The Last of Us: Left Behind
When Naughty Dog released The Last of Us in 2013 it became the PlayStation 3’s swansong: the best and last major new IP to debut on the ageing system. Over the course of the last nine months it has wowed countless reviewers and players alike and recently picked four awards, including best game, at this year’s BAFTA game awards.
As such Left Behind, a new downloadable chapter in the game’s already fantastic story, has been hugely anticipated by fans of The Last of Us, myself included. You can understand my distress then, when I realised that it would be well over a month before spring break would arrive, and I could justify getting the train all the way back to London to reunite with my old PS3 under the pretence of catching up with friends and family back home. Nonetheless the holidays are now here and the wait is finally over, but has it been worth it?
The add-on is rather uniquely set as a mixture of flashbacks between the last third of the main story where [SPOILER ALERT] Joel is gruesomely impaled and in desperate need of medical supplies, and a prequel chapter presenting Ellie’s backstory. Here we explore Ellie’s relationship with new character Riley. Therefore ‘Left Behind’ is rather ingeniously structured as filler for the gaps left in the main story.
This is both its greatest strength and weakness. By embedding itself in the lore of the main game, we are given even more time with the story arc and characters we loved so much already. However it also means that we are not really given any room to explore fundamentally new angles of The Last of Us’s post-apocalyptic universe. This continuity is equally true for the gameplay. The original formula, with a satisfying mixture of sneaking and tight gunplay, was far from broken and Naughty Dog has certainly not made any attempt to fix it. There are absolutely no new gameplay elements here, which is understandable if rather disappointing. Perhaps these are all being saved for a much-rumoured sequel, but it would have been nice to have at least a peak at something different.
Nevertheless what’s on offer, though not revolutionary, is hugely enjoyable. Ellie and Riley’s exploration of a decrepit Boston mall is constantly engaging and consistently moving. It forces us to reflect on the awe and complexity of which everyday objects can be seen through fresh eyes and to consider attempts to undo the tragedy of lost childhood in a desperately bleak and adult world. In one scene the pair visits a decrepit games arcade to find all the machines are broken. Instead of shuffling on we are taken into an imaginary version of Mortal Kombat, in which we have to guide Ellie’s mind through her constructed version of the game via a series of QuickTime button presses. Later on we are thrown into a water gun fight, moments before reality come crashing down and we are forced to make a terrifying escape from a zombie onslaught.
Most affecting of all is the relationship between Ellie and Riley itself. The tale of two teenage girls struggling to define the nature of their relationship in the face of imminent separation is a thoroughly original (in video-games at least) and expertly executed story element. As with the main game, Left Behind is genuinely affecting and manages to pack in more emotional punch in its short two to three hour span then the vast majority of full titles manage in their entirety.
This is just as well, as the DLC is undeniably overpriced when you consider its size: checking-out at a pricey £12. Though I would prioritise quality over quantity any day, this price tag is more than a little difficult to stomach when the add-on can be finished in significantly less time than it takes to watch Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street.
Final Verdict – 4/5
Left Behind is a brief but hugely enjoyable new chapter in Naughty Dog’s much acclaimed title. Though not much of what it offers will be genuinely new to those who have already completed the main game, it is at least more of the same. And when ‘the same’ is as unbelievably good as The Last of Us, who can really complain?