Platform: Playstation 3
Genre: Action-adventure/Survival Horror
Release Date: February 14th 2014
Retail Price: £11.99/€14.99/$15.99
The Last of Us: Left Behind is an astounding dlc. A new, creative approach to gameplay and emotional narrative make the dlc a necessity for all of those who enjoyed the original game, even though it may be a little on the short-side for some.
*There are no spoilers in this review.*
The Last of Us is one of the greatest games of the 2013, the generation, and according to the over 200 ‘Game of the Year’ awards, making it the most awarded game in history by critics, it is probably safe to say it’s one of the best games of all time. The game pushed the boundaries of not only the Playstation 3 hardware, but the value of narratives in video games in general, as Joel and Ellie’s dark, gritty adventure set in post-apocalyptic America moved players in ways that had never been presented in games before. The Last of Us: Left Behind is Naughty Dog’s first (and supposedly only) story mode dlc add-on for The Last of Us, supplies players a few more hours of hauntingly magnificent content.
Left Behind consists of two contrasting narratives that play simultaneously, the first set during the events of The Last of Us and the other set before Joel and Ellie meet. However, Ellie is the central to both segments. The former is set during the winter portion of The Last of Us, specifically after the events of The University but before the Lakeside, in which Joel and Ellie vigorously attempt to flee an attack by David’s men, where Joel unfortunately falls victim to a serious injury, leaving Ellie to fend off the rest of the men and escape . This segment of Left Behind clears the ambiguity of how it is Ellie came nurture Joel when it was evident that he was on the verge of death, as the the dlc focusses on Ellie desperately scavenging for some form of medication in an infected infested shopping mall.
However, it is the other segment of Left Behind where the dlc really shines.
Left Behind takes no time to introduce us to Riley, a close friend of Ellie’s at her military school, whom we learn has been missing for 45 days and has joined up with The Fireflies (an in-game underground cult). Ellie, distraught and angry, criticises Riley’s decision to leave without informing her, yet a sense of gladness and joy is most definitely prevalent within her posture in regard to the return of her friend. Riley attempts to make make amends with Ellie, inviting her to indulge in a setting that is already familiar to not only Ellie and Riley, but also the player themselves… a shopping centre.
There is a reason as to why Naughty Dog has intentionally set both segments of Left Behind in similar locations; on the one hand, we have the stealthy, isolated experience presented in the harsh winter segment, relying on whatever we can scavenge to survive, yet during the prequel segment featuring Riley we endeavor ourselves in our surroundings, observing the state of the post-apocalyptic freely without having to worry about enemies. This conception of narrative by Naughty Dog surprisingly works really well. The two segments of Left Behind are split into three, meaning that you play a portion of the winter segment and then when a significant point is reached you play a portion of the Riley segment. The two separate narratives may be set in unrelated areas and completely different time periods, but they cleverly coincide with each other and at times they intervene. This keeps the flow of the narrative at a moderate pace.
As expected, the absence of Joel results in less action sequences featuring weapons and one-on-one combat. However, this doesn’t mean that action is absent from the entire game itself, but that it is presented in different forms. During the very beginning of Left Behind we are immediately dropped into a desolate shopping mall – whilst scavenging for supplies in a pharmacy, we encounter our first enemy, a clicker, although since we have not acquired any ammo for Ellie’s weapon, a handgun, we are defenseless and must decide how to approach the situation tactically; loud and clear or quiet and stealthy. This means that you can either slide past the clicker in a silent, stealthy fashion, making sure not to get too close to it and also that your movement isn’t too loud, or you can desperately sprint to your destination, putting your life on the line and hoping you’ve spared enough time to make sure that the clicker can’t catch up with Ellie. Moments like this are what make Left Behind such a joy to play.
My first play-through of Left Behind was on the Survivor difficulty, meaning that there were very few supplies to my use, so enemy encounters required a degree of thought and precision. The other difficulties (Easy, Medium, and Hard) also require you to approach enemy encounters thoughtfully as each difficulty contains the exact same forms and amounts of enemies, but the amount of supplies/ammo and the level of damage dealt varies depending on the difficulty you selected. My recommended difficulty during your first play-through would be the Hard difficulty, as the gameplay is not overly difficult and the element of survival is prevalent with the limited amount of resources.
You won’t be crafting many nail bombs or health kits this time round, but you’ll still have to fend off both the terrifying infected and equally scary humans. Runners, Clickers and David’s men all make a return, but the enemy that I enjoyed the return of most were the Stalkers, who made a few minor appearances in The Last of Us. You’ll need to use your wits in Left Behind, stunning enemies with the bricks or bottles that you scavenge, conserving your ammo wisely and using it only when on the verge of death.
