuinely tragic tale and does so with a level of commitment and detailed pace that few games are brave enough to attempt. But it is not a comfortable journey. Nor is it a friendly one. If Dear Esther or Everyone Has Gone To The Rapture made you squirm, Martha is Dead will make you abandon your living room altogether.
Reviewed on PC (code provided by the publisher).
Martha is Dead meets every expectation and exceeds most of them. It is a true ghost story, perfectly designed to demand you keep playing while making you want to stop. Its near-flawless design sets a new benchmark in the quietly, weirdly, horrible.
- Brave, dark story
- Incredible audio design
- Fantastic world design
- Engrossing photography
- Superb acting
- Truly unnerving horror
- Sometimes instructions are confusing
- The ghost lady could be more scary