It’s no secret that I am a Naughty Dog fan boy. My first reviews on this site were for the unquestionably amazing Jak and Daxter titles. The only games I have ever spent more than a week playing multiplayer in were Uncharted 2 and Uncharted 3. And in my opinion, The Last of Us has one of the best, if not the best, narratives in all of videogaming. Even when Naughty Dog has been complicit in practices I’ve actively boycotted, such as the online pass fad and the nickel-and-diming of customers via microtransactions, I have generally been able to turn a blind eye to these offenses. (It helps when you’re a developer that eventually makes all your game’s DLC free to all players) That being said, my obvious fandom doesn’t detract from my ability to judge their games fairly. So does Left Behind manage to live up to the large expectations set forth by the base game?
Left Behind alternates between two points of time. Taking place during the second half of the game’s main storyline, Left Behind flashbacks to a time before protagonist Ellie ever met co-protagonist, Joel. What players will find out very quickly is that this segmentation of the timeline effectively creates a distinct separation of the two major draws of The Last of Us. The “current” portion of the game is where the game’s combat and stealth gameplay returns, as Ellie must make her way through desperately violent apocalypse survivors and Cordyceps infected zombies alike. The flashback content however, is where the compelling character writing and relationship building makes a comeback, and features no combat whatsoever. To use what videogame scholarship I’ve acquired: though this dichotomy makes for some jarring transitions, it works for the purposes of ensuring neither narratologically-inclined nor ludologically-inclined audiences feel left out. (And makes for any easy method of reviewing the game.)
Though some argue that the combat situations in Left Behind are just filler to pad out its length, I’m glad either way. The fact that the gameplay time is only slightly longer than a movie allowed me the opportunity to play against the game’s intelligent and deadly AI again, complete with resource management and crafting, without feeling like I’d have to invest a lot of time. Sometimes it feels good being able to just enjoy a slice, rather than gorge down a whole pie. This is especially true when that pie’s filling is me exhibiting expert levels of archery like a tiny, ninja Katniss Everdeen that also isn’t impartial to viciously sticking aggressors with a switchblade in the throat. It was cool to play through encounters with both human and zombie enemies, as well. Being able to have both enemy types fight each other for your own gain was a neat addition to the formula. Aside from this though, the gameplay isn’t all that different from the Ellie stages of the initial release. One aspect I’m more critical of now than when I first played through the main game however, is the hyper-sonic hearing/Spider Sense thing that grants players X-ray vision. I’m not entirely opposed to the idea of being able to hear enemies through rooms (I found this superpower very useful in both games), but I somehow feel it’s a stretch to be capable of deducing that exactly four squatters are coming down that hole in the ceiling 50 feet away, in addition to the squad of exactly three fungus heads one room over, all with a precision that surpasses the echolocation of bats. I’d like to see this element return in a future release, albeit toned down – not just turned off altogether. Okay, rant over.
Now, what people really ought to care about is whether or not the story of Left Behind is good enough to warrant a purchase. I was initially pretty wary of whether or not Naughty Dog’s writing team would be able to create a significant connection with new character, Riley, especially since prologue and prequel stories so often feel like auxiliary and unnecessary nubbins. (Or tumors in the case of the Star Wars prequels.) But whatever expectations I could have had, the events of Left Behind still managed to blow away. It obviously does not compare to Joel and Ellie’s bond that formed over 16 hours of intense trials and tribulations in the base game, but Ellie and Riley actually managed to create one of the biggest highlight moments of The Last of Us as a whole. And considering all of the shocking twists and turns of The Last of Us, that’s saying something. Gameplay-wise, exploring the mall alongside Riley is mostly comprised of walking, talking and interacting with objects. It felt a lot like a Quantic Dream game in that way, if David Cage somehow managed to write dialogue that sounded even 60% human. And though the banter was interesting enough, the payoff in Left Behind‘s final hour is something that is only rivaled by the main game’s ending. Seriously, if Joel’s morally opaque decision at the conclusion of The Last of Us hits like a shovel to the back of the skull, then Left Behind’s big moment is comparable to being trash canned and thrown down a flight of stairs. You might still be conscious at the bottom of those steps, but your world is undeniably turned on its side for a bit, and you’ll still be left wondering “what the hell just happened? Who am I? What is life?” afterward. And for this reason, I give Left Behind‘s story a resounding two corndogs way up.
If there’s one thing that could keep fans of TLOU away from this add-on, it has to be that it only provides about 3 hours of extra gameplay to the overall TLOU experience. Small things like the occasional blurry texture here and there, and the ridiculous videogame cliche of collectible audio recordings, didn’t keep me from being engaged with this excellent example of downloadable content done right. At no point did I feel like this was a creation of exploitation meant only to shake a few more bucks out of fans. This is obviously the intended result, but it doesn’t have that gross, cynical, have-to-scrub-yourself feeling you get from games like Destiny and EA’s Star Wars: Battlefront. Unfortunately, Left Behind is still $10 on the Playstation Store. Of course, I got it while it was on sale, but all options considered, I would just recommend picking up the Remastered edition of The Last of Us on PS4 with all the extra content included. It’s definitely a must-play for fans, but preferably at the right price. Sorry ND, but I am very stingy with my shekels. Maybe next time let me play the multiplayer for more than two hours.
JK, I still love you. XOXO
Obligatory Number at the End: 8/10