We’re closing in on a year between the release of The Last of Us and now. During that time very few games have managed the narrative maturity Naughty Dog’s most recent release delivered in spades.
Even the title screen is messaged-filled – a smashed window, a decaying window sill with a knife balanced upon it, sunlight and lushious green pouring through worn, weathered old curtains. You haven’t played a second of gameplay and that already helps set a tone for everything that is to come.
The fact that the first piece of story-based DLC is only now releasing for The Last of Us is extremely telling. Naughty Dog have taken their time crafting this and are not after a cheap buck in order to push more launch window sales. They want this new brand to matter and mean something. And it shows…
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: 14th February 2014
Format: Playstation 3
While the thinking has long been that Left Behind is a prequel to The Last of Us, the content will actually put you in the shoes of Ellie pre-TLOU and during the main game. The switching of perspectives enables the two hour content to have the perfect amount of pacing so that there are no lulls in action or character development. This content is wonderfully delivered, even down to the difficulty which naturally starts to spike towards the end of the content.
The story isn’t what you might expect either, but as both narratives progress, you’ll understand the significance of this particular parallel. Harkening back to a time with her best friend gives Ellie the strength she needs to persevere and push through incredibly challenging moments in the main campaign. It gives her an added sense of strength and takes on a whole other level of significance that would not have been clear when the DLC was first announced.
But Naughty Dog aren’t just content to add to player perspective. They’re in it to add another dimension to the Ellie character. They want us to understand more about the girl before the woman and they manage it time after time with one incredible sequence after another. Riley and Ellie share in the kind of activities that two rebellious teenage girls might. Trespassing, drinking, even vandalism, but rather than the acts being senseless, they’re considered and are cast in something of an innocent light when you consider the bleak backdrop they’re set against. They’re also more of a bonding experience for two young girls trying to find a level of normalcy in such abnormal circumstances.
The events of Left Behind help spur on the courage she shows in The Last of Us. But there are also moments in this content that will help the player understand the connection between Joel and Ellie all the more. That’s the beautiful thing. Left Behind doesn’t take anything away from The Last of Us experience. It doesn’t cheapen the quality of the multi-award winning masterpiece. It adds to it. It helps us better interpret Ellie’s concepts of friendship and loyalty.
There are issues to be found here, though not in the game’s story. More in the price of the content and a few technical niggles. At £11.99, this is a premium price for DLC, but there is nothing offered for that price except a two hour campaign. My issue isn’t with the length of the content, however – in my view, it’s the perfect size – but more that once it’s over, there’s nothing else to be had. A few multiplayer skins would have been an ideal fit, and maybe even an extra map. Hell, perhaps a new multiplayer mode. ND should have offered just a little something extra.
I also experienced some environmental tearing and clipping issues early-on, though never for prolonged periods and certainly not to the detriment of the content. I also found some of the Clickers overly responsive to my movements. Despite being in Listening mode and taking my steps carefully and cautiously, Clickers instantly knew where I was hiding and dived on top of me within a moment to spare.
Still, this journey was one I was glad to take. After Left Behind, I somehow feel even more connected to Ellie. My bond with her is stronger, not weaker, and that is something any additional story should be able to accomplish. It’s a testament to the characters we’ve already spent so much time with and it’s a testament to the vision and direction of a development studio at the top of their game.
2014 has mostly shown us rushed DLC made to cash-in on a popular game for instant success. Eight months after the fact, Naughty Dog have exposed that more than ever before, creating one of the all-time great pieces of DLC. The scenes and symbolism of Left Behind will stay with and haunt you long after its finished.
- Some of the best character development we’ve seen in a game, let alone DLC
- Fantastic pacing throughout
- Left Behind feels completely relevant to The Last of Us story
- Riley is another brilliantly written character
- Some environmental tearing
- Clickers have occasionally hyper-sensitive hearing
- Some additional multiplayer skins and maybe an additional map could have been added to make the price point slightly more attractive
4.5 out of 5
Left Behind is, quite possibly, the best DLC we’ve ever seen. It ranks up there with the greats: Lair of the Shadow Broker, Minerva’s Den, The Ballad of Gay Tony. The story of Ellie and Riley is heart-breaking and hilarious. It’s absolutely convincing and tackles issues more intelligently in two hours than some games manage in sixty. Left Behind is the end-product of a development team who are at the top of their game and even though its length may seem off-putting, the story begins and ends precisely when it needs to. This is how DLC is meant to be done.