Martha Is Dead: A Review of LKA’s Newest Horror Game

Martha Is Dead is a psychological horror video game based in the year 1944 in Italy, during WWII. The story follows the retelling of young Giulia’s childhood, as she discovers and then proceeds to uncover the grizzly murder of her twin, Martha.

Martha Is Dead‘ is a walking simulator-esque horror game developed by Italian indie studio LKA and published by Wired Productions. The game was teased back in October 2019 and promised a historical horror narrative surrounding the mysterious death of one of two twins. The premise held promise for horror fans and indie enthusiasts alike, and then some for those familiar with LKA’s last title, ‘The Town of Light‘.

Combining hyper-detailed visuals with authentic Italian voice acting, pairing the two with heavy mysticism and gore, all against a war-ridden backdrop, ‘Martha Is Dead’ (MID) is far from other titles in its ranks. Now, if you’ve found yourself here in this article, there are 2 reasons:

  1. You want to play ‘Martha Is Dead’ but not before you know what you’re getting into.
    In which case, fair enough. And we’ve got you.
    OR
  2. You played ‘Martha Is Dead’ and NEED answers for both in-game and outside.
    In which case, welcome! Take a number, take a seat, let’s get into it!

In our opinion, ‘Martha Is Dead’ should have and should be making waves in the indie gaming community, in the least. However, a quick online search will reveal otherwise. While the game has received criticism for its extremely gore-ridden scenes, underwhelming mini-quests and clunky mechanics, ‘Martha Is Dead’ could very easily give other horror titles a run for their money, spotlighting an emerging horror trope – that of the mind.

If you’re like us, on the constant hunt for deep, engaging storylines, beautiful imagery and scene setting, and can stomach (more than) the usual amount of video game violence, ‘Martha Is Dead’ is for you.

What is ‘Martha Is Dead’ About?

A framed photograph of Giulia and Martha via Martha Is Dead on Steam

This answer is far from simple, but we’ll do our very best! ‘Martha Is Dead’ is based in the year 1944 during WWII in Italy. You play as Giulia, daughter to Erich and Irene, and twin to Martha. Giulia’s is the first face you see, as she begins reciting the tragedy in her past that makes for the storyline in MID.

Players are transported back to a quaint Italian town as a young Giulia, and from here, chaos ensues. We don’t want to spoil anything in this game in this section for those of you that haven’t played through yet. If you’re looking for a breakdown, head on lower!

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New players, the best experience is to avoid all press and go in blindfolded (not literally, obviously). What you will find is a story that blends trauma, tragedy and folk-horror tales with raw and jarring themes of mental health and abuse. Keep in mind that careful detail is given to portraying this story through the eyes of who you play as, which should sum up all the events in-game. ‘Martha Is Dead’ is not for the faint-hearted, and comes with multiple warnings that deal with a spectrum of triggers. But if you’ve taken note and are still geared down, rest assured, you won’t have to look too far beneath the surface to see the story for what it is.

What ‘Martha Is Dead’ Is Really About

!!!SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

Now, here’s where it gets intense. Spoilers incoming.

A still from the Launch Trailer via Martha Is Dead on Steam

We played through MID 4 times. During our first playthrough, we entered the story with our wits set to match that of Giulia’s. We followed her intuition, judgment and most importantly, her narration.

Can You Trust The Narrator?

At the end of Playthrough #1, if it wasn’t glaringly obvious before, we realized a noteworthy possible ‘error’. Can we really trust Giulia’s narration? The story starts off with older Giulia taking us back and then talking us through the events that led to this unbearable tragedy in her past. We trust she knows what she saw, what she remembered and what she recorded. However, as the story progresses, it soon becomes very, very obvious that this is not the case. Which led to Playthrough #2.

Here, we picked up important details that helped put things into perspective.

  1. Giulia is operating from a place of trauma: This means regardless of what we’re seeing, the truth could be quite far off. Now apply this to all the events of the game for the real headcanon. There you go!
  2. The events in-game are from Giulia’s perspective: Take this with point #1 and you’re onto something. You aren’t operating three characters, at once nor at a time. You aren’t pivoted into any other character’s perspective anytime in-game. You don’t really control the narrative at all, and you’re playing along as it goes. Did the Lady in the Lake actually come to Giulia with prophecies (of sorts)? Did those who died actually die? In the final episode, when faced with a porcelain doll mirror version of yourself, if you choose carefully, what do you find out?
  3. The story is not about who killed Martha, but about Giulia’s past experience around Martha’s death: This should be the final piece to the puzzle. As players, upon first playthrough, we really just dove in with the agenda to solve this murder. Fair point to be noted is that this was fresh off the heels of ‘Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One’, which in hindsight was not the best approach for MID. You aren’t playing to solve this crime. It’s far in the past, and Giulia sitting to take you through it is indication enough that there would be no immediate urgency to crack the case. No, you want to look through every nook and cranny of the setting you’re in, listen to the dialogue and pay attention to your surroundings and the events taking place during the time. When you’ve painted a strong enough picture, you will arrive at a few varied outcomes.

 

What is the outcome of ‘Martha Is Dead’?

