Martha is Dead Review (PS5)
Giulia is Alive
Publisher: Wired Productions
Martha is Dead. Okay, well, let’s rewind a bit. Taking place in 1944 Italy, on the tail end of WW2, you are put into the mind of Giulia. She is the daughter of a German soldier and she has a twin sister named Martha, who is deaf and blind. Their mother never could tell them apart, but their father was able to (despite being mainly absent). One day, Giulia went down to the lake behind their house to set up some cameras to hopefully catch something. She does catch something on the camera, but it wasn’t what she wanted. She finds something floating in the lake, which suspiciously looks a lot like a body. She decides to go find out what exactly it is and upon doing so, she discovers that it’s Martha. And Martha is dead. Remembering that her mother loves Martha the most, she makes a decision to pretend to be Martha after her mother thinks she is Martha. To make her mother think that she, Giulia, died and not Martha as she knows her mother can live with Giulia dying than her favorite Martha. There is also some hint that part of the decision was a selfish one, so Giulia can get the same affection that Martha got.
As Martha was deaf and blind, Giulia now has to pretend she is too and it’s not good being able to hear how her mother puts her down while thinking she is Martha. Her parents don’t really stay around waiting for Martha to come down so Giulia doesn’t have any scenes being careful other than when she answers the phone, but she can still hear when someone is talking about her or Martha. Anyway, Giulia main mission is to find out who killed Martha, and she even goes down the route of tying it to the childhood folktale of The White Lady, and finding a way to mourn the loss in the meantime. In addition, with this taking place during WW2, the war also serves as a backdrop as you will hear about it as you go through the story through newspaper articles and from the radio (and Martha’s death is also referenced to cause some conflict as well). It also does come to affect Giulia personally at certain points of the story and it’s heartbreaking.
One of the big aspects Martha is Dead brings, both in the narrative and just for you to play with, is its photography. As the game is set in the 1940s, the game aimed to emulate how photography was done and developed during that time. Your father was meaning to gift you a new camera, a 1940 Rolleicord camera, but as they think you’re dead, well they don’t know what to do with it past returning it. Before they do, you manage to grab it so you can use it throughout the game. There are certain points where the story will ask for you to take a photo, some side objections you can do will ask for photos, and there are some optional photos you can do to discover something (or to get an achievement). These will require you to frame the photo in a specific way. You can take out the camera anytime (well, most of the time) to take a photo of anything you want any way you want to. To do this, you basically have to manually move and frame what you need, or want, to take, put it in focus, get the right exposure and mess with the aperture, and add/change the camera’s accessories. At the start, you won’t have many accessories, but as the game progresses, more will become available to you. Some are acquired through the story, like the flash, tripod, and the basic and infrared roll; but you’ll soon get more lenses that would zoom into the subject more if you wanted, different filters for various situations, and more film roll to help with different lighting situations. Once you have a couple photos, it’s time to develop them.
As you can guess, the game emulates how photos were developed back in the 1940s as Giulia’s family as their own dark room in their basement. As the actual process is lengthy, the game does shorten it. You get to pick what photo in your roll you want to develop, fit it onto the photo paper (which you have to do in a specific way for story/side photos, but can do whatever for photos you took for yourself), and then watch a timer to make sure 10 seconds passes before pressing a button to finish it up (don’t worry, the timer does highlight the sweet spot with green). And voila, you have your photo and you can add it to your collection or throw it out.
Though, it can be tedious having to run all the way back to develop a picture, especially when you have to come from the woods, when you just want to continue along. And if you have multiple photos you want to develop, it can be annoying having to select the enlarger machine again (even though you can skip cutscenes). I also found that it was pretty easy to just have a blank line on the left side of my photos, as it would look fine when I was sizing it for the paper, but that could just be me.
Other than that, there are some other mechanics that will pop up, some required and some optional (and some will like it or not). You can fix Giulia’s bike to be able to get to places quicker, but the handling on it doesn’t feel that good and it can get stuck somewhere where you can’t turn it around (around the end of the game I tried to back up on the road by the bridge and got it stuck horizontally… which also blocked the whole path so at least I didn’t have to go down there). There’s also the nightmares Giulia has around the beginning of the game, which I do like the actual contents and imagery it provided, but not so much the part where you run through the woods and turn on forks to run into word(s) to build a sentence (which it restarts if you run into the wrong word). There’s also the telegraph that comes into play in an optional side objective which once I figured it out, I did like it, well other than having to figure out the specific phrase the game wants when Giulia needs to send a message out). Giulia can also use the phone to call some numbers you’ll find while looking around the house. Oh and you’ll find tarot cards as well, which does come into play in the main story, but you can do divinations once per day just for fun if you want (as I don’t think it really alters anything past maybe giving you more to work with for Giulia).
