Naughty Dog, keen to deliver one final moment of awe before wrapping up The Last of Us, evoke a genuine sense of surprise as you load up Left Behind. It’s not a shocking twist, and neither is it anything foreshadowed to death, yet it’s not something that could really be spoiled for you in a major way.
We could tell you about the extra layer of intrigue found in Left Behind, but we’re going to avoid that and discuss the downloadable content as a whole, without any story spoilers whatsoever. Just know that it’s not completely what you expect going in – there are two sides to a story, and Naughty Dog’s achievements shine throughout this prequel, creating a very effective and moving piece of interactive entertainment once again.
Perhaps all you need to know going in is that if you enjoyed The Last of Us, then you’ll enjoy this just as much. Gameplay is the same for the most part, it’s still a wonderfully built post-apocalyptic world and there’s still an extremely engaging story to be found.
But the introduction of Riley, Ellie’s best friend before she met Joel and Tess, is a smart one, and creates something which we never got to experience throughout the main game. They’ll bounce off each other with their childlike wonder relatively unhindered by the world around them, contrasting strongly with Joel, whose aged attitude and unfortunate circumstances took a toll on his morale.
It’s just really nice to see two friends getting along as well as they do and since it’s based in a shopping mall there’s plenty for Ellie and Riley to chat about, from the various shops, to pre-apocalypse technology. Their pop-culture knowledge may be a bit too advance for two girls who grew up after the world fell, but there are some genuinely charming scenes, peppered with use of the youthful imagination that these young girls are so full of.
This creates quite a bleak contrast to what we’ve seen before in The Last of Us, but it’s juxtaposed just as well throughout Left Behind, with the twosome’s faux happiness almost crumbling as they long for this world which they never knew, exploring the atrocities of a world which they know far too well.
Truly, Left Behind feels like a missing chapter of sorts. For the original experience, its omittance made perfect sense, but after playing through this story, the main game doesn’t feel quite as complete without it. This wraps up the story of The Last of Us, from each characters’ beginning to the end of the tale.
But even as a standalone story it would work and Riley alone is proof of this. You’ve never met her before Left Behind, but you understand and care about the situation, and not only because she’s Ellie’s friend. This leads to Quantic Dream-esque interactions, moments which give you more freedom and engross you in the story without feeling as though you’re just watching it play out.
There’s a really well-measured build up over the three hour run, and it’s ultimately compelling from all angles, even enhanced because you’ve already spent a good amount of time in the company of Ellie before. You’ll naturally be playing as her for the duration of Left Behind, as you did in a couple of sections in the main game. With her trusty knife and more agile frame, she’s often easier to manage than Joel was, yet lacks the brute force strength to take enemies head on or use larger melee weapons.
Some of the progression lets the game down however. In several sections, you’ll simply be guiding Ellie from one point to another in an open area. It’s nice to have the sense of exploration throughout the mall, but some sections feel like fetch quests rather than true goals. Still, it’s a truly incredible place to explore off the beaten path, with more of the excellent world-setting backstory told through notes, recordings and various other trinkets found throughout the game.
Left Behind is the perfect complimentary side-dish for The Last of Us. It’s happier at points, but just as bleak at others, and everything else is pretty much on par with any of the other chapters in the tale. There’s a brilliant approach to the narrative, while Ellie and Riley’s charm shines throughout, their wonder and imagination matching exactly how you’ll feel as you return to this world.