!!!SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

A still from the Official Trailer via Martha Is Dead on Steam

Outcomes – the central point of any decision-based game ever. How do you get every outcome, get the whole story? Well, for ‘Martha Is Dead’, we’ll safely say there isn’t meant to be one answer. We’d like to see this story as sort of open-ended, with an albeit gruesome and hauntingly sad, but masterfully pieced message that comes through each time.

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We found it difficult to arrive at one fixed ending or conclusion. On Playthroughs #3 and #4, we went on completely different tangents and got some solid evidence. Here you go, two things to consider:

1. What is the actual reality in MID?

You see Giulia born as a single child. You immediately say, “Hey, that’d mean Martha isn’t… real?”. Then you see the asylum sequence and you go, “So nothing ever happened?”. But you’re not sure. And we believe that is the beauty of MID. To what extent are the events you see actually taking place? Considering Giulia is our only narrator, the memory sequence of her birth could be taken with a rather huge grain of salt. Then with the way the asylum sequence plays out – this could mean she’s been in the asylum all along, or not at all. Since Giulia is the only narrator, and her memories are severely fragmented, to what degree can a player buy into any outcome they arrive at? And does it matter?

2. The significance of the scene MID sets

This, in our opinion, is critical. You have this character experiencing mortifying surrealism in the middle of WWII. Active bombings are reported daily, while at one point in-game you will hear Giulia point out how privileged her life is as the daughter of a German Army General. You first have to consider the immeasurable toll war could take on a young mind, who actually also finds herself caught between the conflicts of a military group midway through the game. Then there is the case of her fragmented childhood, and the only long-lasting impression left by an old tale her nanny read to her as a child.

MID uses these two tangible (to some degree, anyway) concepts for the first half of the game before throwing players into a mosh-pit of doubt for the rest of its playthrough. It’s easy to disregard these when the mental health themes kick in, but calling back to them can explain some, if not most, of what Giulia will experience after. Pay attention to the setting and the scene, angle it differently if you’re playing through multiple times. You might be surprised with what you find. Whether your findings will convince you, that is another matter entirely.

What is the ending of ‘Martha Is Dead’? 

!!!SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

A still of Giulia developing photographs via Martha Is Dead on Steam

Put everything together and you will have a few theories. If you’ve made it this far, we’ll assume you’re spoiler ready, so let’s look at some of the more attestable endings.

1) Giulia Killed Martha

MID toys with the concept of Giulia having a dual personality through the course of the game. If you follow this outcome, towards the second half of the game you will find that signs point towards Giulia’s other personality taking over and planting various pieces of evidence in order to stage the perfect crime(?). Giulia’s failing memory is another hint towards this.

2) Irene Killed Martha

If you are to apply the reality vs mindspace concept here, equal weight can be given to this outcome. After all, the story starts off with Giulia narrating us into the past. Not the most reliable of narrators… no.

3) Martha Was Giulia’s Imagination

Hints scattered throughout the game (yes, we’re saying this a lot) point towards Martha being a concept Giulia created as a child. Her parents simply played along, further blurring the line between reality and what Giulia is conceiving it to be.

4) Giulia Made Everything Up

The trauma from her childhood (which also stands trial for reality vs mindspace, in our opinion) could have landed Giulia in a psychiatric facility, from whereon all the events in-game could simply be creations of her mind. Once again, you can find enough evidence to support this outcome as well.

If these outcomes haven’t sent you into a confused frenzy, we don’t know what will. Your experience with MID will be different each time, and from all others, unless you specifically try to follow a laid-out playthrough, that is. We are still on the lookout for one definitive answer online, seeing as we’re still up in the air about it, but to no avail.

The (Spoiler-Free) Verdict

A still of Martha in her coffin via Martha Is Dead on Steam

Play ‘Martha Is Dead’ for the experience it brings. We don’t want to bring attention to the infamous gore scenes everyone is talking about. However, we will say that these scenes fell well in context, enough to add to the overall horror element MID was aiming for. This game isn’t for everyone and is STRICTLY for an adult audience. There are no jump scares, no combat sequences, no ghostly horrors (beyond what the human mind is capable of, at least).

You will find yourself on an extremely uncomfortable rollercoaster of emotions and impulses, wanting to do anything but what the game expects you to do, but that’s yet another element that makes storytelling in video games powerful. Don’t think that we’ve forgotten trying to do anything but hit Ellie back in ‘The Last of Us Part II” – far, far less gruesome but it hurt much more.

All-in-all, ‘Martha Is Dead’ is one of those games we hope doesn’t fly under the radar. The game has taken a significant drop in buzz, which could have to do with larger titles overshadowing its release, and the size of the audience that is otherwise willing to go through this journey. While it is hard to put some of what we’ve seen in MID behind us, the story has left an impact that comes close to the likes of ‘What Remains of Edith Finch’ and ‘The Vanishing of Ethan Carter’. For wholehearted fans of indie horror, walking simulators, and mini puzzle gameplay, ‘Martha Is Dead’ is a must-play. This game is not for everyone, but it sure is something!

Get Martha Is Dead: HERE

 

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