Martha by Affordable Cat
Martha is the debut release from Affordable Cat, a.k.a. Australian developer Chris Willis, and despite relying on most of the standard first-person horror game tropes, this one’s solid, with some decent puzzles and some definite scares.
Notes for a Ghost Story
After the basic set-up – your character is investigating a colleague who disappeared while investigating an old house rumored to be cursed – you’re plunged into the main plot…not to mention trapped in the aforementioned house.
While the game provides plenty of creepy atmospheric touches – disappearing front doors, candlelit shrines, an old-fashioned gramophone that seems to turn on of its own accord and even an incongruous Halloween jack-o-lantern in the attic – Martha is a bit slow-going at first, more a matter of exploring than action or even puzzle-solving.
Finding Keys is the Key
Exploring the house reveals plot points in the form of notes between characters, police reports, etc., putting together the picture of the house’s most recent residents and their terror at the hands of a strange old woman whom even bullets don’t seem to stop.
It’s a tried-and-true narrative device and mostly makes sense here, as does the explanation for keys. A good deal of the early game involves finding keys to open doors to find more keys, explained here as the previous tenant’s improvised system to foil the homicidal old lady.
Even the locksmith advises against such a complicated key-and-door scheme in a note on his invoice, which is a nice touch and helps suspend disbelief.
She Moves Pretty Fast for an Old Lady
Unlock enough doors, and things take a turn. Suddenly, it’s you that the terrifying woman is after, and shooting her – or even bashing her with a shovel – doesn’t keep her down for long.
That initial jump scare is solid, as is the sound design, and while action isn’t necessarily this game’s strong point, the pressure of solving standard adventure objectives – there’s even a fuse box inventory puzzle, because every horror game has to have a fuse box – while being stalked by a murderous old lady ghost monster more than adequately raises the tension.
What previously seemed like some location and inventory puzzles have turned into an incredibly difficult task. Plus there’s the added difficulty of managing your bullet and bandage inventory.
A Horror Game, Made with Love
Martha doesn’t do anything incredibly new with first-person survival horror, but there are lots of nice touches here for fans of the genre.
Developer Willis has done a good job taking tried-and-true tropes and making them work to fit the narrative, and little touches, like paintings that become more grotesque in the presence of candlelight, show solid attention to detail as well as contributing to the game’s increasing sense of dread.
Likewise, the relentlessness of the antagonist, calling to mind evil spirits from movies like The Ring and It Follows, makes for a powerful shift from building tension into white-knuckle panic.
While it could use a little polish here and there, like more fluid locomotion during the action scenes, Martha is a solid debut from a promising new developer.
Martha is available via Steam.
Check out the official Martha trailer below: