The Last of Us is a testament to the narrative genius that resides within developer Naughty Dog. The title’s only single-player DLC, Left Behind, invites players to revisit the grim post-apocalyptic world with a generous portion of backstory. It capitalizes on what the core game did so well that kept players coming back.
Game directors Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley could’ve gone to unknown territory with single-player content. There was opportunity to explore the journey of Joel’s brother, Tommy; the backstory of brothers Henry and Sam; the mystery behind the survivor, Ish; Marlene’s leadership campaign to the Fireflies – scenarios that aren’t known to players. Instead, they opted for a story in which we practically know the ending to.
Left Behind divulges more into the backstory of Ellie and her best friend, Riley. The script resonates the consciousness of childhood adventure and innocence, which is a welcome change of tone from the main game. Mind you, it still takes place in the same wicked and unforgiving world. Yet somehow there’s some breath of fresh air and an illusion of escape from all the dangers of the post-pandemic world.
There are moments in the writing that really push things forward. It takes a canon that people know about and makes bold moves in its script. Left Behind manages to be a perfect example of pushing the strengths of the “journey, not the destination” storytelling approach. We know what happens in the end prior before playing, but Druckmann’s writing convinces us that the events leading up to the ending is worth seeing.
Everything you would expect from a Naughty Dog title is bundled firmly in the two-to three-hour experience. There was an intelligent decision in which Left Behind embraces the atmosphere over gameplay. It takes advantage of what the main game did best: storytelling. The departure from an action-paced situation to a more intimate one allowed for a focused view on Ellie’s backstory.
There’s a seamless contrast between companionship and loneliness as everything progresses. Just like in The Last of Us, you’ll find scraps, pictures, and recordings of other people. These give other stories that explore the same themes companionship and loneliness. Little details like these give the world life.
The vulnerability and innocence of a young girl is often exploited and it keeps you on edge at times. Ellie and Riley’s intuition as young spirits to explore and have a good time is executed perfectly through the performances of Ashley Johnson and newcomer Yaani King.
Gustavo Santaolalla returned to record new music for Left Behind. The new pieces suit the atmosphere and situation perfectly. There are many moments that become emotional from the brilliant mix between acting, script, and music.
There’s a certain something to Left Behind that makes it unique from the main game. The life of these characters, the music that kicks in at the perfect moment, the tension that couples with each infected encounter, the top-notch sound design and graphics – these are all mutual with the main game. However, there are things that feel exclusive to the campaign.
While it retains most of the core mechanics of The Last of Us, Left Behind manages to feel different. You won’t be punching your way out of encounters or revealing any arsenal in your backpack. You are Ellie – low on supplies and lacking experience to handle skirmishes the same way Joel does.
Unlike the main game, players are given the opportunity to tackle situations a little differently, but not to a huge extent. There will be skirmishes where hostile survivors and infected come across each other. You could wait it out and eliminate the rest of the hostiles or head in cautiously. It’s a neat scenario that isn’t worn-out by the end of the campaign.
Most of Left Behind lacks combat, which isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s beneficial to the final product. A chunk of this campaign could be labeled a “best friend simulator,” but labeling it to just that would be selling it short. There are enough distinctive twists on gameplay that makes it a unique experience. What surprised me the most was the replay value of some elements of the DLC.
Combat, while scarce, manages to be the low point. Sure, there are set pieces that feel necessary to the experience, but there’s one in particular that felt forced and troublesome. This particular set piece just feels like a cheap insert to incorporate combat into the mix.
Verdict: 9.0 out of 10
Crafted intricately with attention to detail and pacing, Left Behind proves to be a worthy entry to the canon. There is a lot of grace and charm to be found in the experience. Naughty Dog manages to again outstand with their blend of narrative and execution. It’s not what you’d expect in the fullest, but this is a story worth experiencing.