The Last of Us: Left Behind
It’s hard to believe that nearly six months have passed since The Last of Us came out and delivered the greatest story ever told in gaming. Joel and Ellie’s journey together had all the makings of a cinematic blockbuster, and gave proof to PS3 owners that the system not only still had life in it – but could deliver some of the most beautiful visuals in games even with its successor on the horizon. Players completed the main story quickly, but were left wanting some loose ends to be tied up – there were massive time skips that left something to the imagination, and now, Left Behind is out to help fill some of those in.
This Ellie-centric DLC shifts between the time after Joel was impaled and clinging to life with Ellie having to raise her game to save his life, and a time before she met Joel – when she was a student reuniting with her friend Riley. Riley was mentioned in the main game and you find her bloody necklace amidst Ellie’s belongings there. Going into this, you know her fate has been sealed, but the game gives you a great way to make that seem like a fake-out at the start. You’re also shown the origins of the necklace as Riley hands it off to her and you go from having it shiny and pristine in the Ellie/Riley portions, to then the blood-soaked one.
Ellie and Riley’s story is one of friends who got separated, and then try to make up for lost time. Their story begins with a trip to an old mall – the same setting you start off the “help Joel survive” section, only with different circumstances for each. Like the main game, environmental decay is a big part of the universe of the game. However, you never saw a before-and-after view of the same area in the main game – only how everything was after the infection took hold.
Now, you see the mall in a state of some disarray with Riley and Ellie going through it and having as much fun as can be had – but you still see that they’ve never had a normal childhood. Ellie is still amazed at just what a mall is, and how it’s piled high with crap no one really needs. Riley is more fun-loving, but while the beginning of the Last of Us paints a picture of Ellie as being all but helpless, you see from her Riley-centric sections that there was a lot more to her than met the eye before. Maybe PTSD set in on her, or she simply couldn’t open up to anyone – after losing Riley. Either way, you see Ellie being far more take-charge with Riley than she was at the start of The Last of Us.
Riley and Ellie’s gameplay features no enemy encounters, and simply builds up the characters. This may seem like a waste, but it’s very much a case of listening to the music between the notes. They’re dialogue-heavy sections and feature quite a bit of interactivity despite the lack of enemies. Much of it involves helping move stuff, or interacting with parts of the world to bring about conversation points. You learn more about Riley and how she’s more world-weary than Ellie, who is a bit snarkier and far more laid back here than she is through most of the main campaign.
While the Riley and Ellie portions lack action, that is made up for in Ellie’s solo sections. There, you’ll engage in plenty of battles against the infected and have to regain your sea legs as you use the enhanced hearing skill to figure out where they are in relation to you, and make full use of whatever you have around you to either move around them or kill them as swiftly as possible. Like the main game, the challenge ramps up from time to time and you generally go from an easy section, to a Riley flashback, to a harder section – the key is to never forget the core skills. Thanks to on-screen prompts, that isn’t much of an issue and if you’re a pro, you can always turn those off. The combination of story and gameplay works just about as well here as it did in the main game, although the shifts in time from Ellie to Riley to just Ellie are a bit jarring.
Left Behind looks just as good as the core game, which means that even with next-gen systems out and amazing many, this still looks impressive. While some texture work is iffy for minor objects, things like movement being tracked in snow and clothing undergoing changes still look realistic. During an early section where Riley and Ellie are in a Halloween store being silly, everything has a sense of reality to it thanks to solid textures. You can see price tags and make out logos on the figures. Even the metal used for the shelving looks real and sure, that’s a minor thing, but it’s the little things that help build up the bigger ones. By having a world that looks more real, you wind up getting more invested in the story.
Left Behind features the same high-quality voice acting and music as the main story. Riley’s acting is superb, as her actress has to convey so many emotions quickly. We don’t really know the character from the game, so they built in tons of exposition early on to establish her and it’s done so well that it doesn’t even come off as that. The conversations are organic and that’s a credit to both the writing and the cast. Without one, you can’t really have the other, and thanks to that, you buy all of the interactions between Ellie and Riley.
If you want to speed through the DLC, you can do so in a few hours. However, to do that would be doing yourself a disservice. There’s no good reason to rush – just sit back and enjoy the ride. Soak in the environment, explore it and envelop yourself in the world that Naughty Dog has created. If this is the last piece of story we get from The Last of Us and the franchise ends with one installment, it’s a good way to go out. The main game was a personal favorite not just for the PS3 or the generation, but of all-time. This is easily the most satisfying DLC I’ve played yet. It ticks all of the boxes that made the main game such a classic without feeling like a tacked-on piece of the story meant to gouge you. Other than some really nasty-looking textures, this retains all of the production value of the main game. At $15, it’s a fair value given how good it is – even with that flaw.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
This review is based on a digital copy of The Last of Us: Left Behind for the PlayStation 3 provided by Sony Computer Entertainment.