The Last of Us: Left Behind DLC Review: Growing Characters
Warning! This review carries spoilers for The Last of Us. If you haven’t completed the game and you mean to, finish it before reading this review (or playing the “Left Behind” DLC).
“Left Behind,” the downloadable content expansion for The Last of Us that adds to the game’s story, shows that Naughty Dog understands one thing very well: Prequels aren’t about plot, they’re about character.
We already know what’s going to happen in Left Behind — it’s partially the story of how the young Ellie was bitten by fungus-infected zombies, which kicks off the story of the main game, and partially the story of how Ellie manages to save the life of The Last of Us protagonist and her de facto caretaker, Joel, when he’s badly injured in Colorado. But both parallel tales expand on who Ellie is and why she does what she does; we learn new things about Ellie, even if we’re not learning new things about the plot.
The best DLC adds to its game without feeling like it was purposely held back from the package release to pull another $15 out of consumers; it adds to an already complete story. Left Behind does this beautifully, and in a way, recasts The Last of Us into something new, something that’s greater because of both main game and DLC working together.
Though Left Behind contains many of those same nagging The Last of Us problems — an over-reliance on body count, an over-reliance on checking corners of ruined buildings without end, an over-reliance on slicing story into neat little cutscenes while leaving the interactive portions with less meat and more gristle — it still is another phenomenally written piece of a phenomenally written story.
The Last of Us: Left Behind DLC
Platform: Playstation 3
Developer: Naughty Dog
Release Date: Feb. 4, 2014
As mentioned, Left Behind is about how Ellie dragged Joel into a Colorado mall, found a first aid kit, and stitched him back together after he was impaled by a piece of rebar during a battle with hunters. The other is the story of Ellie’s bite and what happened to her friend Riley.
The conclusions of both these scenarios were revealed in the original game, and Riley’s introduction is made more fully in “The Last of Us: American Dreams,” a four-part prequel comic book. Throughout, players take control of Ellie, something that happens relatively rarely in the main game, and Naughty Dog seizes a great opportunity to further develop an already well-realized character.
Though the two stories in the DLC are interwoven, they’re not equal. Ellie’s quest for the first aid kit is the more gamey of the two bits — it feels like it exists mostly to give players dangerous things to do, like scavenge through a mall while occasionally dealing with infected and other threats. It’s mostly what we expect from The Last of Us, as Ellie tromps around dingy environments, trying to hide from enemies and find stuff to make bombs, molotov cocktails, medkits and the like.
That portion of the DLC is business as usual. Ellie plays functionally identically to Joel (just as she did in the main game), and just like Joel, she’s a super-adept killing machine. We get a taste of Ellie’s ability to fend for herself during the Winter portion of The Last of Us, but where those moments felt desperate and uncommon, Left Behind makes it feel as though teenage Ellie is a seasoned neck-stabbing pro.