Awakened takes place directly after the events of Dead Space 3, after Isaac Clarke and John Carver activate the alien machine on Tau Volantis, dragging a giant Necromorph moon out of the sky and sending it crashing into the icy planet. Isaac and Carver, as it happens, were dragged right along with it, but somehow managed to survive.
With the Necromorph threat supposedly extinguished, the pair sets off in search of a ship capable of making the return trip to Earth. As you may have guessed, it turns out that the Necromorph threat isn't quite as extinguished as Isaac had hoped, and he soon finds himself dealing with yet another alien signal invading his brain. Said signal serves both as a means to reintroduce hallucinatory horror and to expand on the details surrounding the Necromorph mythos. I won't spoil it here, but suffice it to say that Earth may still be in trouble, and Isaac and Carver are the only ones who can help.
Awakened tries to ratchet up the horror by introducing a couple of new elements to Dead Space 3. First and foremost is a new spate of hallucinations for poor Isaac. Hordes of Necromorphs will appear out of thin air in a flash, rushing Isaac from all directions. Second is a new sect of Unitologists that takes its misguided Necromorph worship one step further, asking its members to sacrifice their limbs and replace them with nasty metal blades. The end result is essentially a disfigured human that behaves like a Necromorph, running straight for Isaac and slashing like mad.
Taken at face value, both the hallucinations and the madness exhibited by the Unitologists are certainly unnerving, but the kind of psychological horror Awakened strives for is at odds with Dead Space 3
's fundamental mechanics. For one thing, the cultists may act like Necromorphs, but they still suffer from ordinary, squishy human weaknesses. A quick shot just about anywhere will usually take them out. Furthermore, it turns out that imaginary Necromorphs are just as vulnerable to a rocket launcher as real Necromorphs, so any sense of panic usually subsides pretty quickly (especially if you have a safety guard attachment).
The balance of Awakened hinges on its storytelling and, while it puts a nice, explicit period over the question mark that hung over Dead Space 3
's ending, there isn't much to tell. On normal difficulty, you can complete Awakened in about an hour – less if you're not an obsessive crate stomper like me. I don't know, maybe the weapons I brought over from the campaign are just incredible
, but I don't imagine many players will get much more mileage out of it (though a co-op run could at least double it).
Whether or not that hour is of value to you depends on how invested you are in the Dead Space narrative. There are a few impressive sights to see, particularly the eerily beautiful vista of the fallen, dead Necromorph moon on the horizon, and a battle inside a blizzard made up of equal parts cinder and snow.
As a Dead Space fan, I'm glad to know the full story behind the Necromorph moon and its implications for the series, and the bizarre Unitology cult is an interesting new entity. Those hoping for a hefty chunk of significantly different gameplay may find the $10 price tag a bit too steep.
This review is based on a retail download purchased by the reviewer. "Awakened" is available on Xbox Live, PlayStation Network and PC for $10.
Note: Joystiq does not provide star ratings for downloadable content reviews with the understanding that the quality of the core game's experience is unchanged from the retail release to DLC add-ons; seeDead Space 3 review.