I'm having a hard time remembering Dead Space 3. It's not that I've recently become afflicted with amnesia or anything like that. I just don't find the game all that memorable. If you read my review, you'll know that I had my share of gripes with the third title in what was previously known to me as one of the better sci-fi horror series I've played.
I can recount scenes to you that stuck with me from the original Dead Space and its sequel. I can slip off and recall memories filled with genuine fear and creepiness. The first time I floated through zero gravity, or the infamous eyeball scene. Revisiting Ishimura, or the baby Necromorph introduction. These are all memories that I've kept with me since playing the previous two Dead Space titles.
What Dead Space 3 was missing, among many other things, were those memorable moments. It was the lack of creepiness that really struck me as odd about Visceral Games' latest foray into their horror series. Where were the hallucinations? Where were the mind twists and the horrifying cultist attitude?
They were saved for Awakened, apparently.
Awakened actually starts off sort of weak. The new content picks up where the game left off, somehow sparing the lives of Isaac and Carver, who are left stranded on Tau Volantis. Their initial mission is to find a way off the planet, to get back home safely. OK, so far so boring. But the duo soon meet what appears to be a sect of the Church of Unitology crazier than any worshipper you've ever encountered before. They're self-mutilating and whispering their fears to no one in particular, over and over again. This is more like it.
It doesn't take long for it all to start getting to Isaac and Carver. They suffer from frequent, and what look like painful hallucinations. Granted, most of these hallucinations are the same image burned into your screen at random intervals. Other times it involves battles against the new mutilated enemies (which you can watch in action in the video posted at the end of this article). Are you being attacked? Did you get separated from your partner? Who knows. You just shoot and pray, and hope there's a bottle of Advil somewhere to quiet the inevitable in-game headaches.
The hallucinations begin to take their toll on the two, and it becomes a divisive point between them, which then begets some interesting tension in the storyline. Yes! Finally, I say aloud to my co-op buddy. This is what I've wanted. A reason to feel more invested in the people I'm adventuring with/as. Dead Space 3 felt like it was filled with characters I couldn't care less about. I was listening in on the drama of some bizarre romantic triangle instead of getting deep inside the psychological damage these horrors were inflicting on Isaac, and potentially other people. But Awakened ignores all the cheesy film fodder in favour of real drama, and Isaac and Carver's relationship unfolding throughout that is a good execution of it.
Isaac's unhealthy drive to purge the universe of Necromorphs becomes abundantly clear, all the more so when juxtaposed with Carver's no bullshit demeanour. Carver works almost to balance Isaac, giving him a good slap across the head when he needs it, sometimes literally and sometimes figuratively.
I've said here on Kotaku that Dead Space 3 is more fun to play with a friend. That holds true for Awakened. The creepy interlude is followed by some really interesting cooperative elements that were surprisingly fun to play. Visceral toys with some good ideas in the latter half of this new content. It's not just about watching your partner's back in battle. You'll work together to complete tasks. You'll interact in an entirely unfamiliar way than you have ever before in this game.
The new downloadable content may not be perfect. The pacing is a little odd and the framing of the villain side of the story feels hackneyed even though there's certainly potential for it to be unique. The main villain seems like he could be a fascinating character, but he's drowned out with focus leaning favourably to other angles, like on Isaac and Carver and their escape. It may also be somewhat "too little, too late" when thinking about Dead Space 3 as a whole. But it's a welcome addition to a horror experience that was seriously lacking in horror. And the fun cooperative elements? Well that's just the perfect excuse I need to get a friend online to play a game with me.