The lights are on
Left Behind, but not Forgotten
My thoughts, and those of ninety percent of people I've talked with or heard comments from regarding their time with The Last of Us, have always been that last year's jewel of a game was and is one of the greatest experiences I've had in a long while. Maybe it was the brutal gameplay, the survival driven narrative, or the flawed characters that sealed the deal for me- or maybe it was all of that and more. Regardless, Naughty Dog's down and dirty adventure is a testament to their ever-growing skill as a developer of top tier games- from Uncharted to The Last of Us, in this last generation especially. Matt Helgeson's thoughts mirror many of my own in his personal review of the game, which I have read and mostly agree with on many of the points as well- regarding both the original game and the newest addition to its fiction, the Left Behind Ellie-centric downloadable expansion content.
Upon finishing The Last of Us, I- and many others who made the treacherous trudge through enemy territory in order to finish the brutal game, was just plain astounded. The ending was perfect and then some. For all the complaints it has received- still marginally less than those regarding Mass Effect 3's ending(s), the ambiguity was an excellent way to finish off a mysterious adventure in a mysterious way. And to make it even better, Naughty Dog has stated that they don't feel the need to make any sequels, which I completely agree with. I'm perfectly fine with this game being a one-hit wonder, and any sequels- no matter how much greater, also have a fifty percent chance of being a letdown in light of the original's stunning uniqueness and originality. It would lose some of the magic, and so would that ending. Therefore, ambiguity is king in my mind- and just as Breaking Bad ending semi-ambiguously (also perfectly), it works excellently in this case.
So, you can easily imagine my reaction to a downloadable addition to this excellent game possibly expanding upon this ending. A reaction which, unsurprisingly, was made up of equal parts horror and excitement. A prequel is excellent territory to travel, but anything after the open ending would just about kill me, or my standing with the game anyway. Same thing. Now we truly arrive at the crux of the matter, but it's not actually so bad and terrible as I had thought it would be. While it is true that Left Behind is indeed a prequel to the original game's story itself, it does have a short subplot rooted in what would I guess be considered the present, "lost chapter" of the game's story. Though this content is new and mainly there to stimulate the prequel story and serve as a sort of "flashback" montage and catalyst, it's still new nonetheless and that was kind of terrifying to me at first. Thankfully, having the 'present time' storyline in addition to the past one doesn't involve the game's ending, and therefore my ambiguity was intact, and I could go about enjoying Ellie's dramatic hardships and plot.
Once more, the story of Left Behind is split between survival, combat, and dramatic moments and perils. Left Behind explores Riley and Ellie's companionship, journey, and overall relationship prior to the events of The Last of Us where Ellie and Joel essentially 'team up' so to speak. Whereas Riley is shown to be just as naive about some things and vulnerable as Ellie is, or was, Joel is you know- Joel. Riley feels like a truly believable character in this expansion, and makes an excellent characteristic companion for Ellie, as well as an additional character in the grim universe of The Last of Us' story. Similar to the original story itself, the most striking and bittersweet moments of this semi-short expansion are the simple, enjoyable ones. Sitting around, staring off into the distance, that sort of thing. In many ways, you could compare this portion of The Last of Us to Wander's mission in Shadow of the Colossus, you know- minus the colossi and spirits and whatnot. But the solitude, goal, and companionship needs are roughly the same.
I think the most important moralistic point behind Left Behind's plot is simply that life goes on, no matter how much of a cesspit the world has become, and what has become of its inhabitants. It's bigger than us all, and sometimes we just need to accept that, sad as it is. The fact that Ellie and Riley are forced to grow up and survive (or not) on their own in that world is a downright travesty as well, but never once did we say the world was a fair caretaker or one to pad blows. Short though the experience is, Left Behind does an excellent job of conveying mixed emotions and feelings between the two companions, bonding the two further, and helping/hurting players by making them feel the pangs of loss when either of the two are hurt or separated. The writing and gameplay work hand in hand once more, and though the writing is still slightly superior to the mechanics that occasionally experience rare hiccups, the experience is superb all the way until to the very end.
You may think that, just because you're in the shoes of kids, the combat would be toned down and the enemies not so merciless. Well, you'd be completely wrong. As is the case in The Walking Dead's Season Two of episodic gameplay thus far, and Clem's poor experiences in her apocalypse, not many people take pity on or go easy on young adversaries. Not many at all, especially for the soulless clickers. You will face many of the same enemies from the original game's content- clickers, cannibalistic survivors, roving bandits, and other heavily armed or highly decomposed enemies. Again, you have limited ammunition of your own, makeshift weaponry, and your minds to lose or use against these merciless foes. If you enjoyed the original game's mechanics, you'll be pleased to find nothing has really strayed from that path in terms of combat or gameplay, even if the main characters have shifted a bit.
The action parts of Left Behind, fewer though they may be, are just as frantic and engaging as those of The Last of Us' gameplay. Sometimes, you'll even be unfortunate enough to be fighting clickers and human adversaries at the same time, but also fortunate enough to kill two birds with one stone (literally with one brick sometimes) occasionally when you can pit these enemies against each other as well. The only thing more satisfying and gratifying than taking down a clicker is to have it take out your human enemies in its blind rage, and then to sneak past it successfully without alerting it or its fellows. Whereas The Last of Us was an epic and longwinded adventure and survival tale spanning fifteen hours or more, with highly replayable content, Left Behind clocks in at around three and a half hours. And while it isn't nearly as epic- simply because it doesn't have the time to make that large of an impact, it adds a new flavor to Ellie's character, introduces one more alluded to than anything else in the main game's content, and is a journey down memory lane for one person, and a fresh beginning for another.
The Last of Us was an excellent game, and it did not need this DLC in the slightest, but I am still glad that this was created in order to add a little more to the story. If they do continue with a few more DLC packs, it would be interesting to see something prequel wise from several other supporting or main characters' perspectives, but it is equally nonessential to making such an excellent title better. Left Behind is a worthwhile addition to the lore of The Last of Us' universe without touching the ending, and that preservation of the ambiguity and mystery is why I enjoyed it the most. I enjoyed taking control of Ellie once more and seeing things through her originally more-innocent and naive perspective, sad though that was. That girl is gone now, but the story lives on.
Concept: Single-player additional content that is meant to expand upon the universe of The Last of Us, and adds more flavor into Ellie's own backstory and personal life after the apocalypse and during it.
Graphics: The graphical beauty of the main game continues in this additional content, and though it is on a technically last generation console, it still plays better than some Play Station 4 titles do with the new capabilities of that console.
Sound: The characters may have been changed up slightly, but their voice acting and that of even routine encounters with strangers and adversaries is perfectly done and showcases Naughty Dog's attention to detail and willingness to craft top-notch work.
Playability: The action is as gritty and memorable as any moments throughout The Last of Us, and the controls and moments blend together as well as any in the main content of the game. Definitely a memorable, if short experience.
Entertainment: The writing and story itself are well-written, even if they don't have the time to reach such epic levels as the main story's content. The characters are cohesive and believable. The universe works well with this prequel added in for the benefit of fleshing more characters out. And overall, it is a very enjoyable experience that- if a bit superfluous, is definitely to be enjoyed by fans of the game for a decent price (your emotions, mostly).
Replay Value: Moderate.
Overall Score: 8.25