Review: Dead Space 3: Awakened (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Dead Space 3: Awakened
Genre: Survival Horror
Developer: Visceral Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: 03/12/13

So, anyone who’s been following along for any period of time may remember this, but back when Dead Space 2: Severed came out, my observation at the time was thus: Dead Space 2 was a very good game, but Dead Space 2: Severed was not a very good piece of DLC for the game. Well, by all indications, I wasn’t the only one who thought so, and Visceral seems to have taken that to heart with Dead Space 3: Awakened. Whatever your opinion of the core game might be, toss that out the window for the purposes of this DLC content; Dead Space 3: Awakened is a far better experience than it has any right being, and in many respects, is arguably better than the game it’s attached to. With a return to the horror-themed focus of the prior games, a more clear cut resolution to the events of the main game, and some interesting and effective set pieces to boot, Dead Space 3: Awakened is easily worth its asking price, and makes a very strong argument that, had the whole game been styled in the same fashion as this DLC, the experience would’ve been better for it.

Note: as this is a review of expansion content, you will need to own a copy of Dead Space 3 to play it. Further, as you will need to own a copy of the main game to play this, this review will not discuss information relative to the core game, as this is handled in the original review. Changes made to the game mechanics will be discussed, however.

As Awakened begins, we find that the ambiguity of Dead Space 3 was for a reason, as Isaac and Carver find themselves stuck on Tau Volantis, or what’s left of it, with no way home. This relatively simple starting point marks the beginning of a surprisingly involved sequence of events, however, as the duo ends up having to head back to the CMS Terra Nova in hopes of finding a way to travel home to Earth. In the process, they run afoul of the remnants of Jacob Danek’s Unitology sect, the Circle, who have gone completely bonkers in the intervening time frame. Awakened does a really good job of making the experience heavily paranoia-inducing, between the cramped locales, the freaky Marker feedback, the demented and self-deforming Unitologists and the breakdown that occurs between Isaac and Carver as the mission progresses. There’s a sense of tension here that makes the mission more intense and horror-oriented than the core game, and the tone and design of the expansion’s plot elements should please fans of the prior games who were looking for something more in line with what those games did. Put simply, Awakened is freaky, and it’s not afraid to screw with you in ways that Dead Space 3 was unwilling to, making it a more enjoyable experience for the horror fans of the lot.

The game reuses some assets from the main game, as the locations you’ll visit are locations you can visit in the game proper, though a good amount of effort has been made to differentiate them from their appearance in the campaign. Unitologist scrawlings decorate the areas, along with dissected corpses, candles and all sorts of creepy religious iconography that really help to make the experience much creepier overall. There are also a couple new sections to visit that didn’t appear in the campaign, many of the monsters are reskinned, and there are some new visual effects when the Marker insanity takes hold that are interesting in implementation and design. Aurally the game is functionally identical, save a couple new voice performances throughout the DLC, which are all generally as good as anything else in the game, meaning it all fits in fine. Mechanically, the DLC is unchanged from the core game; while there are some more inventive puzzles in the DLC than in the main game, you’ll find that everything plays as you’d expect and nothing is terribly new or shocking here.

For those who are wondering what the DLC does add, well, it’s a two hour long mission broken into three acts; one on the planet of Tau Volantis, one in the conning tower of the Terra Nova (last seen in a side mission in Dead Space 3, and one in the reactor of Tau Volantis (which is generally new). The DLC picks up at the end of the main campaign, meaning you’ll find yourself with all of your gear and possessions intact from the game, as you’d expect, and anything you’ve unlocked, such as the Devil’s Horns, will be available to you as well. You’re not given any notable new gear to work with, save for some Mk II parts to build into your weapons, and playing through the DLC doesn’t unlock anything new. It supports solo and co-op play, assuming you have a friend online who picked up the DLC who you can rope into playing with you (or a stranger one supposes), and much like the campaign, it’s much better with a friend, though it’s not at all bad alone.

You can basically blow through the DLC inside of two hours, as it was with Dead Space 2: Severed, and multiple difficultly levels may bring you back again, though none of the specialty difficulty modes are available to you (which is fine, as you’re not likely going to find a Hardcore version of this DLC much of a challenge). The option to play in solo or co-op is also nice, as there are plot differences between the two, and there is a co-op specific Achievement to unlock as well as a few Achievements that can be unlocked either way. The DLC largely suffers from the same issues its core game suffers, IE an online pass for co-op play, obvious influences (Event Horizon this time around), and so on, though it only makes you do one ice climbing sequence that doesn’t make death likely, at least. Aside from that, the fact that you can’t chapter skip in the DLC (one Achievement is tied to a specific chapter, THE LAST ONE specifically, and it’s easily missed) and that it doesn’t really unlock anything fun to play with in the main game are mild disappointments that, while not make or break, are worth noting.

Whether or not you ultimately enjoyed Dead Space 3, Awakened is an easily justified addition to the game that’s well worth your ten dollars; for those who loved the game, it’s MORE OF THAT GAME YOU LOVED, and for those who didn’t, it’s ALL THE STUFF YOU WANTED THE GAME TO BE IN THE FIRST PLACE. Awakened wraps up the plot in a less ambiguous, more sequel-worthy fashion, and keeps the elements of Dead Space 3 that were universally fine while bringing the experience back to the mind-destroying horror in tight corridors experience that made the prior games so well liked. For ten dollars, you get two hours of surprisingly effective gameplay, alone or with a partner, and it’s fun enough that you’ll want to play through it twice. True, the DLC reuses some assets (though not as many as Severed did), it still suffers from the overall flaws of the core game, and it doesn’t give you any fun toys to take into the campaign for completing it. For ten dollars, however, Awakened is basically everything Dead Space 3 should have been, and it’s a very satisfying experience, both as the “proper” end to the game and on its own merits.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Dead Space 3: Awakened is one of the better pieces of DLC created, in general, in that it’s designed in a way that will appeal to anyone who owns Dead Space 3, whether their opinion of the game was high or low. It wraps up the plot of the game in a less ambiguous, more sequel friendly, more interesting fashion, keeps the elements of the game that were generally fine intact, and changes the focus of the game to what gained the series its fans in the first place without sacrificing anything. For the price, you get a two hour campaign that’s interesting, well executed, and generally tense, alone or with a friend, and it gives you plenty of reasons to want to try it both ways. Granted, it reuses assets from the main game, still suffers from the more universal flaws of its parent, and gives you nothing rewarding to bring to the main game for completing it, but honestly, it’s still worth experiencing regardless. Awakened is essentially everything fans complained wasn’t in the core game wrapped into a solid finale for said game, and whether you enjoyed Dead Space 3 or wanted more, you’ll find this is more than worth your time.



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