by Matthew Thompson (All images courtesy of The Last of Us: Left Behind site found here)
(Due to some things I believe are better discovered for themselves in the The Last of Us’ DLC Left Behind, I have kept this as spoiler-free as possible. I plan to do another piece where I discuss things in greater detail for those who have already completed it.)
As a huge fan of Naughty Dog and their most recent release The Last of Us, I was really excited to get a chance to play through last week’s downloadable content, Left Behind. Not only is it a chance to jump back into a world and gameplay I found myself enamored with last year, but it also represents Naughty Dog’s first foray into singleplayer DLC. While this is generally a tricky endeavor, I found Left Behind to be a success despite some small issues.
Left Behind acts as a prequel to The Last of Us and gives us a bit more time with everyone’s favorite foul-mouthed fourteen year old, Ellie. Taking place after the comic series tie-in American Dreams (which helps give a better context for this content’s core relationship) but before we pick up with Joel and Tess in the full game proper, Left Behind explores Ellie’s bond with fellow military school attendee Riley as they make their way through an old abandoned shopping mall. Despite knowing how it all ends due to things mentioned in the main campaign, this piece of DLC tells a worthwhile tale that helps us better understand some of Ellie’s actions in the main game.
Despite being largely abandoned long ago, the mall hosts some beautiful sights.
My big question going into this was how the developers would handle combat. Based on the premise, it didn’t seem like a natural fit, but Naughty Dog found an interesting solution to this problem which gave Left Behind its requisite action component. And with it came a new twist on TLOU’s typical encounters. This new element to the combat is fun to mess around with and, assuming the series continues in the future, will be a nice addition going forward. In general, the enemy confrontations don’t quite stack up with the main game’s best and the new wrinkle is still a little rough around the edges, but this DLC is much better for having found a way to transfer over the kind of action that was such an integral part of The Last of Us.
Make no mistakes about it though Left Behind represents a much less action-oriented affair than the game it spawned from. But it was the adventure side of this action/adventure that managed to impress me the most. Along with the kind of basic exploration that was featured in TLOU’s quieter moments, Naughty Dog crafted a number of little activities to occupy Ellie and Riley’s time at the mall. Particularly clever was their use of existing mechanics like stealth and brick-throwing in a couple of games that the girls played. But a few cute minigames were added to the mix that helped flesh things out as well. Overall it was a nice improvement over the ladder and pallete puzzles of the main game. And it really had to step it up given the bigger emphasis on this aspect of the game.
Left Behind’s short campaign is packed with dialog that sheds light on Ellie’s relationship with Riley which in turn helps inform some of her actions in the core game.
The question of value is always a tough one especially with DLC. Left Behind clocks in at 2-3 hours depending on how much you explore as well as which difficulty setting you play on. Given the ample length of the main game by today’s standards for the genre, I kind of expected this to be a bit longer, but still walked away satisfied with what I got from this piece of content. But what works for me, might not work for everyone. I guess the question is does a slightly more adventure-focused two and a half hour slice of The Last of Us seem worth your fifteen dollars.
What I can say is that Left Behind comes highly recommended from me. Downloadable content is a perfect time to experiment a little with established formulas and Left Behind does so successfully with a new addition to liven up enemy encounters and some neat fresh ideas explored in the game’s less action-driven moments. And really it has a different vibe too. It isn’t exactly uplifting, it is still The Last of Us through and through. But an abandoned mall is a perfect place for a couple of young girls to cut loose and joke around, so it has a lighter feel to it. But it does it with all the kinds of things you’d expect from The Last of Us – great visuals, wonderful music, realistic characters and dialog, even a fair bit of drama and touching moments to go along with some of the sillier antics featured here. All in all, Left Behind is an excellent addition to The Last of Us and a must-have for big fans of the game.
As I mentioned up top, I will be back with another look at Left Behind, but I am still working on the exact format. It will give me a chance to dive into spoilers and give those who have completed it another opinion to compare to. So look out for that soon. Thanks for reading!