Naughty Dog recently released “Left Behind,” the highly anticipated single player DLC add-on for last year’s critically acclaimed “The Last of Us.” Just a heads up as a warning: while I will try to avoid spoilers wherever possible, there are a number of things that may be considered spoiler-ish that I’d really like to touch on, so read on at your own peril if you haven’t completed the story. Naughty Dog chose to switch gears with Left Behind as the story is completely centered on Ellie, both before and during the events of The Last of Us. It’s also important to note that while Left Behind is a standalone experience, you will need a copy of The Last of Us to play it (either physical or digital).
The expansion picks up almost immediately following one of the most pivotal and distressing events of the campaign; only this time around, the player takes control of Ellie in the crucial hours that followed. Ellie quickly displays her resolve to do whatever it takes to ensure Joel’s survival as she rummages through a deserted Colorado mall in the middle of winter to find the supplies necessary. The expansion then flashes back to an unknown time before the events of The Last of Us with Ellie safe in the Boston Quarantine zone as her friend Riley sneaks into her room and convinces Ellie to leave the zone and follow her to another mall as she has a surprise waiting for her. It switches between these two different locales and time periods for the remainder of the expansion at appropriate breaks in the story.
As someone who thought The Last of Us was the best game of last generation, the story arc regarding Riley and Ellie’s escapade is where the expansion really shined for me. The back-story development of Ellie, a character I had come to know and love throughout my four runs through the main game was a real treat. The interaction between her and Riley are heartfelt and genuine, and do a great job of really hammering home the point that despite the failing condition of the world, Ellie is still just a teenager at heart with the same worries, silliness, and awkwardness that plagues most of us during those formative years. Ultimately she’s just trying to find her place and her way in a dramatically different and deadly world plagued by the infection.
Once again Naughty Dog deserves kudos for their fantastic storytelling and the decisions they made with Left Behind. While I've heard some cry foul about the kiss between Ellie and Riley, I thought it was handled beautifully and more importantly, very grounded and realistic and it adds another dimension to an already well fleshed out and interesting character in videogames. It never came across as cheap or exploitative so much as it emphasized the human capacity for emotion and love no matter how dire the circumstances may be. Despite knowing that it would not result in a happy ending for the two participants, I found myself completely immersed and pulling for them to beat the odds. While enemy encounters are few and far between in your time with Left Behind, they are nonetheless nerve-racking when they do occur and the pacing of the story-heavy DLC was spot on in my opinion.
The expansion can be completed in three to four hours depending on the difficulty setting and how thorough you are and can be purchased individually or is the second piece of content for those that purchased the season pass, with the other two being map packs for the game’s multiplayer. I’m still torn over the idea of a sequel to this game but Left Behind does a fantastic job of further developing one of the more interesting character’s to grace a videogame in years, and their post-apocalyptic playground is one that I never wish to leave. Left Behind is a great single player add-on (and sadly the only one they are doing for the title), and I’d fully recommend it for those who've experienced and enjoyed The Last of Us. Naughty Dog really seems to be at the top of their game in regards to story-telling and tapping into the human emotion, and I can’t wait to see what they do next.