It's very hard to believe a studio when it claims work never begun on a piece of downloadable content until after the main game was finished, especially when that DLC is a direct continuation of the story and was essentially teased at the end of the main campaign. Even if nobody started building code for it, it's clear the developer already planned it and was making notes well ahead of time.
Dead Space 3: Awakened picks up right where Dead Space 3 left off, and reveals major plot points one would have expected at the end of the actual campaign. Its main story is so integral to the Dead Space story, in fact, that to play it would almost be seen as essential.
Almost, but not necessary, it turns out. Because, for all the promise Awakened has, its relevant events could be explained in a single sentence.
The Necromorph Moons aren't dead and they're ready to attack the universe. That's the big story point in Dead Space 3: Awakened. This is not a spoiler, either -- it's revealed early in the expansion chapter, and should be considered obvious since the Necromorphs are still around. More importantly, this vital plot point is not really built upon -- very little else of note happens during Awakened's two-hour run, only potential stories that never truly get told.
To its credit, the new chapter attempts to bring back a sense of horrific, Event Horizon-style atmosphere. The surviving Unitologists on Tau Volantis are going insane and have begun to kill or mutilate themselves, evoking memories of the crazed Ishimura crew members. An offshoot of cultists who have taken to modifying their own bodies so they closer resemble Necromorphs make for some deeply disturbing foes, while Isaac's own mind is subject once more to hallucinations and haunting voices. It's all effective stuff while it lasts.
Isaac's co-op buddy, Carver, is also notable for having suddenly found a personality. Approaching a level of likability, Carver's banter and general attitude have improved to the point where he stands out as a legitimate character now, rather than a weak excuse to bow to industry gameplay trends. The dialog between he and Isaac feels a lot more natural as a result, especially once they start disagreeing with each other on the best way to deal with the Necro Moons.
As well as the new cultists, we get a variant of the Stalker Necromorph, and the Pack return from Dead Space 2 to give Isaac yet more dead children to slaughter. As one of the creepiest enemy types across the entire series, the Pack's reappearance is welcome, even if it is generally brief.
General briefness is by far Awakened's biggest problem. It's not just that it's a short adventure -- nobody expects a DLC add-on to last another ten hours -- it's that not a single idea presented in the game is fully formed, existing instead as merely a surface level showcase of what a good idea might possibly look like. The self-maiming Unitologist splinter group is a great concept, but never gets much screen time, while its mysterious leader is barely present in the plot. One seemingly invincible zealot that stalks the player à la Pyramid Head has a lot of potential, but again barely does anything of note and is dispatched in a most underwhelming fashion. The Ishimura-style atmosphere is terrific yet, again, merely dabbled in.
All this leads to an abrupt cliffhanger ending that's even more of a sequel tease than Dead Space 3's was, an issue made all the more galling for the fact the story only starts getting really interesting in literally the last few seconds of the campaign. Until then, nothing worth mentioning happens. Clarke and Carver wake up, not dead, tread water for an hour or two, then encounter some narrative -- then it's game over.
Speaking as a fan of Dead Space, I feel I could skip Awakened and miss absolutely nothing of value. While some of the new ideas are nice, the sense of disappointment that none of them are capitalized upon offsets any good they do, while the story is nothing you couldn't explain in a single Tweet. While the gameplay is as solid as anything found in Dead Space 3, it could also be acquired simply by replaying chapters of Dead Space 3.
Dead Space 3: Awakened is a whole lot of not much at all.