I loved The Town of Light, a psychological narrative adventure game based on real events and situations which took place within the horrific mental health institutes back in the 1930s. It was a thriller that relied on its brilliant writing and atmospheric environments in order to pull you into the dark and depressing story it was trying to tell. So, when I heard that the developers, LKA, were creating another game with a similar dark and disturbing narrative, I knew I had to check it out. So, over the last week I’ve played through Martha Is Dead multiple times on multiple systems and via multiple visual modes – and no, the PlayStation version hasn’t been ‘censored’…
They say that no press is bad press, but in the case of Martha Is Dead, there have been a number of YouTubers and websites speculating on the content within this game based on a tweet sent out by the publisher. I’ll talk about this later, but the TL;DR is that the PlayStation version contains all of the same gruesome and disturbing scenes as the other platforms, you just don’t ‘play’ these scenes via a QTE – they play as a video instead. Personally, I’m fine with that as you still get to see everything, so it’s technically not ‘censored’, just had a minor adjustment.
My review will be based upon the PS5 version of the game running in 4K/30fps mode (including the images) until I talk about the 60fps and PS4 versions towards the end. Also, the PS5 version hasn’t yet received its day one patch, unlike the PS4, so I’ve played through both to see what issues have been fixed and which remain – which I’ll also get to later on. So, after completing the game four times and subjecting myself to certain horrific scenes, what did I think of it? Let’s find out…
*update – the day one patch allows you to import your PS4 saves. Simply open the PS5 version and if it detects PS4 saves on your console, it’ll ask if you wish to import them.*
Martha Is Dead is aptly titled as the story is about a young girl named Martha who has been tragically murdered, leaving behind her mother, father, and twin sister, Giulia. The sisters were identical in looks but not in personality or ability, Giulia was a talkative girl with a passion for song, music, and photography, whereas Martha was traumatised as a child and hadn’t spoken in over fifteen years, nor could she hear due to her deafness. Sadly, the differences don’t stop there as Martha was her mother’s favourite child, always getting what she wanted and treated like an angel, with Giulia often receiving abuse and blame that severely affected her mental health and wellbeing.
Giulia was the one who found Martha’s body, floating peacefully in the river – a river that has a sad and haunting tale attached to it regarding a ‘White Lady’ that preys on women as she looks for her lover who was taken away from her. Despite the death being ruled as an accident, or at least nothing suspicious, Giulia is convinced that foul play was the reason for her sister’s untimely death, but without any evidence or support from people who believes her, she must search for the truth alone.
Despite being your parents, they often had trouble telling both sisters apart, with the only ‘tell’ being that Martha is deaf and dumb. As such, when they find you next to your sister, speechless due to the situation, they instantly confuse you with Martha, embracing you for the first time and actually treating you like a human being. As such, you play along and don Martha’s identity whilst you look into her death – how long can you put up this charade without arousing suspicion and being found out?
Not only will you have to investigate the mysterious folklore that shrouds your small farmland and nearby woods, but you’ll also experience the horrors of war between the German and Allied forces that also inhabit the woods and nearby fields. Set in 1944 Italy, the war is ongoing and nobody is safe, especially considering your father is a German General and the Italians had turned on the Axis Forces in 1943.
Martha Is Dead is a narrative adventure game, you walk around (or jog at a rather slow pace) as you explore the house, woods, and nearby locations. It’s a horror game but it’s not all about jump scares, instead it focuses on psychological horror delivered through brilliant writing, terrific voice acting, and an atmosphere so thick you could cut it with a knife! That being said, there are a few jumps in regards to the supernatural side of the game, but that’s not the main focus. The game even references the Asylum featured within The Town of Light, which is a nice nod towards the developer’s previous game.
The game itself is a linear experience that has defined key moments that progress the story, meaning if you’ve not found items or performed certain actions before you trigger the chapter’s main event, you can’t go back unless you reload or start a new game. There are a few things you could miss, mostly relating to trophies, but nothing will directly impact the story.
Some of the side missions will require you to try new things, such as riding a very janky bike, travelling by boat and my ‘favourite’, deciphering morse code… This initially stressed me out as it took me a long time to understand, even though it’s super easy – I actually resorted to typing in the morse code into an app in order to read it until I realised how stupid I was being! You have a guide that tells you how to read and reply to morse code messages (see above). You have to read from the top and move left or right depending on if it’s a dot or a dash – it’s quite an intuitive guide and I actually enjoyed this side mission.
The only issue I had with the morse code, and the phone numbers next to the phones, is that the text is incredibly hard to see at certain times of the day when there’s little light. Simple solution – crank up the gamma.
A big part of Martha Is Dead is the initiative photography mechanics. Giulia is an avid photographer, a hobbyist who really loves taking and developing her own pictures in the basement darkroom. Initially, you’ll be taking pictures of wildlife, objects of interest, and clues, placing them within your photo album for future reference. But, after a short while, you’ll begin to find additional components such as zoom lenses, coloured filters, and even an infrared attachment, which not only enhances your photos but also allows you to see things that aren’t visible to the naked eye.
