Developer & Publisher: LKA/Wired Productions
Released: February 24, 2022
Requirements: Operating System, 64-bit Windows 10
Processor: Minimum, Intel Core i5 or AMD equivalent; Recommended, Intel Core
i7 or AMD equivalent
Memory: Minimum, 8 GB RAM; Recommended, 16 GB RAM
Video: Minimum, Nvidia GTX 670 or AMD R9 270X; Recommended, Nvidia GTX
1060 or AMD RX 5500
Direct : Version 11
Storage: 30 available storage
Game installed on SSD
Martha is Dead
LKA / Wired Productions
I have found this a rather hard review to write.
You would think some of the easy bits would be its general description, especially when pulled from the publisher’s website – “a dark first-person psychological thriller, set in 1944 Italy, that blurs the lines between reality, superstition and the tragedy of war” and “an exploration of loss, relationships and the psychological undertones of a dark period of history”. Pull in a few bits from the relevant Steam page – “Martha is dead, and her twin sister Giulia, the young daughter of a German soldier, must alone deal with the acute trauma of loss and the fallout from her murder” and a hunt for the truth that is “shrouded by mysterious folklore” – and there you have it.
Except you don’t. Not nearly.
The quoted descriptions that describe the game aren’t wrong, but they tell a deficient story. Loss and trauma and grief are present, but so is mental illness, as well as cruelty and horribleness.
You get a better sense of what lies ahead from the game warning:
The story of Martha Is Dead and its featured characters are a work of fiction, the game contains potentially uncomfortable scenes and covers topics that may distress some players. The game is recommended for an adult audience and carries the appropriate age rating.
As an adult narrative drama, the game uses artistic interpretations that can be visually unsettling and may cause discomfort. It explores the complexities of the human mind, psychological trauma and self-harm.
The game is not recommended for players who may find depictions of mature scenes containing blood, dismemberment, disfigurement of human bodies and self-harm disturbing.
It is not the sort of “narrative” you would expect to find underpinning most adventure games.
The warning is on the Steam page and plays at the start of the game, after which there is a mental health prompt, stating that if you or someone you know is struggling, information and resources are available at safeinourworld.org/find-help. It is repeated at the end of the game.
I went to the website:
The main goal of Safe In Our World is to create and foster worldwide mental health awareness within the video game industry; to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health, to make it a natural topic of discussion, and to promote the dialogue surrounding mental health so people are not afraid to reach out for help if they need it.
The director, writer and lead designer on the game is a Patron of the site, each of whom “work to drive the conversation about mental health”.
I will come back here.
Not everything is like that though. You can take and develop photos (indeed you will need to), wander in the woods, consult your tarot cards. Fix and ride a bike, find and use a range of camera accessories, and even engage in some war related side-quests. I found the photo taking and developing overly convoluted and the tarot divinations rather pointless, but all these things offered an adventuring point of difference.
The setting is rural Tuscany, and it looks excellent. Both the places and the historical context are apparently reconstructed from real facts and places. You have freedom of movement through a combination of mouse and keyboard, and when quietly exploring it was a visually exciting place to be. The soundscape doesn’t let it down either. And some of the individual game elements verge on the inspired; the puppet imagery and their theatres is an example.
Without spoiling things, I found the underlying narrative intriguing. All the more so having reached the end. I have a number of ideas about what actually occurred, and it probably warrants another play through to see what detail might support one or another.
I found the whole thing almost overwhelmingly bleak.
Which somewhat surprised me. The Road is one of my favourite novels, and it reeks bleak. So there was something else.
Which is that I did some awful things. Only a few but they were truly awful.
It hit me when I was engaging in one of the puppet theatres. I knew what was going to happen and I didn’t want to do it, yet I had to in order to make the game go on. Even though it was far less extreme visually than other things to that point, I had had enough and almost gave up.
The mouse interface didn’t help. It can be both awfully fiddly and effectively immersive, depending on how it is deployed. The latter is a mixed blessing; mimicking the action of some of the extreme sequences accentuated their inherent violence.
I have done some fairly grisly things in other games, mainly in first-person-shooters, and haven’t felt the same. Perhaps it’s the ‘action’ rush that generally accompanies the carnage, perhaps the lack of action made this one feel the most ‘real’. The overall tone certainly accentuates their impact.
Returning to mental health, far be it from me to tell anyone how to drive such a conversation, and I can well accept that blunt might be necessary to break through. I wondered whether perhaps I was supposed to feel as I did, mirroring the struggle of the character, forcing myself to push through with her. Maybe just the fact that I am still thinking about these things is more the point.
While there is hope at the end, I think loses something under the grim.
Far more mundanely.
It plays in the first person and uses a combination of the mouse and keyboard. Spacebar will highlight active items, and little hotspots will appear as you get closer in any event. You often have to click and hold to activate the particular curser. Save as you like and it will autosave as well.
Your bag once you have it is effectively your inventory, and it includes a map, which will show where you are and help you get to necessary locations, and has tabs for your photo album, a list of your objectives with helpful associated information, and a detailed conversations and reminiscences. Your camera is in there along with all the attachments you find, as well as various items you collect.
You can click to ‘examine’ an item, and having the item is enough for it to be used where appropriate. Pop up messages or icons on the bag will let you know something has been added or achieved.
Given it was set in Italy, I played in Italian with English subtitles, and enjoyed that element a lot. You can choose English language if you wish
Martha is Dead won’t be for everyone. I am not really sure it was for me. But it takes a big swing and you will remember it.
I played on:
OS: Windows 10, 64 Bit
Processor: Intel i7-9700K 3.7GHz
RAM: Corsair Dominator Platinum RGB DDR4 32GB
Video card: AMD Radeon RX 580 8192MB