The Last of Us: Left Behind Review: Everybody come and play
Many have clamored -- understandably so -- for a sequel to The Last of Us from Naughty Dog. Though the developer hasn't ruled out the possibility of another full-length game set in this universe, it likely won't be for a long while -- at least not until Naughty Dog can think of story worth telling. So with any sort of follow-up presumably a long way off, Left Behind offers us just a few more precious hours in the wonderfully crafted, post-pandemic, post-apocalyptic world created by Naughty Dog. What's more, it offers us a unique take on the story -- one that delves further into the past of Ellie.
As was the case with the original game, story is Left Behind's strong suit. It follows the simple premise of two girls -- Ellie and her friend Riley -- meandering about in a mall. There's a certain eerie appeal to it as the two wander about the post-apocalyptic corridors, unaware of the dangers that lurk. Everything they know about the pre-infected world is learned about through stories from older survivors. So watching these girls -- who were raised in a post-pandemic world -- learn about the past through their own observations is particularly fascinating. Their tinkering with things we take for granted today definitely had me laughing at parts (sort-of spoiler: definitely connect the game to your Facebook account).
With the original campaign, Naughty Dog's focus was on narrative and character development. Left Behind shares that philosophy with the majority of the story told through cinematic cutscenes and simple conversations between Ellie and her friend Riley. You'll be doing a lot of watching in Left Behind, but that's not necessarily a bad thing; the performances from voice and mo-cap actress Ashley Johnson (Ellie) and Yaani King (Rilee) are simply phenomenal. I can't praise their performances enough, as it's some of the best character work I've seen in a video game.
That's not to say that there's no combat with infected or soldiers in Left Behind. If anything, I think the rarity of combat in Left Behind makes each encounter that much more memorable. It's a different style of gameplay as well. You'll participate in more light-hearted events, like a water gun fight between the two girls, or putting on a wolf mask and howling. Not everything is based around a 20-minute shootout with infected or other survivors. It's not what we're used to with The Last of Us, but it certainly has as much of an impact on the story, simply because of the character development that arises from it.
While the number of actual combat sequences is lacking compared to The Last of Us, the quality is still there. The DLC even throws a nice little wrinkle in the combat mechanics. Whereas in The Last of Us sequences consisted mainly of isolated engagements with either infected or other human survivors, Left Behind combines the two.
Remember, you're playing as a less experienced Ellie, not the hardened survivor that journeyed with Joel (or as Joel for that matter). Because of this, you'll have to plan your actions more carefully, taking into account Ellie's deficiencies. You can't just run up to an infected and smash them with a brick; she doesn't have the strength of, say, her future partner Joel. She does wield a handy switchblade with exceptional skill and even knows how to shoot, but there's a noticeable and welcomed difference between playstyle in this and the original game.
Getting used to playing as the new Ellie certainly takes an adjustment. You'll likely die numerous times at first. But once you learn to use your environment and the combination of soldiers and infected to your advantage, you'll appreciate the subtle changes Left Behind.
At $14.99, Left Behind carries a hefty price tag, especially given its short length (two to three hours max). But for fans of the original game, Left Behind is a must-play, providing valuable context for the main campaign. Despite being labeled as "DLC," there's still a AAA quality to the experience; cinematics are top notch and the graphics still rival that of "next-gen" games.
Slight warning: Even though Left Behind is a prequel of sorts, I'd still recommend playing the main campaign first as the structure of Left Behind could spoil a few things.