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Backlog Impressions | Martha is Dead

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Giulia’s love for photography allows her to see the world through a different lens, and living in the serene countryside of Italy seems the perfect backdrop for one seeking to capture the innate beauty that surrounds us. However, with a war ravaged country on her doorstep, the cruel and violent realities of that world constantly threaten to break this serenity. Which all comes to head, when Giulia finds her loving twin sister Martha, floating lifeless in the lake. After being mistaken for her twin by her parents, Giulia attempts to take on the persona of Martha to shield herself from this tragedy, but also to help her come to terms with the events that are unraveling around her.

In Martha is Dead from LKA, we follow Giulia on her disturbing journey of emotional reconciliation, and try to determine if what we are experiencing is just all in our heads. Here’s how we fared:

For a game with such dark undertones, Martha is Dead truly is a vibrant and gorgeous game visually. The environments perfectly portray what you would imagine living in a peaceful Italian countryside villa would feel like. It’s not just what you see that really solidifies that though, it’s the dev team’s deft hand at setting the stage perfectly. Things like the ambient sounds of birds chirping, or leaves rustling in the wind, the hard shadows of a midday sun, the foggy low light of dawn, the radio giving you vague facts of the ongoing war, or even the discordant music that plays during the darker, more supernatural scenes, you always knew the intended emotions you or the characters were meant to feel. Whether that’s tranquility, fear, or unease.

What impressed me the most however, was the exquisite and natural voice acting that fully realized those emotions. I don’t know what it is, but the fact that the characters were all speaking Italian made it that much more appealing.

Although the primary narrative focus of Martha is Dead is the mysterious death of Martha, the story does branch off into a secondary plot line that focuses on the ongoing and ever present war happening right outside her door. Which in its own right is interesting, and does give some context to the situation Giulia finds herself in, as well as her relationship with her family, but at times it seems out of pace with what we are really interested in – why and how Martha died, and what’s up with these creepy visions we’ve been having. Many times we found ourselves being sucked into revelatory story threads, only to be diverted by some unrelated task. That said, some of those threads do seem optional so you might be able to avoid them, but it’s also not always easy to determine which portions of the story are important and which are not.

With that in mind, the writing itself is very well done and does a great job of making you feel empathy for its characters, while slowly revealing more and more hints to help you untangle the spider web of information you’re given. There are also some key choices you can make throughout the story that seem to affect its short term outcome, but based on our choices, it is unclear how much of a change they truly make. In the end however, we were left with unanswered questions that we’re not sure would be answered even in a second playthrough and I don’t know how to feel about that.

Aside from soaking in the enigmatic story in Martha is Dead, you’ll also find yourself exploring a lot of the surrounding environments, including the forest, lake, and a few other locals, to complete objectives that’ll help you progress further and further. Which, as with many games like it, I very much enjoyed. I love the idea of piecing a puzzle together one clue at a time. However, much like the secondary plot line, there were also a few things that ruined the pacing of the gameplay for me, and once again distracted me from what I was actually interested in. More specifically it was two particular inclusions – the camera, and the telegraph. Though the issues I had with them could be applied to a few other gameplay instances.

It wasn’t really that those features weren’t appreciated, but they just felt like they were much more involved then they needed to be, and at times over utilized, while not giving a big enough payoff to be worth it. In the case of the camera, you’d find yourself having to line up the shot, adjust the focus and aperture, selecting a lens, and eventually taking the picture. Then you’d have to take a long trek back to the dark room and go through the whole development process for each and every picture. Which was cool the first time, but a bit monotonous every time after that. Plus most of the pictures you are prompted to take, aren’t really utilized other than to complete an objective. It would have been so much more interesting if more of the supernatural elements crept into its usage. When it came to the telegraph it was pretty much the same story. It was fun figuring out how to decipher the morse code messages as well as send them, but having to do it again and again became time consuming and tedious.

Like I mentioned earlier, it isn’t really that they’re bad mechanics, but streamlining the process a bit would have made for a much more pleasant experience.

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All in all, Martha is Dead was a fascinating game to experience. It certainly had its ups and downs for us, but what kept us going was its well executed dark story, and how it would wrap up. Although we didn’t exactly leave feeling satisfied, as a curiosity we think it’s definitely worth a shot, especially based on the twists and turns you’ll take.

If you’re interested in checking out Martha is Dead for yourself, you can find it on Steam, the Xbox Store, and the PlayStation Store.