I’m a huge horror fan, but until very recently Martha is Dead wasn’t really on my radar. However, last week when the game’s developers announced that the title would be censored on PS5 and PS4, morbid curiosity got the better of me.
Shortly afterwards, I was given access to Martha is Dead on Xbox Series X, where it’s been released completely unedited, and I braced myself for what horrific sights I was about to experience. After just a couple of hours with the game, I absolutely understand why this situation happened.
Content Warning: Martha is Dead is a disturbing game with graphic violence. Some of the descriptions below are not appropriate for younger audiences.
Martha is Dead is one of the darkest games I’ve ever played. Even my strong stomach was turning at certain points. But while I may understand why developer LKA has been required to cut/tweak some of the most gruesome sequences in order to release on PlayStation platforms, I'm not sure I agree with it.
In the wake of this censorship announcement, Martha is Dead has opened up a can of worms arguably more troublesome than any blood-soaked scenes contained within the game itself.
A descent into madness
To give some context, Martha is Dead is a first-person psychological horror set in 1940s Italy during WWII. You play Guilia, a young girl who discovers the drowned body of her twin sister, Martha, and assumes her identity after her parents mistakenly believe it was actually her who drowned.
As Guilia, now pretending to be Martha, you set about trying to figure out what happened to your sister, while also slowly descending into madness as the lines between reality and nightmare start to blur. It’s a pretty gripping tale, with some highly effective spooky moments along the way.
The game could be crudely labelled a “walking simulator” as there’s no traditional combat, and the majority of the 5-6 hour runtime is spent moving around well-realized environments examining objects and listening to voice over. But, don't let that put you off, Martha is Dead is excellent at building a highly unnerving atmosphere, and several sequences genuinely sent chills down my spine.
I made the mistake of playing Martha is Dead at first in a pitch black room with only a few candles burning and nobody else in the house. Let’s just say, I didn’t sleep super well that night. If you like being spooked you’ll probably find a lot to like about Martha is Dead.
Although, it’s not all positives. The game's world doesn’t feel as interactive as it should, with the number of objects that are merely set dressing on the high side. The game also has a strong focus on taking pictures via an old timey camera. The mechanic is surprisingly deep, but the requirement to manually develop each image in a dark room quickly becomes tedious.
Cutting the most disturbing content
As already alluded to, Martha is Dead is an extremely dark video game. There are some brutal sequences here that are more graphic than anything I’ve seen before in gaming. I won’t delve too far into spoiler territory, but I will give you probably the most publicized example (warning: what follows is a graphic description).
One early dream sequence sees you cutting off the face of your sister’s dead corpse with the sharp edge of a necklace pendant. You are given full control of this segment, and must move the analog sticks on your controller in order to cut a jagged line from forehead to chin. Nothing is left to the imagination as you literally peel the face away from the skull underneath.
This is very much just one example, the game has plenty of sequences that are just as disturbing, and the core narrative involves a multitude of themes that will upset some players. These range from self-harm to child abuse. As you’d expect, the game comes with a substantial and highly necessary trigger warning before you start playing.
However, Sony appears to have decided that offering players a warning prior to starting isn’t going far enough. In order for Martha is Dead to launch on PlayStation platforms, LKA has been forced to cut several of the most violent sequences (including the one mentioned above) and also offer an alternative mode that censors the game even further.
At the time of the announcement LKA released a statement which said: “Martha is Dead is a narrative adventure recommended for adult audiences only, with play consisting of potentially discomforting scenes and themes that may distress some players.” The developer also expressed regret at being required to modify the experience in order to launch on PS5 and PS4.
Should Martha is Dead have been censored?
There has been some outcry from PlayStation players feeling they’re getting a lesser version of Martha is Dead, which I do think is understandable, but the situation has me quite torn.
On the one hand, I think the game crosses over the line and is too gruesome in certain parts. Take the above face cutting sequence. While it does have a clear symbolic purpose within the narrative, I believe the devs could have made the same point without requiring the player to perform such a grotesque act. I don’t think I’d have enjoyed the game less if certain sequences had been reigned in and a little more were left to the imagination.
However, broadly speaking I’m very much against censoring art. Unless something is harmful or hateful in nature, I don’t think a creator's artistic vision should be compromised just because I might personally find something to be distasteful. If video games want to stand alongside the likes of films and books, then we need to allow creators to push the boundaries of the medium.
I think giving players the option to either play the game fully uncut, or have the most extreme moments removed, is the ideal compromise and caters to everybody. Thankfully, this is something you can do on the Xbox Series X version of the game, but on PS5 and PS4 your choices are either a censored experience or even more censored experience.
In a lot of ways it’s a shame that the conversation surrounding Martha is Dead has been dominated by its censorship on PlayStation platforms. I’ve seen very little discussion of the game itself over the past few days; instead it’s just gamers debating what’s been cut and why.
Of course, they say there’s no such thing as bad press and the censorship situation has probably brought more attention to Martha is Dead than the game would have received otherwise.