Eight months, plenty of excellent reviews, countless of game of the year and generation awards later it’s time to delve back into the bleak yet engrossing world of The Last of Us. It’s probably the only story based DLC Naughty Dog’s masterpiece will get, so I guess we better make the most of it eh? Set before the events of The Last of Us, with Ellie and her friend Riley taking centre stage, Left Behind aims to tell a story and provide a gameplay experience just as good as the main game. Does it succeed, or is it well and truly left behind?
Game: The Last of Us: Left Behind
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
You’re all itching to know, so I’ll get it out of the way now. Left Behind will take you around two hours to complete on the normal difficulty setting. For £11.99/$14.99 that might sound a little steep to some, but its quality is right up there with the best sections from The Last of Us. After all is said and done, when the credits roll, the price or length will be the last thing on your mind. Trust me.
Much like the story of Joel and Ellie in The Last of Us, the events of Left Behind will stay with you for a good while after you complete it. It’s amazing that Naughty Dog has managed to carry over the nigh on perfect pacing and engrossing nature of the story into a two hour piece of DLC, an incredible achievement when you think about it. The set-up is not exactly as pre-release information would have you believe, but the crux of the story falls around the relationship between Ellie and Riley. Unless you’re immersed in The Last of Us universe, you probably won’t be too familiar with Riley, but that’s okay as Left Behind is set before the events of the main game. There is a clear focus on the relationship between two friends, with its emotion and believability matching the bond between Ellie and Joel. I’m not going to lie; I welled up at least once. I couldn’t help it, the connection between Ellie and Riley just feels so real. Whether they’re having a heart-to-heart conversation or engaging in some banter, that feeling always remains. It helps that the voice acting from Ashley Johnson (Ellie) and Yanni King (Riley) is incredible, portraying each character’s feelings and emotions superbly. Looking solely at Ellie, you get to see a different side to her. She’s a bit more playful and child-like in Left Behind, less serious and intense than the main game. That’s good though, as you get to know her a bit more and understand her transition.
The story also goes to a place you might not expect, I certainly didn’t. However, while it might be seen as controversial by some, it’s utterly refreshing and works incredibly well. You never feel Naughty Dog has taken the story in that direction just for the headlines, never. It actually serves the characters and story, it’s handled so well. Plus, once again, it shows naysayers that gaming can deal with “taboo” subjects just as well as other entertainment mediums.
Speaking of entertainment, the gameplay remains as gloriously brilliant as I remembered it, in some respects better. I’m not sure if it’s because you’re playing as Ellie or if Naughty Dog has intentionally tweaked things, but the moment-to-moment gameplay is now incredibly tense, more so than it originally was. Early on in Left Behind there is a section where you’re investigating an eerie little shop in the mall, and I swear I almost turned the console off as the tension was too much to bear! There was no music to build up the tension either, purely organic. Just Ellie’s footsteps, some background noise and hauntingly stunning visuals were good enough to put the shivers in me. The best movie makers are able to do this, and I class Naughty Dog in the same bracket when it comes to gaming. Hell, take gaming out of the equation and they’re still damn good at it.
The tension carries to stand-offs with the infected and humans too. Even though the listening mechanic is there to highlight nearby foes, you’re still on left on edge as you navigate the environment. Just like the main game, stealth is still paramount when it comes to taking on infected or humans. There is one section where you kind of have to go all guns blazing (it’s awesome, don’t worry), but outside that if you employ this tactic then you will most likely end up dying. Items that you can use to craft medkits and weapons are still quite rare. The same sentiment applies to guns and ammo too. If you can, sneaking up on an infected or human and then taking them out (quite brutally, as always) with your knife is still the best way to do things. The enemy AI is still impressive though, so you’ll need to be clever in the way you approach stealth kills.
That leads me to the one truly new element Naughty Dog has introduced to the combat; putting infected and humans in the same environment. It might not sound like much, but it essentially allows you to wait in the shadows, chuck a brick near a human, let them fight it out and wait to clean up the scraps. It adds a new dynamic to the combat, making you think that little extra bit in terms of how you tackle a certain situation.
After completing The Last of Us, in my mind, I was pretty much done with the universe. I didn’t really want a sequel, prequel or DLC for that matter, the emotional and engrossing tale of Ellie and Joel was enough for me. It surprised me then that upon finishing Left Behind; I was left wanting more from The Last of Us universe. That’s the biggest compliment I can give it.
Don’t let the length put you off, Left Behind is an amazing addition to an already stunning game. The story is refreshing, showing you a different side to an established character, and the gameplay is as tense as it gets. Treat yourself on Valentine’s Day; spend a couple of hours with Ellie. You won’t regret it.