It’s been about eight months now since The Last Of Us (TLOU) graced the PS3 and blew just about everyone away, including myself. It picked up numerous awards last year as it rightly should have and further established the Naughty Dogs as, quite literally, one of the greatest game developers of all time. With Left Behind, Naughty Dogs makes their first foray into the single player DLC market. While only providing about three hours of additional playtime, it seamlessly weaves together two narratives that feature Ellie, the fourteen year old protagonist from the original game. One of these narratives takes places before she ever meets Joel and thus the events experienced in TLOU, but the other would have taken place very late in the the original game. Both fit into TLOU narrative as though they were made alongside the original game and simply trimmed out, not unlike a film goes through similar cuts as it nears release.
It’s perhaps obvious yet still worth mentioning that you should complete the original campaign before embarking on Left Behind, lest you spoil some of the original plot for yourself, and with a story as good as TLOU, it would be a mistake to do so. Oh, minor note, I liked that just before you launch Left Behind, your asked if you want to enable pop-up tutorial messages, in the event that, like me, you haven’t played TLOU in six or seven months. These tutorials are as subtle as before, and do little to nothing to takeaway from the captivating atmosphere that Naughty Dog was once again able to establish very quickly and effectively.
In one storyline, Ellie is greeted by her best friend, whom she hadn’t seen in almost two months, and actually thought was dead. This is of course Riley, who comes to visit Ellie at a military boarding school that they both had spent much of their youth growing up at. The two teens struggle for a while with their conflicted feelings about how one treated the other, but it isn’t long before Riley convinces Ellie to go on a risky adventure with her, breaking the school rules by leaving the compound and entering an old mall. This entire sequence, which made up at least half of my three hour, one minute (according to the Clear savegame) play-through is almost all story and exploration-based. That may make it sound boring, but it’s surprisingly engaging as you guide Ellie through a series of setpieces, some of which are purely optional, that are presented to do two primary things: 1) establish the friendship between her and Riley and the lost innocence of these two teens in this horrible, post apocalyptic world and 2) compound the despair that was so potent in TLOU. To this end, Naughty Dog did a great job.
Despite the casual pacing of this storyline, seeing these two kids trying to be themselves in such a terrible world was sobering, and witnessing their expressions and reactions to just simple things going wrong, like the photo booth not having any paper, or the horse carousel breaking down just as the two were about to have fun, was just kind of sad, an emotional chord I really feel when playing a videogame. I kept hoping the two friends might catch a break. Of course, knowing the eventual end from TLOU only exacerbates the head-shaking sorrow and despair.
While the Riley storyline is all about character and story development, the other story is more action based. Oddly, it also takes place in a mall, although a rural one in Colorado, as opposed to the one in Boston that the Riley story uses. Joel, as you hopefully already know, got impaled late in TLOU story and it’s all he can do to grunt and breath as he lay on the floor of a mall shop. Ellie must find some sutures and medicine to get him well enough to transport again, so she locks Joel in this shop and starts to explore. All of the familiar gameplay mechanics are presented; negotiating the environment by climbing and crouching, finding notes or a key or two, as well as items for crafting medkits, Molotov cocktails, and so forth. With her trusty flashlight and switchblade, as well as a semi-auto with a few rounds, Ellie traverses several dilapidated stores, including ones for cosmetics, dolls, a pharmacy, DVD/Game/Music, restaurants, you get the idea. Each place offers a lot of visual detail to look at that make exploring every corner worthwhile, just as was the case with TLOU.
Encounters with Clickers as well as the humans who have pursued you and Joel to this mall are held off for a while, but then these combat sequences come in spades towards the end. Indeed, it’s still frustrating to have a Clicker dash up to you with it’s annoying arm-swinging motions and insta-kill you, but the instant load times and constant checkpoints are very subtly and generously placed, so trying encounters again isn’t too painful. Besides, it encourages experimentation, although you’re not likely to have much success with stealth this time. However, there are at least a couple of occasions whereby the un-infected humans, cannibals really, who are searching for you can be made to fight the infected if you create a distraction. These moments are especially chaotic and fun. Side note, I actually ran backwards in Left Behind, I don’t know if I ever did that (or thought to try to…) in TLOU or not — but being able to run backwards while keeping your eye on a Clicker pursuing you can be a lifesaver. Still, while not as combat-capable as Joel, Ellie shares the ability to “hear” as Joel did, and her ability to sneak and perform knife takedowns, headshots, and use the bow are as potent as ever.
When the DLC came to an end, I was left thoroughly impressed and happy to have gotten to experience new story content from one of the best games of all last gen. Left Behind, unlike some DLC, is “completely worth it,” not only from the standpoint of the price, but more importantly for what it offers to those of us who enjoyed TLOU.