The time has finally come. Martha is Dead is here. And this horror queen happily dove right in. This is the second release from LKA with Wired Productions, and hopefully won’t be the last. This is a team that works well together on horror. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s take things back to the start. Like the title says, there will be spoilers. I have a lot to say, and unfortunately it can’t be said without spoilers. I’m going to be breaking down the story, and discussing it as I go. Also, huge shout out to LKA and Wired for ensuring proper trigger warnings were in place for this game.
Without further ado, let’s do this! This is a long one, so buckle up.
What is Martha is Dead?
Martha is Dead is a first person psychological horror, set in Italy in 1944. The Second World War is raging ahead, and the K family (parents Irene and Erich, twins Martha and Giulia) have fled to a villa in the countryside for safety. However, Erich K, the father, is a German general. The game opens on the death of Martha, as we step into Giulia’s shoes.
Giulia has a love of photography, garnered from her father, and sets up cameras near the lake. We learn that as a child, Giulia spent lots of time at this lake and villa with the family’s nanny. While setting up a shot, Giulia notices something floating in the water. She quickly realises it is a body, and runs to retrieve the person. The body is her beloved sister, Martha, wearing one of her dresses.
Once back on shore, their parents arrive. Due to Martha’s clothes, Irene and Erich assume that it is Giulia who has died. Martha was deaf, and Irene interacts with Giulia as she would Martha- speaking slowly to let her read her lips. In this moment, Giulia decides she will step into Martha’s shoes, and continue life as her deceased sister.
This is where the story of Martha is Dead really begins.
Throughout the game, there is some form of communication from Martha. By this, I don’t mean a ghost. There are notes, letters, even an audio recording of Martha addressing Giulia. It all comes together to weave a story and an ending that no one could possibly expect. Also within the game are multiple references to Irene being on medication, and how it makes her sleep.
From the get go, it’s made very clear that Irene does not like Giulia. When Erich falls asleep in a chair near his daughter’s coffin, Irene loses the plot. She starts up an argument, screaming about the daughter that’s still alive. Irene even goes as far as to claim that Giulia would harm Martha, and has now abandoned her. However, this does not stop Erich from loving his daughter. Something to note it that he does call Giulia crazy.
It is after this sequence that Giulia has her first nightmare.
Nightmares of the Dead
Naturally, there is more to this than a dead girl being found. Giulia is plagued with nightmares. After finding her sister’s body, she dreams of stealing her face. This is accompanied by a player-controlled face peeling. In another, she returns the face, and Martha’s body lays beside Lapo’s.
Giulia also seems to blame herself for her sister’s murder. On one hand, the guilt she feels stems from the fact that they had made plans. The sisters had planned to visit the lake together to take pictures. On the other hand, a part of Giulia believes that she did something to harm her sister. It doesn’t help that her sister was wearing her clothes. Her mother also did not help, what with her cruel remarks.
This fear spurs her to return to the lake to collect the film from her timed cameras in the middle of the night. On her way home, Giulia is seemingly chased by the White Lady. This leads to another nightmare, involving a hung woman, Martha’s corpse decaying and cut open, with a small baby laying in the open wound.
This nightmare results in Giulia waking up, laying in a pool of blood. She makes a remark about her period, how it’s not due yet and seems heavier than normal. Unfortunately, this blood is obviously not a simple period.
It would seem that Giulia was pregnant, and that stress has caused her to lose her baby. Sadly, she doesn’t seem to realise this at all.
After she gets cleaned up and dressed, the phone in the hall rings. Giulia listens in, hearing her mother talk about Giulia having a relationship with Lapo.
However, the more Giulia learns, the more confused she gets. While snooping around, she finds a note Martha gave their mother. In the note, Martha states she’s learned Giulia is pregnant, and their mother should go to the lake and see for herself. Upon finding the note, Giulia insists that she is not pregnant, and has no idea what is happening.
Town on Fire
I’ll admit, I thought it was risky for the devs to make Giulia’s father a German General. Originally, I was worried it would be something just left to the side, not elaborated on. However, it quickly became clear that was not the case. At different times throughout Martha is Dead, jets can be heard flying above the villa. Erich also has a small office-like space in the house which contains maps and letters, showing the general’s plans for the war.
