Why did you say that Name?
Set in 1944 Italy, Marth is Dead begins with the player, Julia, finding her twin sister Martha dead in a lake, after a rather gruesome but bloody awesome sequence of symbolism involving skin pizza, Julia assumes the role of her dead sister. This adds an interesting hook to start things off as it becomes clear that Julia has always felt neglected by her parents and will now spend the rest of her life living as her sister who just happened to be deaf.
Maintaining this persona is the driving force of the narrative as the relationship with your mother is explored with a mix of psychological and supernatural occurrences. The narrative also sits alongside another fairly bleak situation known as World War 2 which delivers some interesting weave to an already twisted set-up.
We’re Dead Tired
The first hour or so of Martha is Dead is very well-paced, we get the event that sets up the story and a few tutorials on some of the core mechanics, the main one being the emphasis on photography. Throughout the game we were tasked with taking and developing pictures of items that are key to the narrative in order to progress the story, this mechanic is well designed for the most part but soon becomes something of a tedious exercise.
What starts off promising soon begins to lose steam as the game descends from a promising dark narrative to a clunky walking simulator. Now don’t get us wrong, we love a good bit of tension building when it comes to horror, after all, atmosphere is the order of the day if you want to brown those pants, but the pacing for Martha is Dead is way off. The game takes place in and around a family villa which is beautifully created and really does look stunning. Lush countryside rolls out to the distance and we got to explore woodlands, lakes and country trails but it soon felt like that was all we were doing with very little to keep us hooked or provide the sense that we were making any meaningful progress.
A Puzzling Pace
Along the way, several ‘puzzle’ elements were thrown in for good measure but again these felt like a mixed bag and were hampered greatly by the clunky controls. One of the main offenders here was a section that tasked us with sending a message in morse code and yes, we had to input everything properly. This was a great idea and the level of detail was impressive, however, it took way more time than it should have done thanks to the controls being extremely unresponsive. This goes for even the simplest of tasks within the game, as with most ‘waking simulator’ experiences and let’s be honest, there are a few of them around these days, a lot of the world-building is gained from interreacting with and inspecting objects, unfortunately, this is easier said than done as Marth is Dead is extremely clunky with positioning meaning we spent too much time adjusting our position by fractions just to be able to pick up an item which just became increasingly annoying.
The clunkiness extends to general exploration, though it was great to explore the villa and take in the sites, many of the tasks consisted of the tried and tested, go over here and grab this, now go all the way over there and look at that. Nothing out of the ordinary we grant you save for the fact that Julia walks obnoxiously slow, have you ever been in a supermarket or walking through town stuck behind some dithering codger that really should be banned from attempting physical movement? Yeah, that’s Julia!
But credit where it is due, despite the sloppy pacing that may well be a deal-breaker for some, there is an interesting story going on here with an ending that is fairly open to interpretation but will likely not fail to hit you on some level of emotion. The world is beautifully created and feels really authentic (at least as authentic as 1944 Italy can look for someone who was born in the ’80s and has only seen it in movies and history books) we especially loved the sense of juxtaposition the game delivered with its idealistic sunny countryside providing an unlikely backdrop for what is essentially a dark tale woven into the ever-looming cloud of war.
Marth is dead is a strange game, on one hand, it cuts a powerful narrative but on the other, it presents long-winded tedium and when the two mix it just curdles the whole experience. We definitely appreciate where the developers were trying to go with this one and when it was good, it was very good, sadly those moments were too sporadic for our taste. Worth a try for horror fans but we would recommend waiting for a sale.
Review Code Provided
Format: PC, Xbox, PlayStation
Genre: Horror, Puzzle, Adventure
Publisher: Wired Productions
Download link: Microsoft Store