Martha is Dead is a psychological horror adventure game set in World War II Tuscany, you play as Julia a young woman whose twin sister Martha has mysteriously died, leaving you to figure out what’s happened, naturally not everything is as it seems and it won’t be long before your sanity as well as your life are in danger.
Martha is Dead is definitely one of the most bone chilling games I’ve ever played thanks in no small part to its haunting story and unsettling visuals, I found myself being driven to unravel the mystery just as much out of morbid compulsion as curiosity like that feeling when you absolutely have to peek around a corner even though you know nothing good is going to be behind it and that’s the thing it builds, this sense of dread without resorting to any real jump scares, instead it uses tension and familiar themes of family strife trauma and loss to keep you from ever looking away even though you might want to, this along with the horrors of war are framed with a sort of dark fantasy, think the likes of Pan’s Labyrinth where the mystical isn’t used to sugarcoat these unpleasant themes rather it augments their true terrors.
As for the gameplay itself at its core it’s pretty much a walking simulator but it’s hard to just define it as that because it has a lot more variety and interactivity than the name might suggest as you explore your family home and its surrounding land you’ll find many objects and anomalies can be interacted with which not only helped me to feel more engaged but also added to the immersion of the world, it stopped me from disassociating from Julia making every acting decision however heinous feel all the more real. One of the major features that I really enjoyed was the use of photography both thematically and technically, we quickly learned that Julia is a keen photographer and it’s through this that much of her investigations are done, on that technical level I found it oddly satisfying going through the process of 1940s photography, from setting up your tripod on solid ground to focusing in on your subject, all the way through to developing your film in the dark room, the camera allows you to take in the game at your own pace and really enjoy some of the more beautiful elements of the landscape.
For an indie title this is one absolutely gorgeous game when it wants to be, the Italian countryside is sumptuous rich and vibrant and I’d honestly play a game in which I could just explore it and take photos of birds in front of the Mediterranean backdrop but of course we know this is all a facade for the true horror that lies beneath. When it needs to be this is one of the most sickening titles I’ve ever played I’m not squeamish but it made my stomach turn on more than one occasion and I really think it’s the duality of beauty and brutality that helps to highlight this.
Martha is Dead manages to stand out from this prestigious bunch of horror games, it combines a unique premise and setting thoughtful meditation on relatable themes and some truly chilling gruesome gameplay to make for one of the most impressive indie games I’ve played in recent years. Make no mistake it doesn’t pull any punches and it won’t be for everyone be prepared to deal with some pretty harrowing material but for those who are craving an altogether new horror experience playing it is a no-brainer.