Is Dead Space dead, as has been rumoured? Funnily enough, that's the question professional survivor Isaac Clarke and his bellowing military chum John Carver pose to themselves as the Awakened expansion begins, deep in the molten, shattered carapace of Tau Volantis. As they stare out over the ruined planet, Clarke wonders aloud whether the pair have, in fact, been reanimated as Necromorphs, and are now cursed to explore the blasted innards of their own souls.
It's a fascinating prospect, and exactly the kind of playful meddling with formula downloadable add-ons are suited for - but one Carver cancels out with a ringing slap. Alas, while Awakened suggests that Dead Space is a franchise with a future, the future it proffers is once again depressingly redolent of the recent past. Not just Dead Space's past, in fact. Without giving too much away, the final cutscene pongs to the gills of Mass Effect 3.
Dead Space 3's ending has had cataclysmic consequences for the Unitologists, Visceral's thin-blooded, well-armed satire of Scientology. The survivors have fled to the debris field above the planet, where they've sought to bring about the much-longed for Convergence of all human life into a virulent, ravenous mass by trading their own limbs for stitched-on Necromorph appendages.
Yesterday, I called this a witty commentary on the often-crude way developers and publishers string IPs out, swapping in components (most infamously, multiplayer) from a common gene pool of so-called "triple-A" materials. It's still quite a sharp conceit, in hindsight, but as a whole Awakened is too scanty and familiar, too obviously a product of commercial efficiency for the concept to really flourish. Self-awareness is nice, Visceral, but self-awareness alone won't redeem you.
The level of asset recycling is vaguely shocking, given the claim that the pack was created "several months" ago, well before the release of Dead Space 3. Awakened's first half-hour take place planetside, where you'll encounter much the same frostbitten interiors, cycling doors and snowed-under heaps of packing crate you encountered in the main game, with only a new skybox and desultory sprinkling of magma boulders to vary the feel. In the course of locating a shuttlecraft, you'll polish off the last few Necromorphs (Twitchers, Pack and Stalkers, mostly) and uncover a couple of additional circuit boards for your weapons.
The following hour and a half are set aboard the CMS Terra Nova, another returning location which has been partly converted into a floating Unitologist chapel. What does this mean in practice? It means exactly the same layouts covered in candles and implausibly intricate graffiti, with some routes blocked off by piles of crates and strung-up Necro cadavers. There are, at least, new kinds of enemy to fight here, though they're terribly uninteresting - men with sacks on their heads and clumps of rusty metal where their hands should be.
Clarke and Carver are still partial to the odd bout of red-tinged psychosis, but save for a teleporting spectral enemy that conjures the fading echo of Pyramid Head, it's business as usual here too - you gun your way through the hallucinations (all of whom helpfully dispense real-world ammo and health) and blast any conspicuously lit objects till the madness ends. Visceral claims the pack will "resonate" with horror fans, and in fairness that's clearly the intention, but the methods are so paltry and pedestrian it's impossible to take fright.
How many more filthy, blood-spattered mess halls, garages and control rooms must we trudge through, in search of loot drops and audio diaries? How many more vents and sinkholes must we wearily inventory on entering an area, in readiness for the moment when the soundtrack jack-knifes and the undead pop into view? Awakened doesn't have answers for these questions, and they're questions that badly need answering if the franchise is to see out another instalment. As Isaac proposes, a little soul-searching is in order.
Download the expansion here for 800 MP.
It'll put you to sleep
- More Dead Space 3
- Blatant, inelegant recycling
- Wastes some good ideas
- Disappointing new enemies
- A little short