Review: The Last of Us: Left Behind

[PLEASE NOTE that while I have tried to avoid spoilers in this review, some details from the main campaign of The Last of Us are mentioned.]

To say I enjoyed The Last of Us would be an understatement. Not only did I consider it my game of the year last year, ahead of titles like Grand Theft Auto V and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, I also rank it as one of the greatest games of the last generation. When the latest downloadable content for Naughty Dog’s magnum opus was announced, though mildly disappointed that it did not tackle the story of Ish (TLOU fans will know who he is), I was still more than ready to dive back into its beautiful and dangerous world.

Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Reviewed on: PlayStation 3
Release Date: Available Now

BRB-Score-5

Left Behind tells two intertwined stories – one of Ellie and Riley, two best friends who set out one night on an adventure; the other set later during Ellie and Joel’s time in Colorado. Both streams exist in parallel, with decisions and situations in one either mirrored or divergent in the other. As Ellie and Riley work to repair their relationship after an abrupt return, future Ellie works to repair Joel.

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For those who have cleared The Last of Us, the respective fates of these characters may be known but that does not stop Neil Druckmann, Bruce Straley and the team at Naughty Dog from creating yet another masterpiece of story-telling. Each arc is handled with care and precision. When the gameplay moves back and forth between the sections, the switch-over is natural and allows the overall narrative to flow.

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As Left Behind focuses on Ellie, emphasis is placed more on exploration and evasion than all-out combat. This improves on one of The Last of Us’ weaker areas, as there are less instances of forced confrontation. In fact, one of the big changes here involves pitting the nearby infected against the roaming bandits out for you and Joel. These sections feel satisfying when you can successfully move the action in the direction you want. The AI is also impressive here as the bandits acts as you probably would in the face of the same odds. It also helps that you don’t have a companion around to stray out into the open and break the immersion.

Interspersed with these sections are the adventures of Ellie and Riley in the mall. Unlike her relationship with Joel, Ellie and Riley have a past. The script gives you plenty of references and snippets of dialogue to fill in their history. The focus here is on having fun and further exploring the character of Ellie. We get to see her let her hair down figuratively – either by trying on various Halloween masks in a joke shop or playing with water pistols.

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The writing, in both sections, is superb. We learn more and more about Ellie when she is with Riley. When the action moves back to the present, her decisions can then be viewed in the light of what we have just seen, giving us a better understanding of the character. We also get more environmental story-telling – with numerous notes and items left behind that tell their own tales.

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If I had one fault to raise, it would be the previously suggested weakness in The Last of Us. There is a particular section towards the end of the DLC where you are forced to take on multiple enemies. This section quickly became one of the more frustrating parts of the game as the rest was practically flawless in comparison. Getting through this part was a slog that didn’t really impact my overall impression of the game but should be noted regardless.

The focus on story over gameplay is welcome
Ellie continues to be one of the more interesting characters in gaming today
The inventive additions to the formula are refreshing
The moments when the game reverts to a ‘video game’ can be disappointing

The Last of Us: Left Behind performs that rare trick of truly giving us more of the same – but being different at the same time. We learn more and more about one of the most intriguing heroines in video games and at the same time, we take a far different approach when it comes to the focus of the gameplay. For those who have already played The Last of Us, or plan to, I cannot recommend Left Behind highly enough.

The review copy of this title was purchased by the author.
Official Game Site

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