That’s right, a few of the additional objectives you can uncover revolve around following clues to locations where you can take an IR photo of a seemingly empty space which, when developed, shows ghostly figures or hidden riddles leading to other spots.
Developing the images has been made nice and simple – pick your image, adjust the focus, then place it in a solution for ten seconds before you pull it back out. The game tells you that it’s made the process much easier and streamlined compared to how it works in real life, but I would have actually liked the option to make the process realistic – I’ve played quite a few games which make you use all three liquids and time the process yourself.
One thing I really wanted the game to do, but it sadly doesn’t, is for it to actually place the developed photo on your PS console as an actual photo (as if you’ve pressed the Share Button). Very few games actually do this, Yakuza instant springs to mind as that creates actual photos every time you take a photo in-game. If this was how the camera worked within Martha Is Dead, I would have spent much longer taking pictures and developing them, rather than focusing mainly on the ones required to progress the story.
Horrific moments – it’s not ‘censored’
As mentioned in the opening paragraphs, Martha Is Dead has received a lot of press lately regarding the ‘censorship’ of the game. I can finally tell everyone that no, the PlayStation versions have NOT been censored in regards to the content – despite what websites and YouTubers were speculating without actually playing the game. The only change is in regards to how you view the scenes affected – instead of holding a Shoulder Button and pushing the Thumbstick as you perform disgusting self-mutilation and graphic bloody penetration of dead bodies, you watch a cutscene of the same content.
Thankfully, for the squeamish out there, all versions of the game come with a ‘Censor’ button within the settings menu. If this is enabled, the screen will fade to black just before the above actions take place, returning momentarily with the end result – so you don’t have to watch the ‘gameplay’ if you find it too disturbing. Also, the day one patch has introduced the option to push triangle to skip the scene if you have the censorship turned off but you don’t like what you see.
I believe there are four or five scenes that have been turned into a non-interactive element on the PlayStation consoles – I’m not sure if you can also have them as watch-only on Xbox and PC or if they’re Interactive or skipped. The game also includes a naked dead body with boobs, fully naked dolls, talk of rape, and a bunch of sensitive subjects such as miscarriage, murder, suicide, and dismemberment. The game has a lot of scenes that are clearly there to shock and disturb you, it’s not best played if you’re sensitive to these subjects, it also explores mental health and touches on animal abuse later into the story.
On a side note – no, downgrading the PS4 version to version 1.0 (or installing off the disc with no update) DOESN’T give you access to the interactive cutscenes – the PS4 version we had for review was version 1.0 (the disc version). This is most likely why the physical discs have been delayed, so they can be pressed with a new 1.0 version (I’m not sure about the PS5 disks as we were on 1.030). *update – it appears one conversation was removed, referencing masturbation. Other than that, the above is correct*
4K | 1080p
PS5 features and platform quality
The PS5 version of Martha Is Dead is incredible. You have the option to either play the game in a full 2160p (4K) at 30fps or 1080p at 60fps – I highly recommend you play it at 4K. The game itself is a very slow-moving exploration experience, no fast reactions are required as you uncover the truth behind what happened to Martha. As such, although 60fps is nice to have, it isn’t essential and the extra pixels really enhanced the visuals on a 4K TV. I have put a comparison image above, you can slide to see how the difference between both visual modes.
The trophies aren’t yet live on PSN, so I don’t know if there are any Trophy Cards, but the game does make use of the controller’s Haptic Feedback and Adaptive Triggers. The Haptics alternate pulses to coincide with your footsteps, as well as provides HD rumble as you explore the area, whereas the Trigger Support is quite minimal and simply creates tension as you interact with objects.
There are a few visual issues in the pre-patched version (which are also there on the patched PS4 version). For example, in one of the chapters the basement goes pitch black, when it shouldn’t, which also affects the darkroom by making it almost unplayable without cranking the gamma all the way to max. But, the majority of the issues I had, such as movement bugs, world holes, and events not triggering, seem to have all been fixed in the upcoming update.
PS4 | PS5 (4K)
The visually unattractive PS4 version
I’ve just finished playing through the entire game again, for the fourth time, on the PS5 via PS4 BC. Why? The PS4 version got the day one patch last night but the PS5 hasn’t yet, so I wanted to see if any of the major issues I had have been fixed (which I’ll talk about next). Sadly, the experience on the PS4 Pro version was far below that of the PS5 (which you’d expect), the framerate was a stable 30fps but the visual quality was really, really bad, even when played on the PS5 via Backwards Compatability.
Let’s start with the most jarring issue on the last-gen console, the textures don’t load in a lot of places. Martha Is Dead has a lot of detail within the world, names on a monument in the graveyard, a picture in a stone wall within the woods, fully-written articles in the newspaper, and nicely decorated walls – all of these examples are as clear as rubbing your eyes with vaseline and holding a magnifying glass up to your face! I don’t know if it’s an issue with the latest update or if the developers have purposely downgraded these textures to the point where they’re simply a blob of colour with no detail?
