Dead Space 3 was never a game lacking for content. Between a 15- to 20-hour campaign built around a deep weapon-crafting system and numerous unlockable game modes, there was plenty to keep your attention in Isaac Clarke's most recent adventure. So what's the incentive to drop $10 on Awakened, Dead Space 3's first downloadable add-on? It all comes down to story. Dead Space 3 ended on a serious cliff-hanger, and Awakened appears ready to shed light on the events of its predecessor by picking up right where things left off. Or at least that's what you'd be inclined to think. In actuality, there's no resolution to be found here as this brief, unsatisfying addendum trades one cliff-hanger for another. Add in the fact that most of it feels like a rehashed collection of gameplay scenarios you've experienced several times before and this is one follow-up that feels entirely unnecessary.
Without going into too much detail about the climactic events that capped off Dead Space 3, Awakened sees Isaac Clarke and John Carver waking up a bit worse for the wear. The pair of survivors aren't sure whether they're alive or dead at the beginning of this new chapter. All they know is that they've been stranded on the frozen surface of Tau Volantis and need to come up with a plan for what to do next. But it isn't long before they think of one: find a shuttle to get from this planet to the derelict Terra Nova, and then repair that ravaged spacecraft in order to make it back to Earth.
It's a new goal, but a familiar journey. For the most part, these reluctant partners are doing the exact same things against the exact same enemies in the exact same locations. You blast away at necromorphs on Tau Volantis, climb some ice walls, blast away at necromorphs in zero-gravity sequences, scavenge weapon parts, and blast away at necromorphs on the Terra Nova. It's disappointing just how rehashed all of these situations and locations feel. A new collection of weapon attachments to discover or a few more crazy species of necromorphs would have freshened things up a bit, but those additions are sorely lacking.
Awakened does stand apart from the Dead Space 3 campaign in one regard: it places a much more pronounced focus on Isaac and John's descent into madness. The two men have gone from dipping their toes in the effects of insanity to swimming in the deep end. Throughout the story, they experience sudden, twisted visions, and the frayed nerves that result from these mental breakdowns proceed to drive a wedge between the two partners. That focus on dementia is a neat narrative effect at first, but these twisted visions are about as subtle as a tap-dancing rhinoceros and ultimately feel more jarring than creepy. In the end, the story just sputters about for the two hours it takes to complete this DLC before abruptly ending with another cliff-hanger.
Sadly, that's not the only missed opportunity in Awakened. When you make it aboard the Terra Nova, you discover the presence of a cult known as the Circle, a fringe group loosely connected to the Church of Unitology. When you stumble upon the cult's worship service, you're greeted by a terrifying sight: a collection of shirtless maniacs with sacks over their heads and makeshift blades where their hands have been sawed off. But when they inevitably attack, you just sort of shoot them and find yourself done with it. You don't learn much of anything about this cult, or its place in the story. It's just window dressing to add some spice to recycled environments.
The leader of this cult does stick around, however, haunting you at random intervals as well as serving as Awakened's only real boss fight toward the end of the story. Running into him adds some fresh terror to the adventure, largely because he's so creepy to gaze upon. After a while you finally face him in a climactic confrontation, but it's a clumsy boss fight that spams you with too many enemies to really appreciate the impact of the moment. That's especially unfortunate because the area where this boss fight takes place is both a visual treat and one of the few new environments in the DLC, but you're too busy fending off relentless waves of minions to really soak it up.
It's too bad that Awakened fails to capitalize on its place as a follow-up piece to the main story campaign. Rather than resolving what came before it, Awakened simply shrugs its shoulders for a couple hours before throwing another cliff-hanger ending your way. Sure, it still plays perfectly well, with plenty of intense dismemberment and a pleasingly varied selection of necromorph enemies to fend off. But that's all stuff you can get in Dead Space 3's already lengthy campaign. Viewed in that light, it's hard to see Awakened as anything besides redundant.