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The Last of Us: Left Behind review

Adolescence is a confusing, awkward time for everyone, and while I wouldn’t want to relive my own, it's a universal experience that’s been largely unexplored in mainstream gaming, particularly with a teenage girl in the lead. The Last of Us: Left Behind DLC brings Ellie to the forefront of an excellent (if brief) story in which she suffer a far more terrifying youth than I ever knew. Assuming you've played through The Last of Us, Left Behind is an essential addition to the story that's bound to impress and surprise in equal measure in a side story that’s indispensable for anyone who finished the post-apocalyptic adventure.

Narrative is at the forefront of Left Behind. It’s intermittently intense, tragic, humorous, and even poignant as it puts players in control of Ellie during moments that were only hinted at in the game. If you reductively thought the DLC episode merely covers Ellie’s life during the week or so prior to meeting Joel, Left Behind will catch you off guard by going in directions too fascinating to spoil here.

The bulk of Left Behind is composed of brief, human moments that create an engaging portrait of Ellie, a character you only thought you knew. Seeing her before she meets Joel helps you understand Ellie more as an individual and less as a helpful AI companion. I came to see her from a new angle, one that's more well rounded and personal--so much so that I'm inspired to replay The Last of Us and view her through the lens of this new perspective. That alone makes Left Behind worthwhile.

Ellie spends much of Left Behind with her best friend Riley, a young lady briefly mentioned in the campaign who's well realized in the DLC. The two are childhood friends being torn apart by circumstance, and a lot of time is spent with the two simply hanging out, trying to avoid their inevitable goodbyes. Their amiable conversations let the writing and acting shine, but Left Behind also uses the combat mechanics to add to their interactions in novel ways. For example, I enjoyed seeing the brick throwing attack used in an impromptu contest to smash as many windows as possible. It’s some great comic relief, and it also works as foreshadowing for the graphic violence Ellie experiences later in life.

The smart reinterpretations of the core combat creates memorable moments, but it also makes Left Behind’s standard combat feel blase by comparison. Last of Us’ integration of stealth and brutal violence still works in a basic sense, but it’s overly familiar when Ellie once more sneaks behind yet another thug to slash his throat in silence. There’s nothing new to the straight combat in Left Behind, and the roughly two hour length is too brief for the scavenging and weapon construction to be appreciated in the same way that it is in main game. The action is more inconsequential than annoying, though the DLC’s final, slightly frustrating battle certainly gets in the way of a story that had so effectively pulled me in.

Too many inconsequential downloads have given DLC episodes like Left Behind a bad reputation, but this one fulfills the promise of a meaningful addition to an already complete experience. The Last of Us exists in a harsh world with an even darker future, but Left Behind shows that there’s still beauty to be found in returning to it. Whether you value mature storytelling or the brutal survival conditions, Left Behind makes this return to a ruined world significant to anyone that’s completed The Last of Us.

51 comments

  • BladedFalcon - February 15, 2014 10:05 p.m.

    Just finished the game, played it on survivor (hardest diffculty setting) from the get go, and loved it. And now, having experienced it first hand, I'll say it again: Henry, you're a wimp. Nothing in this DLC, not even the final part, is in any way worse or more difficult than the main game, specially because I'm willing to bet you played it on normal, or hard at most, and if you have listening mode in handy, there's really nothing here you couldn't be able to handle if you beat the main game. Frustrating my ass. Also, THIS is how you handle this kind of story, not like the overrated plot of Gone Home, this is something I can definitely buy and get behind. Had gone home employed the kind of skill, heart and details in the way this DLC did, I would have liked the game so much more... As it stands, this DLC puts Gone Home's main arc to fucking shame. (I'm talking about the arc itself, not the way it was told, which I agree was very clever, but that doesn't take away the fact that the plot itself was super drab and cliché.)
  • GOD - February 16, 2014 11:23 p.m.

    I just beat it (on hard), and while the last part didn't take me that long to complete, I can see why it might be frustrating (more so the second half of the last part). I won't really go into details for obvious reasons, but the way that last area is layed out lends itself to you getting thrown into some weird trapped situations depending on where you go, as I found out. Also if you die the respawn can be kind of awkward in how it places you. People see he says slightly frustrating, and assume it means he was stuck there for a long time or something to that effect. It's a review though and so he can't really keep it spoiler free if he lists specific problems that he encountered in the last section. As a hypothetical example, let's say the game registering a checkpoint after you use all your ammo to kill three guys, but the checkpoint only saves after the guy is killed but before you pick up the ammo drops, and the ammo drops aren't there on your respawn.
  • BurglarSkullman - February 17, 2014 3:47 a.m.

    I played it on hard (both TLoU and Left behind), and the end section, while never unfairly frustrating, was harder than any combat section in the entirety of TLoU. The story is so well-told, with zero padding and pitch-perfect pacing (one of the only problems I had with TLoU was how sketchy the pacing was until after the "Bill Section", which also happens to be one of the disappointingly awful sections I've ever played in such a great game).
  • BladedFalcon - February 17, 2014 10:45 a.m.

    I really don't see how that last section is harder than the siege of the snow cabin with David. I mean, unless you blew all your ammo and supplies before the last part, the game never throws you mre than what you can handle at any time, and if you play it smart, you even get to pick up a rifle from one of the thugs of the last wave, which, really, if you're any kind of decent shot, makes short work of anything, specially humans. That section even gives you a huge break at one point with the infected busting trough at one point, distracting the thugs and giving you plenty time to breathe, regroup and pick off the stragglers. The Snow cabin section didn't really give you many breaks, and throws far more shit at you with limited supplies.
  • Vonter - February 17, 2014 7:41 a.m.

    I agree with the Gone Home part I played the game last weekend and to be blunt the plot doesn't seem to go beyond a young adult novel. I don't hate it, but it was more ok than brilliant, don't see the reason for the hype. PS: The Starship Damrey in 3DS had a better twist.
  • BladedFalcon - February 17, 2014 10:37 a.m.

    Yeah, I mean, the setting, and the way they tell the story IS very interesting and original, but the story itself was pretty fucking cliché, and honestly I felt it got a pass for most critics because of the nature of the main relationship... Which IMO feels cheap because they didn't really justify it very well.
  • Vonter - February 17, 2014 10:54 a.m.

    I know, at first I doubtful if the character you were playing was really the sister, mainly because you're more or less trashing the house when looking for those notes. But even after confirming she indeed was the sister I didn't get very invested since is mainly a ploy to bear witness to the plot. Also I know it's a small budget game but I find it funny how there were no mirrors in the house, not even in the bathrooms.
  • BladedFalcon - February 17, 2014 11:53 a.m.

    Eh, I didn't really mind. I mean, yes, one one hand it allows them to avoid modeling or animating any kind of human. But you could also claim it was an aesthetic choice to never show a polygonal character in the game, and I can respect that.
  • Vonter - February 17, 2014 11:58 a.m.

    Uhm sorry if that sounded whiny I just find it odd, being how realistic is everything else. It was also that thing that made me think I wasn't the person the game was telling I was.
  • Doctor_Pancakes - February 15, 2014 10:53 a.m.

    Wow... people liked this game A LOT more than I did... I can't imagine playing through this whole game again. Much less two more times on harder difficulties. I found the clicker segments really bad and the shootouts no better than the point and shoot murder fests of the Uncharted games, where the game(and the last two console Uncharteds for that matter) did get its well earned reputation was in the sense of adventure, world exploration and fantastic style of story telling when it did manage to get beyond rundown apartment shoot outs and the dark bleak sneak-athons. When hunting down that deer or scavenging the deserted neighborhoods for survival supplies the game was magnificent and felt like nothing I have played before it really capturing the essence of an Apocalypse but every time I entered a new area and saw the ugly green/brown textures of the spore clouds I groaned and powered through the poor game play to get to the next batch of superb adventure and story.
  • BladedFalcon - February 15, 2014 9:56 p.m.

