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The Last of Us: Left Behind Review: More great storytelling leaves less room for gameplay

on 14 February 2014

'Powerful, dramatic and emotional’ were the three headline-grabbing adjectives that we used to sum up The Last of Us back in June last year. Yes, it’s been a long wait for the release of the first and only piece of single-player DLC for Naughty Dog’s memorable survival horror adventure, but such was the impact of Joel and Ellie’s journey that it only feels like yesterday we were anxiously creeping around the post-apocalyptic world, stabbing Clickers in between the eyes, listening intently to emotionally charged dialogue between characters, and hearing our hearts pound like drums as we reached the story's powerful climax.

The Last of Us: Left Behind takes a step back from these events with a prologue to the main campaign, which leans more toward the character building, story-telling side of Naughty Dog’s repertoire of talents rather than the twists, turns, and stand-out moments that were so frequent in the main campaign. Lifted from the stories in the American Dreams comic books, Left Behind focuses on Ellie during her time in the Boston quarantine zone; specifically, when she meets up and explores the confines of a shopping mall with her close friend, Riley.

While the main narrative and dialogue focuses entirely on the interaction between these two characters, gameplay also switches to Ellie’s search for medicine for a heavily-injured Joel. Though we learn nothing new during these particular sections, we do once again see what lengths Ellie goes to in order to look after Joel and just how far the relationship has matured since the day they first met, when trust was a major issue. Including Joel in the DLC was definitely a clever move as it leaves you desperate for a proper sequel by the time curtains fall on Left Behind.

The main focus, though, is Ellie and Riley’s relationship, which gives us an insight into another side of Ellie’s character. Fans of The Last of Us know all too well that Ellie is very capable of taking care of herself and is vicious in her no-nonsense approach to killing in a world where survival instincts are paramount. She seems much older than her years suggest in The Last of Us, but in Left Behind, we get introduced to her fun side and see her teenage demeanor--a glimpse of what Ellie used to be like before being affected so harshly by the pandemic and the events in the main campaign.

A good chunk of the two-plus-hour DLC is taken up with slow-paced exploration through a Boston mall and the tight relationship that Ellie has with Riley. Here we see Ellie acting like a teenager, dancing, playing arcade games, laughing, having fun, and even exploring her own sexuality. It’s a stark reminder that Ellie is just a young girl stuck in a world full of unspeakable horror, but it also relates to the main campaign well and gives you further evidence of why Ellie has ended up being so tough-skinned.

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