*This review contains mild spoilers for The Last of Us*
The Lost and the Damned, The Ballad of Gay Tony, Undead Nightmare, The Lair of the Shadow Broker….
In my humble opinion, these add-ons are among the very finest pieces of DLC released this past generation. Each one is a shining example of what downloadable content can and should be: robust, substantive and full of value. All of these episodes made legitimately fun additions to their respective games by bringing something new to the table and expanding – not just extending – the experience of the main title.
It’s time to add another piece of content to this list. To the surprise of no one, Naughty Dog have crafted a brief but brilliant companion piece to their magnum opus, The Last of Us. Naturally it helps to be building new content off of one of the very best games of the generation, but as we’ve seen plenty of times before, an awesome game does not always spawn awesome DLC. The new content has to work hard to justify its existence – not to mention the price tag – and make a case for itself as a separate entity.
Naughty Dog has clearly realized this. Left Behind is brilliantly of a whole, while expanding upon the main story of The Last of Us. Players take control of Ellie for the entire episode. The pacing of the content is particularly laudatory. The game jumps back and forth in time, telling the story of Ellie’s efforts to aid Joel after he’s badly injured during the later stages of the main game. This would have been cool enough, simply filling in a gap in the main story with some awesome extra action sequences and scavenging. What’s great is that Naughty Dog went one step further, and turned the content into a prequel as well as an expansion. The story also follows Ellie as she adventures with her friend Riley. These portions take place before the events of The Last of Us and their inclusion brings the Left Behind experience up a level. It fleshes out Ellie’s background and gives further context to her character and situation. Ellie was already an incredible character, one of the best in gaming, and Left Behind manages to flesh her out with even more depth and complexity. The plot and character revelations of this content will actually enhance the experience of playing through The Last of Us again. How cool is that? I didn’t think it was possible to love Ellie any more than I already did, but Left Behind made it happen.
The two timelines play off of each other brilliantly, and they allow Naughty Dog to “have it both ways” so to speak, and feature different styles of play within just a short piece of content. The Riley sequences are the character building ones. They’re slower paced and – for the most part – feature less action and combat than the segments that occur along with the main game. Gameplay-wise these bits focus on exploration and puzzle solving, which is great, since the post-apocalyptic world of The Last of Us is still a wildly compelling place to navigate, and the puzzles here are as inventive as ever. The most rewarding parts of these sections are indeed story and character-based though. Exploring Ellie’s relationship with Riley and the Fireflies, and learning more about her circumstances and background – particularly how she to came to be infected – is powerful stuff. It’s propped up of course by the same impeccable writing, voice acting, and animation Naughty Dog leads the industry with. There are more genuinely moving moments in this DLC than most full games could ever hope to feature.
The portions that take place concurrently with the main game are more traditional, but no less fun. While not as revelatory from a character and plot standpoint, it was still very cool to see more of what Ellie went through to save Joel. The sequences take the player through a shopping mall in search of medical supplies and you’ll need to make your way past infected and humans in order to save Joel’s life. These are the familiar enemy encounters from the main game, and they’re just as fun. You still have various tools at your disposal to handle each situation in a myriad of ways. I loved these bits, and the climactic final encounter is one of the most challenging and engaging fights in either game. It was so good I went back and played it over and over again, just to see all the different strategies I could employ.
It should be obvious by now that I absolutely loved Left Behind. It pretty much does everything I want DLC to do and then some. The game gives you more of a great thing, but that’s more or less to be expected. What I wasn’t ready for was the excellent context given to Ellie’s character. That’s simply going above and beyond. The only thing keeping me from a wholehearted recommendation is the length. I played very slowly and I finished in almost exactly three hours. Those less inclined to goof around with Riley and explore every nook and cranny could do it in way less. At $15, it’s not the greatest of values. There are notes and artifacts to find and other difficulties to play on in the pursuit of trophies, but these didn’t draw me back in for another full playthrough – though as I stated before, I did have lots of fun replaying certain encounters. All I can say is that I personally think Left Behind is worth the price of admission, but it’s kind of a close call, and I’m sure not all will agree with me. What’s here is absolutely amazing, you can rest assured of that. Just be aware of the runtime and the asking price. Only you can decide if it’s worth it, but I can say that those that do take the plunge will have a blast with the game while it lasts.