Martha Is Dead


Martha is dead, and trust me, she's well out of it...


Martha is Dead starts in the summer of 1929, you're a young girl named Giulia K, and it seems you're desperate for your Nanny to tell you a creepy story about a woman known as the White Lady, who was drowned by the man she loved in a lake–the very lake that your family villa is built next to. Okay, so that sets the story: you're a weird kid and your Nanny is an irresponsible idiot. 

The story soon skips forward 15 years to 1944, you're a teenager, you have a deaf twin sister named Martha and a tragedy befalls the family. I imagine the detectives out there can deduce what from the title. 

A misty, spooky apparition at the lake.

The game is a first person walking adventure. If you hold 'LB' Giulia does get a bit of a jog on, but you couldn't call it a sprint. For some of the longer journeys you can ride a rickety old bike, which handles so badly that it's almost funny, and it's probably quicker, if less amusing, to walk.

So Martha is dead and there's a clever twist that I won't drop a spoiler on here, but after committing an unspeakable act in a nightmare sequence, you set about finding out how she died. You pretty much have the run of the villa and the woods that stretch all the way down to the lake to yourself. No idea where Mama & Papa disappear off to but I guess it saved some animation. Many scenes are played out in the form of Giulia's favourite childhood toy, a puppet theatre, often with naked puppets... this would almost seem to involve more work than animating the in-game characters, so I'm not sure the point of this, although is also a way of portraying some gruesome scenes in the form of non-graphic child's play.

Giulia's bicycle provides the game's light relief.

Ok so far so interesting, but before long I got my bicycle stuck on a hairpin bend in a footpath (no, really) and a few minutes later got completely stuck in the woods–you really don't want to stray off the beaten paths too much. You can't crouch or jump so there's no way of "jiggling" your way free. Quitting to the main menu and reloading a checkpoint save was my only option. 

A bit later in the game when I searched a German tunnel complex that is reached by boat, instead of leaving by the intended land route I thought I'd see if I could find my way back to the dock and the boat, and explore some more. I did and the boat had gone, so I thought I'd see if I could swim back to my starting point. Nope, I just fell to the bottom of the lake where I could walk around under the water, although the water had no form and wasn't visible from 'beneath the surface.'! Wandering back I found the boat was back at the dock I'd originally launched from, but although I could walk into the shallows and back up through the surface of the water, an invisible barrier stopped me from walking ashore and continuing. What a shame there was no invisible barrier to stop me from falling in the non-existent water rather than one stopping me from getting out, huh? Quitting to the main menu again and reloading a checkpoint save was my only recourse. Exploring the tunnels further I discovered a command centre. In the middle of the floor of the room there is a large drain cover. Stand on it and you fall through the bottom.of the world! So guess what?–I had to quit to the main menu & reload the last checkpoint. Good news though; after getting Giulia's bike stuck it magically reappeared back at the villa!

Trying to capture a ghost on film.

Another issue I often have with games is the way things are said. There's some  dialogue so dodgy that I don't really understand why an English voice actor wouldn't correct it, and some even dodgier voice acting, with a Londoner (cor blimey Mary Poppins!) playing an Italian policeman... As scary and disturbing as it tries to be, Martha is Dead is unintentionally funny at times…

Okay let's get to the best parts of Martha is Dead. There's a clever morse code mechanic and some really pretty scenery, but Giulia's main hobby is photography, and the game has a complicated but interesting photography and photo developing element, which also carries a few missable achievements with it, so you should always be ready to whip your camera out! When I say 'whip' the camera is of course of the 1940's box style, complete with a selection of different lenses and filters, so you don't do snapshots, or anything quickly, but it was still the most interesting part of the game for me. 

Martha is Dead is a powerful yet confused title. It may try to deal with some very adult issues but I think the result is dubious at best. I'd go as far as to say that the director and creator may have mummy issues at the very least. Martha is Dead is that weird and depressing, and I'd advise anyone who's likely to be affected by a game that handles these sorts of issues to stay well away–to the developer's credit game trailers and the even game itself do say that too, but what good is that if you've already bought the game? While I'm supportive of mental health awareness in almost any form I'm not sure how broaching subjects like this game has in such a depressing way does anyone any good. 

A  view of the pretty lake and its tiny island.

The way Martha is Dead will suddenly swerve away from being a spooky search 'em up to become an extremely graphic, adult horror game is surprising, shocking even, even though I'm a well-adjusted old fart that's almost impossible to shock, and also knew what to expect. Yes you can skip the gory or explicit sequences (which have actually been completely removed from the PlayStation version) but if you do, what's the actual point of the game?

Weird and supernatural happenings are one thing, but you get the feeling that Martha is Dead was gory just for the sake of it. Sadly, an interesting scenario, pretty scenery and some clever game mechanics couldn't save Martha from terminal mediocrity. 

Wired Productions, Renaissance PR and PressEngine