However, the Germans have opposition in the small town of San Casciano. a group known as Partisans are doing what they can to sabotage the German efforts. One of these Partisans is a young man by the name of Lapo. Lapo is friend to both Giulia and Martha. Unfortunately, the way we meet Lapo isn’t very kind. Giulia has followed the sounds of gunshots and fighting in the woods. In a clearing, she finds the body of her friend, missing his legs. He had stepped on a mine. As a Partisan, Lapo wears a red bandana tied around his arm. Giulia removes it, wraps it around her neck, and a note falls out.
Giulia begins reading the note, it’s addressed to her. Lapo knew she wasn’t Martha. A gunshot rings out, as well as voices shouting in German. A couple of soldiers mistook Giulia for a Partisan, and shot her. However, the mistake is very quickly uncovered, as they realise they have just shot the daughter of their general. One of them also states that Giulia is the boyfriend of the dead partisan.
This sequence can also pan out into a side mission, where Giulia must choose between helping the Partisans or standing by her father. Be warned, helping the Partisans involves A LOT of telegraph translating.
The funeral is where everything comes undone. After being shot, Giulia miraculously wakes up on the morning of her sister’s funeral. She can overhear the doctor and her father talking, about how the bullet missed all vital organs and passed through. Being injured isn’t enough to stop Giulia from seeking the truth, though.
After getting dressed and collecting her bag, she heads pays her respects to her sister in the chapel. There is a quick cutscene of a raven picking on a small bird. A little sparrow. Giulia picks up the bird and lays it on her sisters chest, under her hands. It’s both a weird and sweet moment.
Back to the adventure! Giulia doesn’t return to the lake this time. A loud cawing distracts her, and instead she follows a raven. The raven leads her down to a stream by the villa, where she finds torn red fabric, fabric she believes to be from her mother’s dress. This sends Giulia into a spiral, causing what seems to be a blackout. She has started to fully suspect her mother of killing Martha, mistaking her for Giulia. When she wakes up, night has fallen and she has missed most of the funeral.
Quickly, she runs to catch up, following the procession as her sister’s body is carried to the cemetery. Unfortunately, this would be Giulia’s downfall. Unable to resist, she floats towards the piano, and begins to play. A skill Martha never possessed. This reveals Giulia’s true identity to everyone.
This is where things start to get really messed up. Tensions are now high, with people believing that Giulia is responsible for Martha’s death. Her mother is fuming, screaming, and upset. Her father, who Giulia was always closer to, is both relieved and upset. After all, they still did lose a daughter.
Irene goes on a very hate filled rant, and declares Giulia to be a lunatic, stating she will send her to the asylum. Giulia tries to claim her innocence, showing the photos she had developed from the timed cameras. But it’s no use. Her mother will not hear of it. At this point, Irene becomes physically abusive. None of this is shown, instead its expressed through dialogue.
Erich tries to calm and comfort his daughter after this incident. Although only through dialogue, it is a very tender moment.
But now, it is time to meet The White Lady.
Martha and The White Lady
The lake in which Martha’s body was recovered is no ordinary lake. There is a legend surrounding its murky waters. The legend of The White Lady. It is said that two lovers met at the lake. In a fit of jealousy, the man kills the woman, leaving her in the lake. However, he confesses his crime out of guilt. The man is then hanged from a tree on a small island in the middle of the lake. The legend tells that the Lady will rise, and in her torment will take anyone who comes too close to her waters.
At first, we are almost led to believe that the White Lady is involved in the murder somehow. However, from early on, Giulia believes that the Lady may be able to help her find the answers. What really happened to her sister? Was she killed because of a political motive? Or was it much closer to home?
After following the instructions from Nanny, Giulia decides to use her tarot cards to communicate with her. This communication sets Giulia on a new path, one that eventually brings her suspicions back to her mother.
