So. “The Last of Us” was a game that I had to play through multiple times to fully appreciate it (as can be seen in my original review for it and then later my best and worst of 2013 list), but now I view it very highly, and as such was eagerly anticipating this: the game’s first and indeed only piece of story DLC. Is it a worthy addition to the game? Or just a piece of short, throw-away fluff that doesn’t need to he here? Spoilers for the main game’s story follow.
“Left Behind” focuses entirely on Ellie during two very important times in her life. As advertised it shows what happened to her and her best friend Riley during the events leading up to them both becoming infected, and also, interestingly, includes a section starting from the moment Joel falls from the horse outside the university. She drags him into a shopping mall, locks him away for safety and then begins a hunt for medical supplies. About equal time is given to both scenarios and each one offers a very different tone, different gameplay and scenery, and both are entirely worthy of a place in the game’s overall story. Gameplay hasn’t changed much at all, but the content on display here is a must for anyone enjoyed the main game. I’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but if you don’t want to know anything about it all (and indeed I feel that’s the best way to play it) would be advised to play it before reading this review. Also, to get the most out of the DLC, read the tie-in comic “The Last of Us: American Dreams”- it’ll help with some of the things mentioned.
The prequel chapter is largely focused on exploration and dialogue- going more in-depth into Ellie and Riley’s relationship as they skip out of their responsibilities to basically mess around and have fun for a day. The lack of combat gives Naughty Dog opportunity to tell the story in a slightly different way- the optional conversations and the like are still present, but this scenario is a lot more playful and unique, with little touches being used to great effect. For example you play games like breaking car windows with a brick, there’s a small section dedicated to Ellie’s pun book, and a particularly stand-out section that for spoiler reasons I will simply describe as involving an arcade. Of course, if you’ve played the main game (or read the second paragraph of this review) you know how this is going to end, and indeed Ellie’s infection is shown, but despite knowing this is going to happen this section still manages to throw some great surprises your way, and when the dire part of the story it hits as hard as you’d expect. This is arguably the core part of the DLC, and it carries that burden admirably.
Moving on, the winter section of the DLC is a lot more combat-focused, with a generous helping of exploration as well. A lot of it reminded me of the section in which Joel is navigating the hotel basement in Pittsburgh- it’s creepy, intense, and there’s a clear drive to get the hell out of your current location. Story-wise this one doesn’t have a lot going on; there’s an interesting sub-plot featuring soldiers that’s told through notes and corpses which is good while it lasts, and Ellie’s dialogue to herself as she traverses the mall is well-written. Gameplay wise it’s the same as the winter section of the main game- Ellie isn’t as physically capable as Joel, but has all her moves as well as her weapons, and the gameplay is still as satisfying as it was originally. The one new addition to the gameplay is encounters featuring both human enemies and infected, with you acting primarily as an instigator of some good old-fashioned monster in-fighting. It’s used a few times and doesn’t really seem like “one of many options” as much as it seems like the one key that fits in the metaphorical lock, but it is a cool touch.
The one thing that really stands out is how well Ellie is represented as a character. Taken as a whole, the DLC has a great mix of gameplay showing her to be a resourceful badass in the “Joel” mold perhaps to an even greater extent than the Winter chapter and a combined story that shows her to be rounded while going into a key emotional event that shaped her into the person she is in the person she is later on. It shows she could carry a whole game as the main protagonist no problem, and also provides context for a lot of her mannerisms and outlooks in the main game. Also, there’s one rather bold, brief story element during the prequel chapter that adds subtle volumes to the whole thing. I won’t spoil it here.
Overall, “Left Behind” is a wonderful addition to “The Last of Us”. The only problem I can find is that it is rather short for £12 in the UK, though if you bought the season pass it does soften the blow. I didn’t, but I do think the content on offer here is of great quality, which helps. The mix of gameplay between exploration and plot and combat is a good one, and story-wise the whole thing is a great character study that adds depth where it needs to, lets actions speak for words where necessary, explores a touching friendship and the last effects of it, and sheds new light to an established character. If this really is the one piece of story DLC for “The Last of Us”, it’s enough for me, and as DLC generally, it’s pretty damn good. So I recommend it, basically.
By James Lambert