By Leo Stevenson
I liked Dead Space 3. While it may have had some plot and pacing issues, an emphasis on action over tension and horror, some unlikable and unreliable characters and a generally weaker story than its predecessors, it was a fun game. Its problem was that it didn't really leave me wanting more. The story wrapped up in such a way that I was satisfied and ready to walk away from the franchise, content. Then along came "Awakened", the first story-based piece of DLC for Dead Space 3. I was unsure what to expect when I started; Visceral and EA had been touting it as a return to the series' psychological horror but, but the skeptic in me dismissed it as PR spin.
Thankfully, I couldn't have been more wrong.
"Awakened" truly does take the series back to its more terrifying origins (and I do mean terrifying), but it does it by way of Dead Space 2 & 3. By taking the best and purest parts of each of the three games, Visceral have managed to craft an epilogue to Dead Space 3 that not only exceeds the preceding story but also manages to demonstrate Dead Space at its absolute best.
"Awakened" begins mere moments after the finale of Dead Space 3 with Isaac and Carver regaining consciousness and wondering just how they could possibly be alive. It's a pertinent question as -- SPOILERS -- after crashing down onto the surface of Tau Volantis having destroyed the Necromorph Moon, you'd expect Isaac and Carver to be a little worse for wear. The two heroes decide that it doesn't matter how they are still alive, be it due to alien technology, luck or some other force; all that matters is that they are alive and need to get home to Earth. They set out to claim one of the Unitologists' spacecraft to escape Tau Volantis for good, secure in the knowledge that finally, the Necromorph threat is finally gone. Or so they think.
As you might guess, Isaac and Carver soon discover that, not only are there still Necromorphs on the planet, but the Necromorph Moon which they destroyed had enough time to signal to its brothers and broadcast the location of Earth. Isaac and Carver find themselves in a race against time to find and repair a ship and make it to Earth to warn the human race. Within the three short chapters of "Awakened," Visceral manage to tell a very immediate, exciting and terrifying story about these two survivors that also manages to take great strides in making Carver a more relatable and human character. While playing Dead Space 3, I could care less about Carver and the other supporting players, but his relationship with Isaac in "Awakened" is one of the reasons the add-on works so well. In fact it's the characterisation in general that makes this DLC so brilliant to experience.
At the very beginning of the first chapter is a stand-out scene as Isaac and Carver reach the top of a cliff face. They look over the landscape of Tau Volantis and see the crashed Moon in the distance, and again question just how they survived. Isaac then develops a theory that paints an entirely new light on those affected by the Necromorph menace; it's a poignant and most interesting moment that's left to hang in the air just long enough before Carver smacks Isaac in the head, telling him to get on with the task at hand.
The relationship between these two characters forms the core of this add-on and truly makes it stand apart from Dead Space 3 as a worthwhile follow up. Throughout the roughly one to two hours it will take you to complete the DLC, you'll experience many hallucinations that call back to Dead Space 1 and 2 and do a fantastic job of ramping up the tension and scaring the pants of you. Best of all, they serve the story and aren't just there for fan service or cheap scares. As you proceed and the protagonists' hallucinations become more frequent and more violent, the two characters begin to grow distrusting of each other and their motivations. Isaac becomes determined to stop the Necromorphs no matter the cost and Carver just wants to go home. It's really interesting to watch these two comrades go from solidarity to separation -- both physically and emotionally -- and back again. I won't spoil the story details here, but suffice to say, it's well worth playing.
Combat has been toned down for the DLC too. You won't face any armed Unitologist goons, nor will you be attacked by massive swarms of Necromorphs. The pace has been dropped a few notches, which is welcome after Dead Space 3's foot-to-the-floor approach. The combat is still tense, but it doesn't feel like an extreme horde mode every time a battle starts this time around.
On the flipside, the main problem with "Awakened" is that it's rather short. Although it's paced well throughout and is quite engaging, the story ends far too quickly. It took me about an hour and a half to get through on normal mode so I'd expect a little more time on the harder difficulties. If you've already completed Dead Space 3 (which I strongly suggest you do before even thinking about playing "Awakened"), you'll have plenty of upgrades and weapons at your disposal which make the DLC a bit of a cakewalk. The second issue related to its length is the price of "Awakened." For 800 MSP, $9.99 on PC and $14.45 on PS3, the add-on is a little steep for the playtime you'll get out of it. After one playthrough you're unlikely to go back for seconds -- other than for achievements -- as the story is very one-and-done. I recommend the add-on due to the sheer quality, but for the price there are much meatier experiences out there.
I had an absolute ball with this DLC and definitely think it's better than Dead Space 3 proper. If you're a fan of the series, or want some answers to the unresolved questions from the ending of Dead Space 3, then "Awakened" is definitely for you. It's a welcome return to the horror and tension of Dead Space 1 and 2 that'll keep you on the edge of your seat for the duration. It'll give you nightmares, answer your lingering questions and leave you with one hell of an "OH MY GOD!" cliffhanger for the (hopefully green-lit) Dead Space 4. I for one couldn't be more excited and terrified at the prospect.