This is the point where those trigger warnings really come into play. After speaking with the White Lady, Giulia has received the key for Martha’s trinket box. Her box contains a letter. A letter from Martha, confessing she is not in fact deaf, she just chose not to speak or listen. The letter also informs Giulia of a hidden recording.
Once we start the recording, we take over as Martha. All the while, Martha is confessing her pregnancy. She knew what would happen by taking Giulia’s clothes and leaving the note, and had done it with the intentions of giving Giulia a chance at a better life. Although a noble cause, I think it’s safe to say this plan backfired. At this point, it seems very evident that Giulia has memory issues. And now Giulia believes their mother killed Martha.
Before she goes any further, she takes one of her father’s guns.
A telegraph arrives as Giulia heads on her errands. The telegraph confirms her upcoming placement at Volterra Psychiatric Hospital. At this point, it seems extreme for the K family to commit their daughter. However, it soon becomes clear why.
Giulia has one more role of film to develop, but her mother is hanging around the basement near the dark room.
Instead, Giulia goes to the family crypt to see Martha. Or, to be more specific, she goes to see was Martha really pregnant. This results in a player-controlled scene, where Giulia cuts her sister’s stomach open. There is indeed a foetus, and it is sadly deformed- having two heads. Naturally, Giulia decides the best thing to do is photograph the scene before her. Undeniably, this whole sequence is UNSETTLING. I was very shocked by it, honestly. This is also what begins to spark the ending.
As Giulia leaves the crypt, a conversation starts to play between her mother and the Doctor. He is advising the family leaves Italy, like Erich suggested. But Irene is insistent on the asylum, not wanting to put anyone in any more danger. Irene decides to wait for Giulia by the dark room, knowing she will return eventually.
Irene is asleep by the time Giulia turns, so Giulia decides to try expose her mother by recording their conversation. Giulia pull the gun on her mother. A gunshot rings out. Irene crawls across the floor, Giulia claiming she didn’t shoot. Two more shots ring out. Irene is dead. This time, Giulia does not claim innocence. She just picks up the key to her childhood room, which has remained locked until now. A bomb lands in the nearby town, knocking out the power. The dark room is now useless.
It’s time to visit the theatre.
The Puppet Shows
Giulia’s old room contains many items of furniture, covered by sheets. The one thing not covered, however, is the puppet theatre. The first thing Giulia reenacts is the tale of the White Lady. The next is the night before Martha died. The sisters are discussing the war, and their plans for the following day. Next, Giulia enacts what she thinks may have happened at the lake. She believes her mother used a cane to beat her sister to death.
Next, the theatre returns to the basement. Giulia is convinced she didn’t shoot her mother, so she plays out the scene with her puppets. she begins to dismember the puppet representing her mother. She actually talks through this in a very unsettling voice. Her puppet then mops up the blood. The scene then changes to the body being buried under the bridge by the stream. Unfortunately, we quickly learn that this was not just a puppet show. Giulia really did dismember her mother and hide the body. All she has left is the head, which we must then carry back to the bridge. Giulia thought it was all just a game, that she was playing. Let me tell you, that head was NOT just playing. It’s so well done that it feels legitimately uncomfortable to carry. You constantly have to look at it while you run.
The power returns, and now we must return to the dark room. However, this doesn’t last long. Just as Giulia begins to develop the photo, a soldier breaks into the room. Giulia is knocked unconscious, brought out to a chair and bound. When she wakes up, her father is in a chair beside her, also unconscious. Narration takes over here, like it has many times in the game, describing how the soldiers beat her for information on her father. There is slightly different dialogue depending on whether you helped the partisans or not. Either way, Erich is executed, and a soldier spares Giulia.
This is the beginning of the end.
Giulia awakens, and returns to the dark room to listen to her recording. Irene is speaking about her worry for Giulia, how she didn’t seem okay. Irene was concerned, something more than her “usual quirks” was bothering Giulia. Her concern grew when Giulia spoke of visiting the lake, and how when she checked, her daughter was not in her bed. Irene and Erich went to the lake, looking for Giulia. They found her sat on the bank in her underwear, mumbling that nothing happened, over and over. Irene hugged her, tried to make her feel better, but then Giulia wouldn’t speak for days. Giulia shouts that she doesn’t want to go to the “loony bin”, and Irene tries to explain their decision. Giulia has been a danger to herself, and was even severely harming herself in front of the piano.
This recording shows a totally different side to Irene than what we had previously seen. Irene suffered from undisclosed mental health issues, and had spent time away in Volterra. This caused her to act out, and abusively when Giulia was a child. But Irene always loved her daughter, and just wanted to help.
Martha’s Final Show
After listening to the recording, Giulia realises how much of a danger she has been. She has become her own worst enemy. She rushes back to her puppet theatre for comfort. There are more scenes this time round. Giulia’s memories from her childhood. She begins with her birth, which she had been told almost killed her mother. This is one of the weirdest scenes I’ve ever experienced in a game. Giulia acts out her birth through puppets.
The memories progress through different incidences she can recall, including a memory of her mother killing her dog and forcing her to eat it. I have never been more grateful to NOT see something happen. That is one thing I would not have been able to handle actually playing out. Giulia is still convinced she’s just playing a game for most of this sequence, having a dilemma about whether they are her real memories resurfacing.
After cycling through these memories, Giulia decides to call the priest, and ask for help. Something has been very amiss throughout. For almost all of these scenes, there is no Martha. She is told to come to the church, and agrees. On the journey to the church, Giulia also learns the fate of the partisans.
But is Martha…?
Another trigger warning appears on screen before this sequence begins.
The church is the finale. But it’s not a church once you get inside. It’s a giant puppet theatre. Crucifixes are everywhere, and while you walk through, the narration takes over. Ave Maria is playing in the back. Puppets are strewn everywhere. At this point, we learn that Giulia is talking to us from the asylum. The asylum where she has spent most of her life. You see, memory loss wasn’t Giulia’s problem. You may have noticed I stopped referring to both sisters a little while ago, save for pointing out the lack of Martha.
There are many hints throughout this game, but most of them are on the more subtle side. The most obvious hint before the puppet show comes from Irene. When Giulia is questioning her, before killing her, Irene is genuinely confused by her daughter mentioning having a sister. It’s time to drop the subtlety.
There is no Martha. Giulia is suffering from some form of split personality disorder, and created the Martha persona. The game ends on Giulia’s apparent suicide.
I just want to touch on the photo mode before sharing my final thoughts on the overall game. It deserves it.
The camera and photo mode is such an interesting feature in Martha is Dead. Most games these days feature a photo mode, but the one in this game is on another level. LKA creative director Luca Dalcò is well-known to have a love of photography, and this passion is translated beautifully in Martha is Dead.
Right down to the dark room, and the explanations for how things would work in the real world, the photo mode is really a thing of beauty. Also, I loved the explanations for each lens you pick up as you go along. Fantastically implemented.
Martha is Dead legitimately blew me away. It’s a highly ambitious game, especially for everything it tries to fit in. The devs have toyed with wartime, the paranormal and the psychological. There was a strong chance that it wouldn’t work. Thankfully, it did. It really did.
Martha is Dead isn’t perfect.There were a couple of small issues I faced. There is a huge difference between the graphics settings. I ran the game on all 4 at different intervals, and the difference was huge. For the majority of my runs (I’ve done 2 so far), I played on medium. The difference between that and the other options is huge. Undeniably, some form of tweaking/optimisation is needed here. I’ve never seen such an astronomical jump in graphics. Especially for a game where the devs have been known to focus on making things pretty. By no means does it look bad, the differences are just massive.
There was also a huge issue with load times. Some load screens were so long I thought the game was going to crash. Bicycle and boat controls weren’t great either, HOWEVER, that felt more realistic as Giulia is just a teenager. If my math is right, she’s about 19. She’s not going to be a professional.
Overall, I really loved Martha is Dead. The story genuinely enraptured me, and the ending was fantastically executed. LKA have created a psychological thriller that will keep fans interested and excited, all while remaining respectful of the difficult topics at hand. I am truly impressed, and look forward for what LKA will come out with in the future. I’ve also got the collectors edition ordered. I’m super excited.