When a game gets censored in any way, shape or form, it’s going to draw headlines.
It doesn’t happen too often, and in the case of Martha is Dead, I’m not going to lie it made me very curious. All throughout my playthrough I wondered which section Sony deemed so controversial they couldn’t bare their entire player base seeing it.
I still don’t know which scene that is for certain as of writing, but there’s potentially a few moments that get pretty grim and certainly stand out in disturbing detail.
For those curious, this guide on VGC details everything that has been censored in the PlayStation versions of the game and also gives you a good insight as to whether the game will be for you or not.
But they don’t fully define the game you’re playing as much as you might think. In fact, it might surprise you to learn Martha is Dead is more interested in telling its story than scaring, making you jump, or grossing you out. It’s a game that goes into morbid detail about sensitive subjects like suicide and abuse, but it also does an incredible job of recreating beautiful Tuscanny in the midst of World War 2.
From the telegrams you see laying about your villa, to traditional telephones, vintage cameras and their filters, even old bicycles. The more you explore your home and its surrounding area, the more you can feel yourself drawn into the past, hanging on every word of this twisting, turning tale.
Twisted for certain, as you play as young Giulia, daughter of a German officer and Italian mother. She and her twin sister go down to a nearby lake to take some pictures, a favorite past-time, until Giulia tragically finds her sister, Martha, laying face down in the water, dead, without a clue as to why. Martha has, indeed, died.
We learn much about the family dynamic from this point, about the impact the death has on the nearby village, all over the news, and indeed the toll it takes on Giulia as she tries to uncover the truth from behind the lens and in front of it.
LKA’s game starts off very linear, similar to a Dear Esther and Gone Home as a walkthrough, with the story gradually unfolding chapter by chapter, but eventually opens up in a way that genuinely surprises, suddenly throwing side quests and sub-plots your way. You’ll see war planes flying through the skies and read news clippings, constantly reminding you of one of history’s most traumatic periods, illustrating the changing, developing world around you.
It’s quite beautifully directed, with stunning camera trickery, clever angles and movement, building both suspense and keeping you engaged with the mystery. A mystery you’ll need to unravel by taking pictures using various filters and equipment, then have them developed in the dark room, studying them in detail for vital clues.
Yet the thing that really stood out to me is how surprisingly well its all told, from the perspective of Giulia, accounted through her journal, and the way she lives her life in the days following the death of her sister. She’s a compelling lead who bounces from one shocking revelation to the next, placing the player in several unique scenarios so they can unfold.
One moment you’re running through a forest, chasing words, the next you’re tapping out morse code. You’ll even put on your own puppet shows. It’s a line between fantasy and past reality that the game walks surprisingly well, never really losing itself until the end where, sadly, the game does narratively implode.
The game’s default language is even Italian with English subtitles which I’d thoroughly recommend you sample for authenticity. It does a good job of enhancing the overall experience.
Martha is Dead is really well-paced, even through its convoluted, clumsier final third. For the most part, it kept me invested, interested, even horrified through its more challenging themes and grisly scenes. Especially ones you’re involved in as a player.
Of course, music has an important role to play as well, whether you’re popping on the radio for a bit of background noise or you’re taking a walk late at night, taking in the atmosphere, sensing the supernatural. It’s a wonderful tribute to classic Italian music, also co-joined with some newly composed, heart-pounding pieces.
Martha is Dead is not going to be for everyone and if the disclaimers attached to the game leave you uncertain, we’d advise exercising caution before diving in. For the most part, there’s a really powerful, engaging story at play here, with subjects handled mostly sensitively, and quality direction that’ll inspire the industry for years to come.
+ Stunning recreation of 1940s Tuscanny
+ Well written story which handles subject matter sensitively
+ Wonderful soundtrack
+ Beautifully directed
– Final third gets a bit messy and convoluted
Martha is Dead launches today on Xbox, PC and PlayStation
Played on PC
Code Kindly Provided by Wired Productions