|System: PC, PS3*, Xbox 360|
|Dev: Visceral Games|
|Pub: Electronic Arts|
|Release: March 12, 2013|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language|
by Josh Wirtanen
It’s no secret that I was a bit disappointed by Dead Space 3. For a full explanation of why that was, check out my review, but here’s the CliffsNotes version: The first two Dead Space games were legitimate horror games, but Dead Space 3 was an adrenaline-fueled action game that eschewed the helplessness its predecessors made the player feel in favor of all-out badassery. It also missed some incredible opportunities by failing to exploit its new ice planet setting for the sorts of terror that only this sort of environment can provide.
But recently, Steve Papoutsis, Vice President and General Manager of Visceral Games, made this claim about the newest DLC: “Dead Space 3 Awakened is some of the most creative and unsettling content the team has ever created—it’s really going to test gamers’ psyche.” Could this be the return to the series’ horror roots that I was so looking forward to? I gleefully rubbed my hands together before cracking the thing open to find out.
Awakened begins just after the events of Dead Space 3. Spoiler alert: We thought Isaac may have bitten the bullet for a second there, only to have been reassured he was alive and well by a post-credits transmission. So now, he and his new BFF, John Carver, are stuck on Tau Volantis amidst the chaos that comes as a side effect of destroying an entire freaking moon.
Oh, and those Necromorphs that we thought had been eradicated once and for all? Those guys are still around. Which means there are still Markers out there that need to be destroyed, and there is an Earth filled with people that needs to be warned. Clarke and Carver are the men for this particular job, but only if they can abstain from murdering each other in the process.
Now, I’m happy to say that some of the complaints I made in my Dead Space 3 review have been directly answered here. For example, I pointed out that in Dead Space 2, the Stalkers-hiding-behind-crates scene was terrifying because your ammo was so limited and these things came at you so fast. Dead Space 3 had a scene that mimicked this almost exactly, but it wasn’t scary at all because, by this point, the player is armed to the teeth.
Very early on, Awakened includes yet another scene like this, only Visceral managed to bring the fear back by having it take place in a blizzard, where your visibility is severely limited. Even though the amount of ammo you have is absurd, the unforgiving weather strips away that feeling of power and makes you feel helpless once again, yet in a clever new way that works alongside the ammo-heavy stylings of Dead Space 3. And they managed to simultaneously make the flash-frozen planet of Tau Volantis seem more hostile, as it should have been from the very beginning. All of this makes me very happy.
Now, with the exception of the co-op-only side missions, Dead Space 3 downplayed the insanity elements that really set the mood of the first two games. In Awakened, those are back with a vengeance. Isaac is once again struggling to maintain a coherent stream of consciousness, and in the beginning of the DLC, he even asks Carver if they have both somehow become Necromorphs.
With Isaac losing his marbles, tension begins to build between him and Carver, and this makes for some excellent and unexpected character interactions. It also brings back the crazy hallucinatory moments, to the point where you begin to question what’s real and what’s not. Initially, what seems pretty cut and dry will have you second guessing yourself later on.
Visceral did a fantastic job with the atmosphere here, as this feels truly haunting and disturbing. And it’s not just the “Hey, let’s just spatter blood on this and call it a day” kind of disturbing; it’s more like, “The Unitoligists are back and they’re even more screwed up than before.” You’ll even encounter a Unitology prophet who wears a mask, has Necromorph limbs growing out of his back, and wields a gigantic knife. And you’ll battle him in that strange ethereal realm that sort of takes place inside Isaac’s head but strangely has real-world effects. (I assume this is the same realm where Dead Space 2’s battle with Nicole happened.) Yes, Dead Space has truly returned.