Although there are a lot more stealth sequences in Left Behind this time round, it does not mean to say that there are fewer enemies during encounters. Without describing every individual action sequence, there are times where you’ll have to fend off a group of infected, times where you’ll have to fend off a group of humans, and times where you’ll have to fend off both humans and infected simultaneously, a new gameplay element that wasn’t seen during The Last of Us and demands for an even greater degree of thought and tactical planning from the player. Unfortunately, Naughty Dog did not address one of the The Last of Us’ major flaws, which is that the human artificial intelligence is sometimes evidently unrealistic. Although these instances are far and few in-between, they may take some people out of the game. Furthermore, these sequences sometimes feel forced during the winter segment, as you are presented with enemy after enemy, deviating from the dlc’s survival horror element towards the end and also making everything a little unbelievable. Subsequently, this does not mean to say that the constant presence of action leaves the player enervated or bored, for the new approach to stealth sequences constantly keeps things fresh. The winter segment emphasises the idea of an isolated experience, as you must make your way through the game companionless. This eerie tone makes the dlc a absolutely terrifying at times.
Moreover, the approach in gameplay taken towards the segment of Left Behind featuring Riley is vastly different to that of the winter segment.As previously stated, this segment is a precursor to when Joel and Ellie met, meaning that Ellie has not had any experience in combat, which is where the gameplay contrasts with the winter segment. The Riley segment encourages you to immerse yourself in the post-apocalyptic, environments and the two protagonist’s dialogue and personalities, meaning that for the most part combat is absent (although not entirely). As the player, you have the choice to interact with the objects in your surroundings or skip them and move on, though I would most definitely interact with everything you possibly can. One of my personal favorite sequences is set in a Halloween store, in which Ellie and Riley both wear masks of famous fictional monsters. The player can chose the masks to where and the objects to analyse, which is where some of Left Behind’s finest humor is prevalent.
As the players, we cannot relate to the hardships of Ellie’s and Riley’s lives and world, which what makes the dlc so intriguing. They have been brought up in a hopeless, ruined world, corrupted by a lack of order and constant fighting, with humanity on the brink of extinction. Although there are many examples to detail, they may contain spoilers, so I chose one that we could all probably relate to in some form but would interrupt very differently to Ellie and Riley – in regard to Facebook, Ellie asks “what’s a Facebook?”, in which Riley replies with “maybe it prints our faces in a book”. These are the moments that make Left Behind so unique and such a pleasure to play.
As previously stated, the segment of Left Behind featuring Riley focusses less on action sequences and more on immersing you in its world. However, this segment of the dlc does contain actual gameplay instances cleverly presented in the form of mini-games. They all vary in form, although it would be unfair to state what they specifically are as some may interpret them as spoilers. There is no denying, however, that they are a joy to play and really display the dlc’s true colours overtly.
Many of the attributes that made The Last of Us such a wonderful experience are present in Left Behind. Not only does the dlc have an intriguing and cleverly conceived narrative, but the soundtrack also serves as an impeccable accompaniment to the games tone. The haunting compositions by Gustavo Santaolalla that we adored in The Last of Us make a return, along with some new pieces, all of which are allocated to perfectly fit each sequences tone. Even when there is no music at all, like much of the winter segment, it is done intentionally to empahsise the isolation and aloneness, which very few games have been able to accomplish. The compositions are stirringly beautiful and are most definitely an important factor to the emotional impact of the dlc.
Equally sublime are the dlc’s graphics, which as we saw in The Last of Us were some of the best to ever grace the Playstation 3 hardware. Left Behind’s environments are just as impressive as they were in The Last of Us. There are times when playing the dlc where you feel the need to just stop and look around, rotating the right-analog-stick to just take in the degree of excellence in your surroundings, how the environments feel so real yet appear so fictional. Moments like this are truly something special in video games. Everything and everywhere in the game is heavily detailed, from the crumbled and despaired buildings, to the plant life that has overruled the urban setting, to the movie posters and old newspapers still standing after years of absence and relativeness. The voice-acting and motion capture are also delightful, with Ashley Johnson’s portrayal as Ellie in both departments just as brilliant as it was in The Last of Us, although I do feel as if the voice acting for Riley could have been better, as the voice itself did not fit the age of the character.
However, there is one flaw to Left Behind that may deviate some from warranting a purchase, and that is that the dlc is incredibly very short. My first play-through on Survivor difficulty ended at around three hours and my second on Easy difficulty (which was immediately after i completed the game on Survivor) clocked in at just under two hours. This alone may lead some people astray from their purchase, as I completed the dlc twice and unlocked all of the trophies on the day that it launched. The problem isn’t necessarily that the game is too short, but that it costs £11.99, which some may deem a tad over-priced.
All in all, The Last of Us: Left Behind is a wonderful addition to one the most heavily praised games of the last generation of video games. The game presents us with an enticing narrative, sublime and heavily detailed environments, brilliant acting and a vivid new character, and some exceedingly creative gameplay elements that were not present in The Last of Us. Left Behind is a necessity for all those who were fans of The Last of Us, although may be a little too short for its asking price for some. Honestly, it is a great shame that this is supposedly the only story dlc the game will receive, although it does leave me admirably excited to see the route that Naughty Dog will take with the franchise on the Playstation 4.