Left Behind DLC Review
I almost never review downloadable content. However, exceptions can be made, especially when we're dealing with Naughty Dog's masterful The Last Of Us. The spectacular PlayStation 3 exclusive raked in numerous end-of-year awards (and continues to earn awards into 2014), which is why I've opted to review the game's first narrative-driven DLC, Left Behind. Featuring Ellie and her friend Riley, this 2-3 hour segment (depending on your play style) gives us a fresh perspective.
The graphics remain as astounding as ever; this remains the most technically accomplished and highly polished visual presentation of the previous generation, in my eyes. The Left Behind DLC once again reinforces that point; its unbelievable detail, fantastic animation, and overall game design are huge highlights. The audio is of the very best quality, with great voice performances from Ashley Johnson (Ellie) and Yaani King (Riley), although the soundtrack takes a backseat in this new scenario. It was subtle in the main campaign, too, but it's especially subdued in this DLC.
This extra story focuses on two different segments: The first is an extension of an event in the main narrative; when Joel is injured, Ellie strikes out on her own for a while. Left Behind starts off with Joel's injury, and how Ellie sets out to locate medical aid for her fallen partner. If you remember, in the main storyline, the game skips ahead a bit, sort of glossing over Joel's recovery. Well, in the DLC, Ellie has to find medical supplies because Joel is probably going to bleed to death if she doesn't. The other segment takes place before any of the events in the TLoU plot line.
This is the more interesting of the two sequences, because we learn a lot more about Ellie's history and influences. We're also introduced to Riley, a good friend of Ellie's who has just joined the Fireflies. As both were enrolled in a military academy of some kind, and the Fireflies are very much anti-establishment, the situation is ripe for drama. Riley disappeared for quite a while, and we find out she's planning to leave for good. But before she goes, she wants to share one last mischievous adventure with her good friend, Ellie. As you might expect, what starts out as an innocent little romp to the mall turns into something quite harrowing.
The basic control and gameplay is just as you remember, but don't forget that Ellie doesn't have Joel's strength. She can still stealth kill certain enemies, and she can even fight off other foes, but it's usually a good idea to remain hidden. If you must engage, engage from afar. Supplies are limited and Ellie isn't toting around machine guns and flamethrowers. Hence, at all times, there's a palpable feeling of tension, perhaps all the more magnified because you're controlling a teenage girl, and not a full-grown man. I'm always amazed at the consistency and stability of Naughty Dog productions; they're always so precise and refined.
It's difficult to find any messy balancing or inconsistencies, which is a tremendous accomplishment in and of itself. It's still weird that some enemies can track you from a long way away, but that only forces you to be more vigilant. The best part is that Naughty Dog tempers the tension with a lighter side, which Johnson spoke about before the DLC launched. Ellie and Riley do a little bonding, as they ride a carousel, make funny faces together in a photo booth, sample scary masks in a Halloween store, etc. It's also obvious that Riley is trying to make up for something; or rather two things: When she left without telling Ellie, and her impending departure when she'll once again leave her friend behind.
Given Ellie's initial resistance to traveling with Joel, you might see where this is headed. I won't give anything away, though. I think the writers could've done a little more with Riley and her motivations (paired with Ellie's lingering questions), but other than that, this is an awesome expansion. It gives us a closer look at what drives Ellie, and it allows us to experience a period of time when the heroine was...well, younger. And when I say younger, I'm speaking from a developmental and psychological perspective. Sure, she's still far more hardened than most other girls her age, given the world, but you catch a hint of carefree girlishness. She'd already lost this when Joel met her.
My only other small complaint involves the sequence where Ellie has to get medical supplies for Joel. The first part of that feels just a tad superfluous, but it turns out to be a significant and even poignant segment. When you combine this with the narrative featuring Ellie and Riley, you get a piece of DLC that absolutely cannot be missed. It's a whopping 5.4GB download and it will cost you $14.99, a price which may or may not be justified by the length. Well, I say if a few maps can cost $14.99 in a Call of Duty expansion, then Left Behind is definitely worth it. Besides, how often do we get stellar single-player expansions?
The Good: Still as technically superior as ever. Excellent voice performances. Control is rock solid and utterly consistent. Great sense of urgency and tension. Interesting, dynamic relationship between Ellie and Riley. An appropriate story expansion.
The Bad: First segment doesn't feel as fully realized.
The Ugly: "Well, Clickers are ugly suckers but that's intentional."
2/17/2014 Ben Dutka