Review by Osafune2

"An essential purchase for all TLoU fans"

Left Behind is the first piece of downloadable-content released by Naughty Dog for their highly acclaimed post apocalyptic hit "The Last of Us." Expanding upon one of the most memorable sequences in the original campaign, Left Behind places you once more in the shoes of Ellie as she attempts to seek aid for the gravely injured Joel. Left Behind primarily serves as a vehicle to extrapolate the character of Ellie by combining her primary task, and vintage gameplay, of saving Joel with a moving flashback sequence detailing her most formative experience before she met her gruff companion.

The narrative cuts to and from the past and in doing so, introduces the character of Riley, mentioned only briefly in the main story. Riley is Ellie's best friend and Naughty Dog immediately make this clear with incomparably excellent voice acting and dialogue between the mischievous pair throughout. Similar to how Joel and Ellie's trust and dependence on each other was built up magnificently using in game conversation to compliment lavish cut scenes in the primary adventure; the camaraderie and friendship between Ellie and Riley is quickly established through the near constant chatter and good-natured teasing common among young friends.

Ellie has snuck out of the quarantine zone and followed Riley to a dilapidated shopping mall, purely to explore, have fun and spend time with her friend. The juxtaposition of such a common activity undertaken by young people in real life against the backdrop of a harsh and fallen world creates a poignant conflict, as well as providing comment on our society as the two girls try on Halloween masks, play with water pistols and mock the 21st century materialist priorities we have all grown up with.

It is clear that Naughty Dog understands that all great zombie stories aren't about crushing undead skulls, they're about humanity, and Left Behind is a fine exploration of the tragedy of two young girls deprived of the upbringing they deserve and their attempt to find love and meaning in a world where all our pre-conceptions of what that means are absent.
Exploring the ruined mall and listening to the conversations between Ellie and Riley is a joy, and its a testament to the writing team that their rapport is so palpable given the very short period of time given to the two characters. While the notion of controlling a young girl as she hangs out in a shopping mall with her closest friend sounds tortuously dull on paper, the setting and strength of the characters makes you empathise deeply. After witnessing her harrowing experiences during her trek across America with Joel in The Last of Us; seeing her carefree, and having fun like all girls her age should have is endearing, yet this brief echo of a life they'd have led before the outbreak makes the circumstances all the more tragic. Indeed, without spoiling too much, the developers should be applauded for tackling serious subject matter such as Ellie's burgeoning self-discovery, in a format often seen as frivolous by mainstream media.

The meat of the gameplay is served during the present when Ellie must make her way through a different, frozen mall in pursuit of medication for Joel, whilst contending with the usual infected as well as the men hunting her. The mechanics are identical; crafting weapons and supplies on the fly, sneaking around listening for foes and clambering through the ruins of civilization will make any fans of the original game feel instantly at home. This is entirely story driven, and as a result, difficulty is almost non-existent even on the hardest setting.

Playing as Ellie provides an interesting dynamic. She is not as strong nor capable as Joel, rendering a brute force play style an impossibility. Stealth and preparation is the key to victory, particularly during one or two ingenious encounters where infected and human enemies are both present and you must set them against each other with a few well placed shots or bottle throws. This is a truly enjoyable, but all too scarce mechanic sadly absent in the main story campaign.

Being DLC, Left Behind runs on the same in house engine used for both the Uncharted series and The Last of Us and returning to that world is every bit as spectacular. The character models and facial animation are particularly excellent, bringing the script and the characters to life in ways dialogue alone could never serve. There is a harsh beauty in exploring our world left to nature, and this feeling is complimented by the discovery of various collectible notes left behind that recount the terrible fate of the bodies littering the mall. This attention to detail is becoming a trademark of Naughty Dog and really gives the game an unforgettable atmosphere.

Despite clocking in at a mere two to three hours, Left Behind is an essential purchase for fans of the main game, and especially for those touched by the character Ellie.The narrative intertwining with Ellie's present day journey with Joel shines light on many of her actions and events represented in The Last of Us and makes her bond with him more powerful and moving once underlined by her past. Games like The Last of Us and it's companion DLC are at the forefront of mainstream gaming being taken seriously as a storytelling medium, not just reserved for sweaty, social rejects intent on blowing terrorist brains out or getting that high score. The world of The Last of Us is so beautifully rendered, that revisiting it even very briefly is a pleasure one could not begrudge paying £11.99 for.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 02/18/14

Game Release: The Last of Us: Left Behind (EU, 02/14/14)

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