You’ve got to hand it to Naughty Dog, really. Not content with creating one of the best games of 2013, they’ve now gone and created one of the best pieces of downloadable content I’ve had the pleasure to play through in a good long while. The only trouble is, it’s so chock-full of interesting moments that it’d be awful to spoil them for anyone – indeed, you absolutely must finish the main story of The Last of Us before you begin Left Behind.
Mechanically, nothing has changed from The Last of Us, exactly as you’d expect. But it’s worth saying there’s the option to turn the tutorial hints on if you’ve not played the game in a while, and you can play Left Behind at any of the difficulty levels you choose.
Clocking in at two hours, what I will tell you about the story is that we shift regularly between two time periods, one that focuses on the relationship between Ellie and her friend Riley, the other taking place during the same timeline as the main story. Similarly, one focuses more on the tense, horrifically violent imagery that we’re used to, whereas the other is solely pointed at exploring the brighter, less action-packed narrative.
In fact, the Ellie and Riley sections feature no gun-play whatsoever, happening as they do before Ellie meets Joel and learns how to handle herself. But this means that there are some truly magical moments. I wouldn’t dream of spoiling them, but there is a moment – and you’ll know exactly the one when you play it – that is a potential high point in Naughty Dog history. It’s so brilliantly executed that you’ll find yourself truly immersed. It’s something that, in the grand scheme of things is almost completely irrelevant, yet is so meaningful here.
In fact, new to Left Behind are dialogue choices. There aren’t many of them, but they let you shape the chatter between Ellie and Riley, and flesh out yet more back-story while adding colour to the overall universe. Ellie is younger here, and Naughty Dog play to the parent in us all by reminding us of the innocence of youth – it’s beautiful.
The juxtaposition of the two components of Left Behind couldn’t be more stark. The extreme situations Ellie finds herself in reproduce the tension we’re used to perfectly. This “current-day” section could have actually been ripped from the main game itself, though it would have meant certain other parts would have had a lesser impact.
In fact, given the shorter run length, there’s an argument to be made that the overall execution is better here. There’s no confusion over what you’re required to do, everything is clearly signposted and battles play out in a more obvious way. Small gaps in the overall story are filled in nicely, and it makes sense that this is seemingly the only single player DLC we’re going to get, given how many of those gaps are plugged.
The soundtrack is (yet again) excellent, especially during the calmer moments, as Ellie and Riley chat, and the acoustic-twang gently swells around the characters. But even these moments are just more proof that Naughty Dog know how to let a story breath. The fact that such a high budget, high profile title allows for moments where nothing out of this world is happening, save for two characters just chatting and interacting, is worth celebrating. It’s a shame that such moments in games stand out because of their rarity, but that doesn’t diminish what The Last of Us does.
Best of all, Druckman really knows how to write for Ellie. The dialogue is emotional when the moment requires it (and there’s a lot of that), yet there are comical beats that are laugh-out-loud funny. Ellie is a young girl and her dialogue fits perfectly. Switch back to the present-day and she’s more hardened, determined to succeed; back to young Ellie again, and she’s got similar determination, but for something far less important. There are even revelations afoot here, which for such a short length piece of content is another impressive feat.
VERDICT: Left Behind serves as a reminder (as if we’d forgotten) of just how good Naughty Dog can be. Truly wonderful sections of youthful exuberance give way to bleak moments of horror and desperation. Two hours may not seem all that long, but the impact Left Behind has will be with you for hours afterwards. On higher difficulties the punishing combat has potential to frustrate, but it’s worth it for the ride, regardless – and what a ride it is. Exceptional, once again.
INCREDIBLE. This is the pinnacle of our scoring spectrum, reserved for games that truly affect us, that capture our imagination so completely that they affect the standard by which we measure future games. 10/10 is not a declaration of perfection, but an assurance that the game in question is of amazingly high quality and has exceeded our expectations.
Review copy provided by the publisher.