As I wrote in my full review of The Last of Us, developer Naughty Dog created a masterpiece of video game storytelling – quickly catapulting itself into the #1 position on my list of favorite games in 2013 – and cementing its place on my All Time Top 5 Games list. Not an easy feat, considering my nearly 30 years as a gamer.
It also took home a stack of, “Game of the Year” awards and is arguably the best game ever released on the PS3.
For those of us who have been dying (pun intended) to find any excuse to jump back into the post-apocalyptic and post-pandemic world of The Last of Us – a world that lingered with us long after we completed the main story – the developer has finally released, Left Behind, the first-and-only single-player DLC to be made available for the game.
I have played through and completed the short prologue that Left Behind has to offer (roughly 2-3 hours) and can confidently say that fans of the original game will not only be pleased, but will also be introduced to some interesting story reveals and treated to a relatively new approach to combat.
Therefore, this review will contain some minor spoilers and I recommend finishing the campaign before reading on, however I was careful not to reveal any major spoilers.
In Left Behind we meet Ellie before she is taken in by The Fireflys or has met Joel.
Ellie is attending a military-style school in a Boston quarantine zone, and it is here that we are introduced to her friendship with a girl named Riley, a character who’s first appearance was in the Dark Horse Comics companion series, American Dreams, and it is through the lens of their friendship that much of the game takes place.
Ellie is not quite the hardened teen – shaped by the harsh circumstances and dangerous world surrounding her – that we came to know and love in the original game. Rather, it is through the events and back story of Left Behind that we get a better understanding of what she went through in Boston and how it shaped who she would later become by the time she meets Joel.
As such, the approach to game play is much different in the sense that Ellie is not strong enough to engage in melee combat the same way that Joel could, nor is she an experienced fighter or marksman yet. She can certainly wield her trusty switchblade and get stabby-stabby, but can also get easily overwhelmed by enemies.
As a result, Naughty Dog employed some interesting and more realistic mechanics for how Ellie would be able to survive in Left Behind, which gives the game an entirely different feel and approach than when you played as Joel.
Much of the game takes place in an abandoned mall, which I thought was very clever, considering that malls would be a favorite hangout for teenage girls before much of the world became infected and it seemed like a perfect backdrop for the story between Ellie and Riley after the world went to shit. Throughout (and despite their glum surroundings), the exploration of the mall has the familiar feel of two girls simply skipping school or exploring a mall after hours when no one is around…just with a LOT more things trying to kill you and eat your face off than the average pre-pandemic mall outing.
There is not a lot of combat or danger during these scenes, mostly character development and establishing the deep relationship between Ellie and Riley. This is accomplished through a handful of fun, touching and entertaining cut scenes and activities; including a photo booth, costume shop, water gun fight, a book of puns, a working carousel and a particularly superb and wonderfully clever mini-game inside of an arcade.
This is where Naughty Dog absolutely nails it again in terms of story, because these exchanges and scenes are so endearing that you find yourself back in the familiar position of loving (and desperately wanting to protect) Ellie, and understanding her deep friendship and connection to Riley.
The voice acting is superb and you are very quickly drawn into their world again. Although there is very little action during your scenes and interaction between Ellie and Riley, you are more than rewarded with enlightening story reveals, interesting collectibles, humorous cut scenes and a more complete picture of Ellie’s back story.
Crafting in Left Behind is identical to The Last of Us. Materials are always in short supply, and you will scour every nook, crannie and drawer to find even just a couple of bullets, rags, scissors or rubbing alcohol to craft a med kit or Molotov cocktail. Since combat occurs in real-time, you’ll still need to find a safe place away from danger to quickly craft what you’ll need to stay alive.
Combat on the other hand has been tweaked to account for Ellie’s frailty in juxtaposition to when you played as Joel. Ellie simply cannot use brute force for every fight, and instead must rely on stealth and cunning to either take down or get past the Infected, Clickers and/or human survivors looking to do you harm.
Mixed in with the story of Ellie and Riley are flash forwards to when you were in Colorado during The Last of Us and trying to save a badly injured Joel (which coincidentally also takes place in a mall). It is during these scenes that most of your combat will occur, as you desperately search for emergency medical supplies to save Joel’s life. This was a section that was not fully fleshed out in The Last of Us and I appreciated Naughty Dog’s inclusion of it in Left Behind as a way to fill in even more blanks and round out the story.
Because of her size and emerging skills, Ellie must use the environment to her advantage by turning human survivors and the Infected against each other, and away from her. In one particular encounter, I came across a number of human survivors scavenging near my location and/or looking for me. By throwing a bottle near their location, I alerted a handful of nearby Clickers and Infected, who converged upon their position and attacked the group of survivors. By doing this, they would take each other out until their numbers were thinned enough and more manageable for me to sneak around and take the rest out by myself.
This brings me to another reason why I love this game: You are encouraged to take your time, come up with a strategy and/or bypass danger altogether. Because you do not have an unlimited amount of ammunition or supplies, you are forced to consider the best times to use precious ammo or weapons…or not at all, saving them for when you’re really in trouble.
Left Behind is an outstanding and beautiful must-play for any fan of The Last of Us. With hidden collectibles, callbacks to the original game and subsequent comic series, important context, new trophies and a handful of very memorable moments, Left Behind satisfies by filling in certain gaps and addressing many unanswered questions, while providing you with a just a few more precious hours to jump back into this fully realized and terrifying world.
Just like in The Last of Us, Left Behind remained on my mind well after I finished it and I went to bed thinking about it when I was playing. It is simply another master class in storytelling, I have become so emotionally invested in the characters and I cannot express enough my desire for a sequel or continuing series.
The ending cinematic and cutscene is very powerful and hit me right in the “feels,” and lingered with me long after the credits rolled. Naughty Dog ended Left Behind beautifully and trusted the player to understand what followed, without having to spell it out.
According to Naughty Dog, there is a 50/50 chance that they will make a sequel, of which would hinge upon whether or not they felt that they had another compelling story to tell. Because of the powerful story, fully realized world and characters that they created, fans of the game would be happy to provide suggestions for where and what they would like to see from Ellie and Joel in the future!
I tried to keep spoilers to a minimum, as you really have to experience this game for yourself and I highly recommend that you do.
Left Behind is only available on the PS3 through digital download on the PlayStation Network.