Never let go: The Last of Us: Left Behind review
Platform: Playstation 3
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Released: Feb. 14
A world that has fallen into decay and become overtaken by zombie-esque creatures should be a harsh, grim and gritty tale for two particular teenagers, but it rarely is.
Instead, Left Behind - the first and only story-based downloadable content (DLC) for The Last of Us - is an emotionally packed story that manages to accomplish an amazing amount of character development and storytelling in a very short amount of time.
Half of Left Behind's two-hour campaigntakes the player through a gap in the game's original story. The other half is spent flashing back to when Riley and Ellie are in military boarding school.
The story takes place before the events of the original game, but after the events of the four-issue comic book series American Dreams, which was released as a monthly series between April and July 2013.
Although reading American Dreams isn't necessary to understand Left Behind's story, the characters make multiple references to the comic's events - making reading it feel beneficial.
After Riley goes missing for over a month, she returns to the school and invites Ellie to explore the city of Boston for the evening.
Ellie is still the same foul-mouthed, rebellious, yet vulnerable teen from the original game and comic book add-on American Dreams. Riley, however, has become far less impulsive after joining and fighting for the Fireflies - an anti-government faction.
As Ellie and Riley explore the beautifully rendered world of Left Behind, the player is constantly searching for parts of the environment that will trigger conversations between them. These events resemble those of The Last of Us'original campaign. They accelerate players' investment in the story and their understanding of the characters' close but fragile relationship.
Though short, the DLC is packed with the same impeccable voice acting, well-crafted storytelling and gorgeous cinematics that made the original game so effective.
But Left Behind's greatest triumph isn't that it brilliantly expands upon The Last of Us' narrative, it's that the DLC convinces players that Ellie and Riley are close friends and gets them invested in their friendship. Through this, the game captures both characters' vulnerability within the post-apocalyptic world they live in, which is emphasized by the game play.
Similarly to playing through The Last of Us' winter chapter, playing as Ellie makes the player vulnerable within the game's grisly and violent world. And the DLC doesn't need to change any of the game's mechanics to make her vulnerability feel more impactful.
Although Left Behind doesn't change any of the game's mechanics, it still has some clever moments. The DLC often allows players to thin enemy ranks by pitting infected enemies against other dangerous survivors and bandits - something that rarely occurs within the original game.
With its core game play and action in tact, but divided by the flashbacks to Ellie's past, Left Behind manages to capture everything that made the original game one of last year's best - in a fraction of the time. But as the last and only addition to the The Last of Us' story, it's difficult to put the controller down.