There are also some side objectives you can do which are optional, but they’re there if you want to do more. An early one makes use of the infrared roll which, if you use it in the right spot (indicated by the icon) and develop it, it will reveal a message leading you to the next photo location. And at the end, you’ll get a mysterious photo that Giulia recognizes as The White Lady and you can now photograph certain areas that will show up on the photo when photographing with the infrared roll as well. There is also one later on where you can decide to help the resistance, but from what I know it doesn’t really change anything if you do or don’t complete it. If you’re intending to pick these up, I do recommend making sure to complete them in Chapter 8 (but before you progress through the story objectives too much) as every location is open for you, but will close or make it more difficult later.
I honestly enjoyed my time with Martha is Dead. While it does share elements with walking sims enough for those that find them boring to also feel this game is boring, I feel there was enough here to make it feel more engaging. The story, while using a lot of narration meant to be Giulia telling her story to you, was interesting and made me want to find out what happened next, there’s some side stuff you can do, and it does mix things up sometimes. Not to mention the twist that you’ll learn about and forces you to question what really happened. On further thought, I also ended up liking the ending as well. While you don’t get a definitive explanation, a part of me does kind of like how the game lets you set what you thought was real and what was not.
However, Martha is Dead was not without performance issues. A patch has been released on the PS5 a couple days before this review was released, but I do have to say that my experience was soured by the constant crashes I got up to and in Chapter 8. With Chapter 8 being the worst for crashes, but as I was enjoying the story of Martha is Dead, I was reluctant to let it go even after having to take a break twice (and luckily, third time was the charm). While I’m not going to replay the whole game to see if the crashes were completely dealt with, especially since there is no skip for regular cutscenes/story dialogue, I decided to quickly play through Chapter 8. While I did encounter way less freezing this time around, it did still freeze up on me once. I also did notice that the last camera accessory appears where it should now. It does seem the furniture does have a chance at disappearing still, but not as bad as having most of the rooms having nothing but the needed, interactable objects at a time it seems.
I am still a bit surprised that it was released in the state it was, but I’m glad the patch was released and fixed most of the issues.
In terms of the censorship that got Martha is Dead a lot of press, it wasn’t really censored. The two graphic scenes where you cut up Martha just plays out rather than have you interact with it by QTE. Sure, I kind of wanted to cut off Martha’s face myself (which sounds bad, but the scene was one of the reasons that got me interested in the game), but I would rather have it still in the game rather than it not being in it at all. It also has the option to put a censor mode on to completely take out these graphic scenes and a skip option when you don’t have it on. I found this pretty reasonable, as there will be people that would want to skip these scenes anyways. The only thing that was taken out was at the end of the game, with the reference of chronic masturbation in an asylum being removed entirely. I, personally, didn’t miss this being in the game and I feel like it didn’t take anything away with it not being there (plus you can just look up the scene online). What I’m trying to say is that the situation was way overblown. Sure, if you really want to do the Martha cutting scenes yourself this is still disappointing, but if you don’t care if it’s interactable or not I wouldn’t let the censorship news put you away from the PS version.
Though, I would have appreciated if the game gave you an option to skip dialogue and cutscenes after you already viewed them. This is mostly due to the numerous freezes this game is plagued with and as you won’t know when it will happen, there’s a chance you’ll have to watch the same cutscene, or listen to the same dialogue. Plus, it would make replaying it, either for achievements or reloading an autosave after it freezes, more tolerable. I also do wish there was an option to increase the size of the UI as well as it is too small unless you’re the same distance away from your TV as you usually are when you’re on your PC (with the smallest text being with the telegraph decoder paper).
I would also like to mention the voice acting. Martha is Dead’s original audio is Italian, but it also does include some dubs, which includes English. I played Martha is Dead half in Italian and half in English. The Italian voice acting is so good, and I especially love Giulia’s voice actor. The English dub is good as well and Giulia’s voice actor does a great job, though I was a bit iffy on the English voice for child Giulia. If you can read subtitles decently fast, I do recommend having the Italian voice acting on, but if you want to switch or don’t think you can read them fast or don’t want to risk a line going away too fast (as there are some that do), don’t worry the English dub is still good.
I’d say Martha is Dead is an average horrific game. It’s probably best to wait for a discount, but Martha is Dead did turn out to be interesting. While there were sections that I didn’t like, I overall liked how the story was told as I wanted to continue playing and wanted to do all of the side, optional content (despite how many freezes I experienced). I also did end up liking taking photos, doing the side objectives, and most of the added mechanics.
Though, if you’re someone that finds walking sims boring or don’t like them, it might be best to skip Martha is Dead as well. While this game isn’t classified as one, it does have walking sim elements that can turn those that don’t like them away. I also wouldn’t recommend this for anyone that can’t stand gore, as Martha is Dead has some very gorey scenes and the only ones you can skip are the ones where other versions have it interactable. The ending might also feel disappointing as it’s left open to your interpretation.
Also considering the performance issues, I do also recommend waiting and keeping an eye on patches as it can really sour the experience.