The Last of Us: Left Behind is the first single-player campaign DLC for the PlayStation 3-exclusive The Last of Us. Left Behind details the time between Autumn and Winter in the main story while revealing information about Ellie’s past and her friendship with a young girl named Riley.
The DLC is in a tough position because it follows up a game that was brilliant with an affecting, self-contained story. How does Naughty Dog create more content for a game that did not necessitate any further story? The answer is simple; it shares a small piece omitted from the main story for dramatic storytelling purposes while telling a beautiful, moving and illuminating moment from Ellie’s past. Left Behind manages to evoke the same feelings and white-knuckle moments that the main game did, except on a smaller scale (Fair warning: spoilers for the main story of The Last of Us will be discussed past this point).
Between Autumn and Winter in The Last of Us, there is a chunk missing following Joel’s life-threatening injury. Left Behind details the missing time and what Ellie went through to patch up Joel’s severe wound. While Ellie scours through a derelict mall to find supplies to suture the gaping wound Joel sustained in the present, the story intercuts with a memory from Ellie’s past.
Three weeks prior to meeting up with Joel, Ellie was living at a boarding school run by the military. In the middle of the night, her best friend, Riley, a young girl who has been missing for several weeks, shows up and asks her to sneak out of the boarding school. Despite Ellie’s protests, the two sneak out knowing the danger and punishment for getting caught. After the girls carefully move past military surveillance, they end up at a mall the two used to visit regularly. During their exploration of the mall, they reminisce about the past, explore what happened to Riley since she left and examine their friendship. The exploration of the mall in the past provides a perfect contrast to the struggle and danger Ellie experiences when trying to help Joel in the present. The question is not will she save Joel, but what went on with Ellie and Riley before she met Joel.
Left Behind moves between the past and present at key moments to show added depth to a world already perfectly articulated by the main story. But what Left Behind manages to do that the main game left nebulous is give more information and complexity to Ellie. The Last of Us was full of memorable and affecting moments that aroused something primal in the player. It was impossible not to feel something when playing through Joel and Ellie’s harrowing countrywide journey. The same is true for Left Behind. It is hard to discuss specifics without spoiling major plot points for the DLC, but unlike the main game, there is more levity and humor. It is short, but it will leave you with an overwhelming sense of hope because if something this beautiful can still happen as the world slowly crumbles, anything is possible…including a cure.
There are many things that plague DLC. Sometimes it is a worthwhile story and sometimes it is gameplay. Occasionally the issue is the gameplay feels too foreign after a long time away from the game (Burial at Sea) and other times the issue is the gameplay is a hindrance to telling a good side story (Enter the Dominatrix). Neither is to say the gameplay changed or became worse than the main game, but the original punch the gameplay offered seems missing. That is not the case with Left Behind.
While gameplay may take a bit of time to get re-familiar with after being away, after acclimating to the controls and how to approach combat, Left Behind provides combat scenarios every bit as satisfying as the main game. Between the two time periods, the combat is fairly light, mainly taking place in the present as Ellie scavenges for medical supplies. There are many intense and difficult scenarios where Ellie has to sneak past or fight off the infected on her search for supplies. Eventually, she runs into survivors looking for her and Joel fully ready to kill them both. She has to fight survivors as well as the infected and the combat is often stacked against her. At times, Ellie can pit the infected against the survivors, making it a matter of which is the lesser of two evils – marginally predictable brainless killing machines or thinking, reacting killing machines. There are many instances in Left Behind that rival the most exciting moments in The Last of Us where the A.I. can be manipulated in fascinating ways.
Graphics and Sound
The game is as gorgeous as ever, even in light of the visual virtuosity of next-gen consoles. It looks every bit as beautiful as the main game does. Even though the game takes place in two self-contained areas that happened to be malls, there is a good sense of uniqueness about each one.
There is a sense of character to both the present and past mall. The present day mall is an oppressive and daunting beast ravaged by disuse and decay that ominously portends danger at every corner. The past mall is full of hope, nostalgia and some sense of normalcy. The two are perfect backdrops for the emotional journey Ellie experiences in each. They give a sense of what the world should be and what the world actually is. However, even the harsh reality of the world intrudes upon the most idyllic moments of Ellie and Riley’s exploration of the mall.
The score is another area where Left Behind mirrors the high quality of the main game. This time Gustavo Santaolalla gets some help from Andrew Buresh, Jd Mayer and Anthony Caruso. Much like Santaolalla’s score for the main game, the music expertly captures the highs and lows of the story while providing tense accompaniment to the action.
There are also the amazing performances from the two main leads, Ellie and Riley. Ashley Johnson reprises her role as Ellie and gives another captivating performance. Joining her is Yaani King as Riley. King shares the spotlight, providing an excellent compliment to Johnson. She gives a magnificent performance that brings Riley to life.
The Last of Us: Left Behind is a damn fine piece of DLC. If The Last of Us acted in many ways as a Bildungsroman for Ellie, Left Behind fills in a crucial part of her coming of age story. It is a story full of many memorable and affecting moments.
Left Behind admirably side-steps the gameplay pitfall by providing opportunities that are as satisfying and exciting as the main game. In nearly all respects, Left Behind acts as a natural extension to the main game. It is a gorgeous looking game with a superb soundtrack. The Last of Us: Left Behind is a must buy for anyone who owns The Last of Us and is another reason to pick up the game that Gaming Illustrated named Game of the Year for 2013.