Camera adventure

Martha is Dead Review: madness and violence in the Italian horror adventure

It hurts. Martha is dead hurts a lot. Not so much for what it shows, I was born of an often unusual brutality, but above all for what it tells, for the raw wickedness with which it chooses to stage its story. The horror Martha is Dead feeds on is cerebral and physical, historical and folkloric, in an alienating yet evocative amalgam, sometimes morbid but almost always fascinating. It is worth pointing out immediately that LKA’s horror-themed adventure is told without reduction not at all indulgent towards the most impressionable, not at all delicate towards the most sensitive.

The violence of La Ville Lumière in comparison is annihilated: here it becomes the visible and tangible manifestation of a psychophysical malaise, where the pain of the mind becomes suffering of the body (here is the critique of La Ville Lumière). To approach it with full knowledge of the facts, conscious of the playful limits inherent in the genre of reference, in full awareness of being confronted with an experience in which the story is the puppeteer who pulls the strings; although even the player, surprisingly, at times has decision-making power capable of changing, more than the story itself, the interpretation of him.

Poor Marta, who can’t hear, who can’t scream

Martha was deaf and mute. She was even before she died, and now that her irises have stopped glowing, she has no way of communicating with the world. Not even with her sister Giulia, identical to her in every way, to the point that no one could tell them apart, not even her parents. She floats in the lake, poor Martha: she may not have cried out, but she will still have felt the pain of her life when she left her body.

We need to figure out who killed her, and maybe only Giulia can do that. Could it be the supporters? German soldiers? The Lady of the Lake who, as fairy tales tell, in misty nights feeds on the spirits of maidens to soothe her eternal pain? Whatever truth Giulia brings to the surface will not be pleasant. After all, a horror that was only dreamed of is certainly no less real, if upon waking the terror is still lingering. This is why the protagonist, after a terrifying nightmare, continues to tremble in the morning, driven by the desire to understand the causes of her sister’s disappearance. And in the meantime, as we interpret tarot cards and evoke spirits, we must also be wary of what is more concrete, such as a gunshot or a bomb exploding in the distance, signs of a Second World War now exhausting, but no less lavish in blood.

It’s 1944 and Giulia, the daughter of a German general and an Italian, is forced to fight against threats from different fronts.: war and the paranormal, both equally atrocious. To understand the historical context, one must listen to the radio during the day, read telegrams, leaf through the newspaper daily, send encrypted messages by telegraph. And then night marching through the Tuscan countryside, through groves of mist and ominous hissing, to finally arrive on the shores of that cursed lake, the sepulcher of the girls.

There are presences there, real or presumed, to escape from or to dialogue with. But Martha can’t hear, she can’t speak. She couldn’t do it alive, and she couldn’t do it dead. To find the truth, you have to take a different path., looking to the past. And the photographs – rumor has it – succeed in both crystallizing memories and capturing the souls of the dead. In a photo, maybe Marta can tell us something.

Learn to use the camera

Photography is the most “participative” element of Martha is Dead, its most playful and interactive component. Giulia owns a 1940 Rolleicord with 120 mm film: a fairly good tool that gives her (and us) the possibility of printing what we prefer, sometimes immortalizing a landscape or a piece of furniture, sometimes aiming the lens at essential topics to move forward. Of the history. Its use is totally free.even if in the second half of the adventure it becomes less and less essential for narrative purposes.

To take a photo correctly we will have to adjust the focus and the exposure time, change the aperture, change the filters according to the lighting conditions, use the tripod or the flash, and all this happens through a menu as intuitive as it is sufficient to appear neither too complex nor too superficial. Once the appropriate photograph has been taken, we will have to go to the darkroom of Giulia’s house to develop the result, performing a series of actions that try to reproduce the image printing process in a simplified way. The Rolleicord’s operating mechanism allows for a good degree of shot customization (some of which also leads to optional assignments), and given the care LKA has put into digitizing a 1940s instrument one would have preferred that its ludic usefulness would be kept more constant throughout the investigation. Anyone who wishes can still transform the Martha is Dead environment into a vintage photographic backdrop, saving everything to the appropriate album. Perhaps, between a corpse and a ghost, there will also be a glimpse of a Tuscan landscape on which, at least for a moment, there is no shadow of death.

Partial freedom

Martha is Dead gives an impression of freedom, and that with a discreet intelligence. The small explorable area, which stretches from Giulia’s house to the lake, is effectively passable almost without limits, but movement is always and in any case regulated by the course of history.

It is possible to make a detour to complete a secondary mission which enriches the narrative context, useful to feel a little more actors and a little less spectators of the story, nevertheless the progression remains marked by the rhythms dictated by the authors. Within an experience of this kind, generally anchored on very rigid rails, it is however appreciable the intention of LKA to offer players an additional touch of lightness.

Martha is Dead tries to be as interactive as possible, in the form of escape sessions in which to press specific buttons in time, or dreamlike situations where Giulia must choose the right path every time; then in the use of the telephone (with which to call characters who enrich the plot of the story), in the aforementioned free use of the camera, or even in the possibility of taking a bicycle ride in the limited surroundings.

However, all these playful ideas do not find the right place in the four/five hours necessary to reach the final chapter, and one has the impression that they are ideas introduced only to vary (in spurts) the progression, without never be full. thorough. Which in some ways is also good, because Martha is Dead works much better when it makes atmosphere and narrative the real protagonists of exploration. gradually dragging us into a chilling spiral of ferocity.

Violence

There are several faces in Martha is Dead: there’s the ghost story, there’s the family drama, there’s the tragedy of war. Everything merges, everything mixes, everything takes on highly destabilizing features. Martha is Dead is extreme, without half measures. There have been (and there will be…) other works in the video game panorama that have made psychological and physical violence the matrix of their destabilizing power: just think of Doki Doki Literature Club, or a forgotten classic of most like the cruel visual novel Saya no Uta (Find our opinion on Doki Doki Literature Club).

sound and graphics If the faces of the characters are not made with great care, the same cannot be said for the rendering of the interiors, the play of lights, the ability to set up an atmosphere full of penetrating worries: a good level of Graphic detail, the excellent sound sector and the discreet dubbing in Italian (although with a noticeable qualitative oscillation in certain situations) allow Martha is Dead to maximize the player’s involvement in a deeply painful story. If you want to know more about the issue of censorship, we invite you to read the statements of the author of Martha is Dead on the modifications of the PS4 and PS5 versions granted to our microphones.

Maybe Martha is Dead doesn’t achieve the extremism of the aforementioned titles, but in common both games have the ability to almost never turn violence into an upsetting operation for its own sake, inserted for the sole purpose of scandalize and offend the sensitivity of the users. As brutal as certain moments are, which at first might cause simple revulsion, in hindsight, as the pieces of the narrative mosaic take shape, even the most repulsive sequences will acquire their own raison d’être. Martha is dead is explicit violence, but what is striking is not so much the lack of hesitation in showing acts of brutality, as the conceptual malice that animates the actions we will witness on screen (and in which we will actively participate). So much so that, according to the writer, the most repulsive scene of the experience is also the least explicit of all.

The script doesn’t always find the right sense of proportion, and sometimes certain narrative tricks seem more cunning than fully inspired. Yet in the final act, Martha is Dead turns some dubious choices made throughout the story to its advantage and takes the whole thing out of context. Clever yes, but with style.