I thought it fitting, since reviewing Naughty Dog’s The Last Of Us, to continue the trend with its latest and only story-driven DLC, Left Behind. A prequel of sorts, it follows Ellie and her friend Riley as they explore a dilapidated mall, and intercuts with Ellie later on in the main game with Joel. On the surface, it sounds simple, but rich character development and an engrossing story make the 3-hour experience well worth it.
With Joel, Ellie is hardened to the ways of the post-pandemic world and wracked with survivor’s guilt. With her friend Riley, we see a different side — more carefree and naïve, where her experiences inform her character’s actions in the future. Ashley Johnson returns to lend her voice to Ellie and she does it very well, further developing an emotionally complex character. For an amount of gameplay relatively short in length, Ellie and Riley’s friendship is well established in Left Behind. A large part of this is due to newcomer Yaani King, who voices Riley. She’s on par with Johnson, and puts just as much emotional weight into her performance.
While a majority of their relationship is explored through their playful (and emotional) back and forth banter, past gameplay mechanics are implemented in ingenious ways. Bricks are used to break display car windows, QTE (Quicktime Events) are used in an arcade, and there’s a water gun battle, which focuses on the sneaking and stalking. These all bring a sense of levity, since they are used purely for their characters to interact and develop, rather than the core gameplay of survival. It manages to fill the player with a false sense of security, almost forgetting the fate that befalls the characters.
The rest of the DLC focuses on a point in the middle of the main game (spoilers for those who haven’t played). With Joel severely injured, Ellie checks a shopping mall for medical supplies. This is where sneaking and survival are implemented, seeing as Ellie is just a young girl, who, while strong, has nowhere near the brute force Joel does. You have no choice (especially on higher difficulties) but to sneak around the infected that roam the mall. I played on “Survivor,” which is the highest difficulty setting. It eliminates all the button prompts, the listening mode (which is especially helpful) and makes for the ultimate “survival” experience.
Using your wits, with plenty of bottles and bricks for distractions, you make your way through and find the medical supplies. This is where a shift in the gameplay begins. In the main game, you either dealt with Infected enemies, or Human enemies, never both at the same time. In Left Behind, you deal with both and it makes for an awesomely tense experience. At one point, I had 6 bullets, a pocket knife, a bottle and supplies to make a Molotov. There were a bunch of Infected in the room next to me, and bullets are scarce. I crafted a Molotov out of my supplies, threw the bottle in the next room and five Infected came out. You better believe it — when I torched them, it wasn’t enough. One remained. I snuck into the next room, ready to take him out, when a patrol of human characters came in, screamed “Infected!” and proceeded to shoot the shit out of it. I took the humans out quietly and moved on. It’s interactive moments like this that improve upon the gameplay and were sorely missed in the original.
Naughty Dog has done it again, crafting a poignant, tense experience with Left Behind. As the credits rolled, I was left awestruck, much like with the original game, and had it on my mind the rest of the day. You grow to care for the characters, new and old, and it’s amazing how that can be achieved with such a short runtime. It truly is a testament to the potential of storytelling in the video game medium. Short, but bittersweet — I really hope a sequel is in the works.
You can pick it up on the Playstation Store, for $14.99 or if you have the TLOU Season Pass. Cost aside, it’s well worth the price if you’re a fan of the game and story.