    Well, then maybe you might wanna give this DLC a try? It's short but sweet, and it has a lot of the kind of moments you explained you liked, and while there ARE some fighting sections, they are not exhausting save possibly the end, and even then that's nothing you haven't dealt with in the main game. And of course, you don't need to play over the main campaign either. So i'd say you possibly won't regret it (:
  • Doctor_Pancakes - February 16, 2014 8:36 a.m.

    My cash is going to Donkey Kong this month but I'll most likely pick this up at Gamestop with what left over credits I have on my Powerup card if they are selling the DLC there. I did that with all the Borderlands 2 dlc Lol
  • BladedFalcon - February 16, 2014 9:02 a.m.

    Haha, okay, that sounds good ^^ specially because even though I love it, you mileage may vary on whether it's worth paying 15 bucks upfront for it, as it's roughly 3 hours of content or so, so paying it using left over credits is a nice compromise ^^ (Again, I myself think it's totally justified as something should never be judged by it's quantity, but it's quality, but I get how it can be an issue with many.)
  • TheGreyWizard - February 15, 2014 9:37 a.m.

    I expected the DLC to wrap things up a bit better in the ending. All in all it's very awesome.
  • BladedFalcon - February 15, 2014 9:53 p.m.

    That would have been a grave mistake IMO, the ending is perfect just as it is and any kind of modifying, padding or altering to it would feel like a cop-out at this point, and the developers have said as much. See, unlike the writers of Mass Effect 3 or other properties, the writers of TloU at the very least knew WHAT they wanted to end the game in, and they stuck to their guns, regardless of who liked it or not. If you weren't all that satisfied with the ending, that's fine as it's your opinion, but hopefully you can respect the conviction from the people behind it, no? Anyway, while it didn't really change the ending, it DID better shape a few aspects that put it more into perspective AND without really retconing anything, just expanding on back-story. Which in a way, makes this DLC all the more impressive, I think.
  • TheGreyWizard - February 17, 2014 10:45 a.m.

    I meant Left Behind's ending. The ending of the main story is perfect as it is.
  • BladedFalcon - February 17, 2014 11:09 a.m.

    Ah, er... I am even more confused regarding that then. SPOILERS (kinda.. ) Barring showing the turning of RIley, I don't see in what way you could consider the ending incomplete. And even then, I'd say showing her turning is rather unnecessary, and in some way, kinda morbid. That's just me though.
  • TheGreyWizard - February 17, 2014 12:49 p.m.

    I don't know. It just seemed abrupt. I would have liked to see a little more than what we already knew from the ending of the main story. Maybe how the girls spent their time as infected, or how Ellie returned to the mall to get her backpack along with her walkman and Riley's pendant, I don't know. I definately agree about Riley's turning though, that would haunt me for a while.
  • BladedFalcon - February 17, 2014 1:16 p.m.

    *shrugs* I guess? I just don't really see how any of that would add to the story anymore. Everything they showed you up until the point they get bitten serves a purpose, and informs more of Ellie's character and helps shed light in why she does some of the things she does in the main game. But anything that happens after the bite well, we can fill the blanks easily, we know that Riley turns and Ellie didn't, we know she picked up the backpack and the Riley dog tag... Did we really need to see that happen in camera? I mean, I wouldn't have minded, but I guess that if you look at it from a cinematic standpoint, they cut it at the part they did in order to end in an emotionally intense moment. Showing what happened after that point would have brought down the momentum. At least, that's my best guess as to why they did it.
  • TheGreyWizard - February 17, 2014 1:49 p.m.

    It would also deepen the relationship between Ellie and Riley. That's the whole purpose of the DLC. And all the blanks were pretty much filled before it came out. Again, I'm not sure what would be the best, I just can't shake off the feeling that something is missing. For example, if I called the shots, I would add a small scene where Ellie walks alone through the mall while in tears, and picks up those items I mentioned, while a sad yet intense music plays in the back. In any case, I'm not complaining, I'm just saying.

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