Naughty Dog takes you back to the end of the world.
The Last of Us ushered in turning point for games because of its uncanny blending of emotional story and perfect mechanics. It was one of the best games of the PlayStation 3 era- if not one of the best, period. If you played it you know what I’m talking about. Any excuse to jump back in to the violent and gorgeous world created by Naughty Dog is welcome. With the new single-player DLC, Left Behind, we do just that and squeeze out a few more hours in this post-apocalyptic United States. Players will find an experience that feels familiar yet unknown at the same time.
Left Behind is more than an afterthought of the campaign; it’s a prologue that sets you up for a different emotional experience than the main story. The original campaign played on the dynamic of unwillingly foster parenting when you’ve already failed at it once. You played most of the story in Joel’s shoes as he reluctantly found himself caring for Ellie like the daughter he’d tragically lost. It was a painful and gripping story that used parenting in a post-apocalyptic world as a metaphor for hell. In Left Behind we flesh out Ellie’s origins through the lens of her friendship with a girl named Riley, whom was touched upon in the main campaign’s dialogue but first seen in the Last of US: American Dreams comic from Dark Horse. We see just how her relationship with Riley shapes Ellie to the person we know when she meets Joel. Naughty Dog does a masterful job of underlining all the horror and brutality of Riley and Ellie’s journey with a story of what most normal teenage girls go through; friendships, building memories, and even identity crisis of love. By the time you complete Left Behind’s story you’ll have said “holy shit!” at least 10-15 times. Most of which is due to the outstanding performances from mo-cap actresses Ashly Johnson (Ellie) and Yanni King (Riley).
The mechanics of Left Behind have a different juxtaposition from the original campaign. Where Joel and Ellie’s journey could be completed by the irony of never having to kill the infected but obliterating every human enemy was necessary, Left Behind will force you to take on everyone in some way during its sparing combat sequences. We say sparing because Left Behind focuses most of its awe in exploration of the mall the girls traverse for most of their journey. For fans of the first campaign, investing a little patience and exploration will yield an experience with rewards that transcend the medium. Looking at newspapers and flyers in store windows will have social media implications that you can explore outside the game for an even richer story. As for the combat, this DLC introduces a unique element that was missing from the main campaign but feels more in place here. When you have to deal with humans and the infected, Ellie can use her skills and cunning to pit them against each other. Throwing the bottles and making noises are now weapons in your arsenal rather than distractions. Which makes sense in terms of putting us in Ellie’s shoes because she can’t stand and fight like Joel could. It truly brings a new enjoyable element to the game and ups the difficulty antie from the original, which I didn’t even think was possible.
At $14.99 the value of the DLC can be looked at in two ways. One, for the money you’re getting a very small chapter. In our fastest play through, we completed the game in about 90 minutes. Our longest play through lasted a little over three hours. So for those who value quantity over quality, this may not be for you. On the other hand, for $14.99 you’re continuing a masterful world you’ve already invested in, and you’ll find just as many layers of rich story as the main campaign of the Last of Us.
Overall, The Last of Us: Left Behind overwhelms the senses with its story and surprises (which we haven’t spoiled). It’s buddy comedy, survival horror, and modern teen drama story told at the end of the world. Fans of The Last of Us will not be disappointed and if they release this as a stand alone, it will definitely get people who never played the Last of Us to pick it up.
10 out of 10 A perfect companion to The Last of Us. One hell of a curtain call on this story… for now.