by Matthew Thompson (All images courtesy of The Last of Us: Left Behind site found here)
(In this blog, I give more impressions on The Last of Us’ recent DLC Left Behind. This time I have included spoilers and this post is aimed at those who have had the chance to play Left Behind for themselves already. If you have not yet done so and are curious whether it is worth your time, check out my spoiler-free review over here.)
It only took a few seconds for Left Behind to surprise me. It opens with scenes from the end of The Last of Us’ University section and right then a light bulb went off in my head. My big wonder going into this DLC was how Naughty Dog would handle combat. While I believe the segments spent exploring TLOU’s locales, talking to Ellie, and gathering resources worked well in the main game, they really don’t without acting as breathers between the more intense sections of combat that make up so much of the game. So how would content focusing on Ellie in a time before she ever shot a gun work?
Well after watching the intro that became obvious. Along with Ellie and Riley’s prequel adventure, we’d be playing as Ellie as she searches for a way to patch up Joel in an unseen section that took place between the Fall and Winter of the full game. And it was in this portion that Left Behind would deliver its much needed dose of action and along with it came a new twist. The last few encounters see Ellie not just facing hunters or infected, but both at once. More importantly it allows you to pit the groups against each other. One well tossed brick and you’ll have clickers mauling Hunters as they fight for their lives. All the while, you are safely tucked behind a nearby checkout counter (probably giggling to yourself). It undeniably takes some of the challenge out of things, but it sure is fun. I was also impressed on a second playthrough how differently things played out. The infected dominated these matchups in my first go ’round, but I was happy to see the hunters win out in several of the fights in my second time through if for no other reason than to show that these battles were a bit more dynamic than I had originally thought. This new mechanic seems like a great addition to the series. Assuming there is a sequel in the future, it will add another layer of variety to the game’s wickedly fun enemy encounters.
While Ellie’s solo trip through the snowy mall might look to some as just a way to sneak some combat in, I thought it fit nicely. It makes for a good contrast to the much lighter side of this DLC that finds the girls on their own mall adventure. And I think I came away even more impressed with this part of Left Behind. Naughty Dog had to think outside the box a little here. With no combat to be had and no reason for Ellie to be gathering supplies, they needed something to make this more than just walking around. What I found most clever was their use of existing mechanics to create activities for Ellie and Riley to engage in. First with a contest to see who can break all the windows on a car with their brick throwing abilities and later with a stealth hide and seek battle that mimicked some of the game’s traditional combat, but with a pair of super soaker-esque water guns.
Along with this, there were a couple of decidedly less game-y activities that I really enjoyed as well. My favorite occurs when the girls hit the arcade. There they find an old cabinet for The Turning (one of many things that connect to conversations Ellie had with Joel in the main game). It isn’t functioning properly anymore, but Riley walks Ellie through what it was like to play it. For us, it is kind of just one big QTE, putting us through some typical fighting game button combos. But there is this moment where Ellie goes from thinking the whole exercise is silly, to getting really into it. And the way the visuals and sound effects compliment this change in attitude makes this a wonderful moment for me. Other stuff like this works too. The photo booth is goofy fun as are the myriad of jokes you can read off from the pun book. And the Halloween store is loaded with little things to interact with. Of course, the game has plenty of optional conversations to be had throughout as well. I thought some of the references to the comic book found in various pieces of dialog were a neat touch.
A lot will be made of the kiss. And I personally thought the moment was well-earned after all the things that preceded it in this DLC. But to me the most important thing was just seeing how strong their bond was. All these little ways you interact with Riley and the world really drive home just how close they are. And better understanding of just how important this relationship was adds a little extra weight to the main game’s ending which to me was pitch perfect already.
I really think Naughty Dog knocked it out of the park with Left Behind. The snowy side of things brought me more of the combat that I loved from the main game with a new wrinkle to liven things up. While the other side of this mini-adventure let us explore a relationship that clearly had an impact on the Ellie we came to know in the full game. There was also an interesting juxtaposition of the bleak white landscape as Ellie tries to survive on her own matched up against the brighter, lighter fun of two girls cutting loose during the other segments. And yet, these two sides compliment each other so well. Not just by exploring different types of gameplay, but because the prequel is just another reason why Ellie would fight so hard for Joel in the opposing sequences. While the DLC wasn’t without its issues (something I touched more on in the objective spoiler-free review earlier this week), I just loved the overall package Naughty Dog delievered to us with Left Behind.
What did you think of Left Behind? What were your favorite moments? Let me know in the comments below. And thanks for reading!