PS4 | PS5
One example is the monument in the cemetery, I stood in front of the image for five minutes and it never loaded, so I believe it is a bug rather than a streaming issue (image above).
Another issue I had with the PS4 version is stuttering, when the game is loading a new area the game momentarily freezes or stutters for a second or two – this isn’t present on the PS5 version. I also found the text within the puppet scenes hard to read due to the clearly sub-1080p resolution the game runs at. Finally, the lighting within this version is nowhere near the quality we see within the PS5 – again, this is expected but you can really see the difference when you have two images next to one another, the PS5 version has more depth and detail whereas the PS4 version often looked flat.
My advice – if you have a PS5, play the game on there – only play it on the PS4 if that’s the only console you have. It performs well enough but visually it’s a big step down (hopefully the issues are only bugs though, and they’ll get fixed). *update – according to the FAQ (HERE), the PS4 version is 4K/30 – I’m finding that hard to believe.*
Technical and assessability
The developers have provided some good accessibility options but missed a major one which will restrict some people from playing and enjoying Martha Is Dead. First of all, I love that you can change the head bob amount, get a visual aid showing how big your subtitles are going to be within the menu, have full control over every volume slider, you can invert the Y-Axis, and have the option to censor the gruesome parts. But, there’s no option to simplify the QTE moments.
Why is this an issue? There are a few moments where you have to hold L2 and R2 whilst pushing both the Left and Right Thumbstick at the same time. Some people will find it hard to activate all prompts together so a simplified single-button option would have been welcomed. Thankfully there’s no time limit on any important QTES – only ones based on if you wish to respond – but I’m hoping the multi-button prompts can be adjusted via an update.
On the PS5 I had zero crashes for the entire 29 hours I played. I became stuck on a few objects and had to reload the last save (it saves every chapter), but it didn’t crash. The PS4 version, however, crashed twice within six hours. but, thanks to the helpful autosave, I never lost any progress.
The game starts up with Italian selected as the vocal language, with English subtitles. You can change this, as there are a few different fully-voiced languages, but I recommend playing it at least once with the native language selected.
One final wish, which I want all developers to be aware of, is there’s no option to delete your save files – only overwrite them. On the PS4 this isn’t too bad as you can individually delete them via the PS4 itself if you really want to, but the PS5 bundles all the saves together into one file. This means you’ll end up with a save failed around 500MB which you can’t reduce unless you delete the whole lot. I just found out, you can delete your saves, you have to go into the ‘load’ menu and then you have the option to delete them.
Martha Is Dead was more disturbing and shocking than I thought it would be, delivering a brilliant story with gorgeous (if rather gruesome) visuals and a hypnotic soundtrack. The photography mechanics were implemented well, allowing you to capture every moment – it’s just a shame the photos didn’t manifest as actual pictures on the console. Despite the commotion pre-release, the game is fully uncensored if you wish it to be, you just can’t participate in the horrific cutscenes via interactive QTEs, which doesn’t affect the game in any way. If you like slow-paced psychological horror games with an interesting story that’ll have you hooked until the credits roll, check out Martha Is Dead today.
What version will you pick up today? On PSN, you can pick up Martha Is Dead for £24.99, the Digital Deluxe (which includes The Town of Light) for £32.99, or the Ultimate Edition (which includes The Town of Light and the Martha Is Dead soundtrack) for £36.99.
It doesn’t appear that the soundtrack is available to buy on its own (on PSN), which is a shame. The soundtrack is on PSN, it’s just hidden (unless you’re on a PS4). You have to search on your PS5 for Martha Is Dead, go to the sale page (click View Product in the three dots if you own the game), then click the three dots and you should see the soundtrack – it’s £7.99
If you’re more into your physical versions, you can buy the PS4 (and PS5 upgrade) or PS5 versions direct from Wired Productions (PS4 | PS5). These have the game, a reversible sleeve, a double-sided A3 poster, downloadable tarot cards, and a sticker sheet, for only £24.99!
Or, if you really want something special, you can pick up the physical PS5 Collector’s Edition for £125 HERE. This includes the game, a triple vinyl soundtrack and download copy, a steel book, an art book, ‘The White Lady’ book, a graphic novel, physical tarot cards, a coin, double-sided poster, the game map (which would have come in handy in my playthrough), stickers, a presentation box, a numbered certificate (there’s only 1000 of these), and a digital code for the game on Steam.
Also, if you want the triple vinyl soundtrack, you can also pick that up HERE for £50 (only 500 have been made for sale).
Martha Is Dead£24.99
- Very atmospheric, leaving you feeling uneasy and slightly disturbed at times
- Great music and voice acting, allowing you to pick from a number of languages
- Despite what people speculated, all the intense and horrific scenes are here, you just watch them as a cutscene instead
- The narrative is well-written, keeping you hooked all the way through
- The PS5 version looks and plays great
- The PS4 version has a number of non-loading textures
- No options for simple QTEs
- No option to skip text, making the game feel much slower
- There are quite a few visual issues with the lighting, but these should be fixed soon