"Endure and Survive"
The Last of Us is easily one of the best games of 2013. With countless awards and an upgraded PS4 port set to release soon, there's no denying its success. Naughty Dog delivered with this game which is now being associated with other great interactive art such as Shadow of the Colossus and Half Life 2. It makes sense given Naughty Dog’s streak of high quality games throughout its existence, dating all the way back to Crash Bandicoot, Jak & Daxter. Naughty Dog has always been Sony’s flag ship when it comes to games. Nearly all of their games are instant classics. Left Behind is Naughty Dog’s first piece of story driven DLC and it certainly deserves its spot amongst Naughty Dog's other great work.
Warning: Spoilers for the main game follow. You have been warned.
Left Behind features the story of how Ellie kept Joel alive after being he was impaled on a piece of fallen building and periodicaly flashes back to weeks before her and Joel meet for the first time. This spoils a surprise that is experienced in the main game. In the original game, after Joel is hurt, you expect him to be dead after you see Ellie hunting for herself and you begin to play as her. So playing this after completing the original game is the most rewarding.
Now minor spoilers await. You have been warned again but not as much as before.
You start the DLC just as Joel is impaled on a spike and Ellie helps him on their horse. They barely make it out of there and they find their way to an abandoned mall. She tends to Joel’s wounds as best she can and comes to the realization that she needs to look for materials to sew him up to save his life. Ellie secures Joel in a shop in the mall and sets off to find what she needs. You move forward and go through a lot just to get simple medical supplies. These segments are offset by occasional flashbacks to Riley, an old friend of Ellie's, showing up to Ellie’s apartment in her military school dorm and them sneaking off to explore an other abandoned mall during the night.
There is story behind why Riley is visiting Ellie; there is tension in their meeting and while they are both happy to see each other, Ellie is a little more apprehensive. As the game moves forward you discover that Ellie believed that Riley was dead for a long time. Riley ended up joining the Fireflies -- one of the reasons she has to sneak into Ellie’s military school. You sneak your way out to the rooftops while talking to Riley and make your way to the nearby mall because Riley wants to show Ellie something there.
Exploring the two different mall environments in different periods in time is very cool and draws a nice distinction between the two. Flashing back to Ellie and Riley exploring, having fun in a more colorful mall and then flashing forward to Ellie, alone, making her way through a snowy and desolate mall. The best parts of this DLC come from the dialogue and interaction with Riley and Ellie in the mall. I highly recommend taking your time to do and see all you can in these segments. Things like asking a Magic Eight Ball skull when you’ll get boobs, to smashing car windows with bricks, to taking selfies in a photo booth, there is a lot to love in this DLC.
The presentation is right on par with the original The Last of Us game. This is just a short two hour chapter. It tells a story and fills in the gaps of how Ellie kept Joel alive. It also shines some light on Ellie’s character and gives her a little more back-story. Much like the original game focuses on Joel’s acceptance and struggle in this new world, Left Behind gives Ellie her own time to shine with her struggle to find something she can hold on to. If you don’t care about the story how Ellie kept Joel alive, then you should at least find something to care about as Ellie having fun in an empty mall with your best friend. Surely everyone can relate to that.
Gameplay is everything you liked or didn't from the original game. You don’t get as much as Joel, in terms of combat, but you do get your trusty switchblade for close quarters, as well as a bow, pistols and makeshift items. You get more later in the DLC but I’m trying to be light on the spoilers. One of my only gripes about the DLC is you can tell immediately from the surroundings once you head into the mall for the first time that there will be a firefight near the place where Joel is. Just little things like that that can ruin the atmosphere a little. You could also try and look at it as if Naughty Dog is giving you a little warning so you can prepare yourself for it.
There are only a few infected encounters when you play as Ellie alone. There are aren't as many when you explore the other mall with Riley. This gives you proper time to explore and have fun with Riley and not have to worry about combat. There is not much expansion in terms of gameplay from the original game but there are a few choice encounters that are fun to play around with seeing how you can do things differently. Lure some infected over to help take out a group of scavengers; then watch the mayhem begin. There is one great moment where you play a classic fighting type game without even actually playing it. You’ll understand once you've played it.
There's not too much replayability in Left Behind. You can get about two good playthroughs out of it. The first you should just play how you want in the DLC. The second, you should spend finding any collectibles you may have missed and try to have all optional conversations with Riley. Those are just delightful.
Left Behind took about two hours to complete but is a consistently pleasant two hours. While I personally think that the $15 dollar price point is a bit much, it was still a great piece of DLC and complements the original story of The Last of Us. Had it been $10 or I had bought the season pass and played multi-player more, it would be just right. Left Behind is great a companion piece to both the original game as well as the comic series that was published around the same time The Last of Us came out. It tells the story of how Ellie became infected and kept Joel alive while also being interesting and provocative with its own self contained story. We can only look forward to the next great thing Naughty Dog will give us. I know I am.
This review of The Last of Us: Left Behind was provided by funds from my own wallet. This very wallet suffers often from impulse buys and the authors crippling addiction to video games. Luckily for you, the reader, there is no wallet protection program. If there was, then this review simply would not be.