Where to begin?
Well, to start with, it’s really hard to explain the true awesomeness of Naughty Dog’s first ever single player DLC without spoiling anything. However, we endeavor to keep our reviews spoiler free – so don’t worry – there will be no spoilers here.
As has been widely publicised, Naughty Dog’s long awaited DLC for the critically acclaimed The Last of Us, sees us take up the role of Ellie. The story in Left Behind focuses very much on filling in some of the blanks in Ellie’s story – particularly her time with Riley who is referred to in the main game – but never appears.
The good news is, this game picks up AFTER the events of the ‘American Dreams’ comic series. Fans had worried that the DLC would simply allow us to play through the events of the four-part comic series. Instead, Naughty Dog’s Bruce Straley and Neil Druckmann opted to include a lot of reference (and some locations) from the comic, but focus on the story after the comic ends and before the main game begins.
Though combat does feature in Left Behind, it definitely plays second fiddle to exploration and story. What is most interesting is the way the exploration and story are so tightly woven together, the plot is constantly developing but there are very few cut-scenes. Moreover, without a specific quest on the scale of the main game, the story development is largely about exploring the mall, in which most of the game is set, and exploring the relationship between the characters in the game. It’s packed with stunning attention to detail and masses of incidental (yet important) conversations, notes and recordings. There are also a couple of interesting social media links (twitter AND facebook getting love this time).
Throughout the modest two to three hour campaign, we learn a lot about Ellie’s past and her relationship’s with Riley, Marlene and even get a greater insight into her relationship with Joel. Elements of the main game will have a greater meaning after playing the DLC.
When combat does occur in Left Behind, it feels significantly different to The Last of Us main game. Presenting much more of a challenge – in a variety of ways – combat in Left Behind is exhilarating and tense. Playing as Joel in The Last of Us, you feel solid and sturdy. You know that you can wait in cover and take a guy out with a brick or bottle to the face. Even duking it out with your fists yields fairly consistent results. You tend to feel you can stand your ground against humans and the more tense moments are when battling the infected.
As Ellie in Left Behind however, you feel a lot more fragile against human opponents. Taking them head on will get you killed quickly. Compounding this is the fact that resources are even more scarce than in the main game (my first play through was on hard mode – I don’t think I had full health at any point in the game). The beauty of this set up is it forces you to be tactical. Using the whole space to creep around and pick guys off as quietly as possible (Ellie can’t choke people to death like Joel, but does have her knife). Even that is a challenge as Ellie’s stealthiest close quarters kill takes time and often has her being swung around on the back of the enemy.
Better still, Left Behind finally introduces moments where both humans and infected will be hunting you down. The first time I saw this, I was terrified – convinced certain death was mere moments away! Until I realised that the enemy of my enemy – is my friend. A well placed brick or bottle will send clickers running at the soldiers instead of at you. Furthermore, you can help either side, from the shadows, to influence the situation you are left in when the human vs. infected confrontation is over and you have to get past whoever remains.
In one scenario, I threw a bottle at the feet of some soldiers and set the infected after them, they were overwhelmed pretty quickly and I watched as the last soldier – a guy with a rifle – was taken down by a clicker. The remaining two clickers and two runners then hunted me down – my 4 bullets were not much of a match and I was killed quite quickly.
However, when I returned to this fight a second time, I threw my bottle as before, watched the infected eat the first couple of guys and start after the guy with the rifle. This time, I used my 4 bullets to help slow down the clickers while the rifle guy took them out one by one. Now I was left exposed, but with only one human to take down. A somewhat simpler task. This simple scenario playing out in two entirely different, complex ways really impressed upon me what Naughty Dog have achieved.
This was no scripted event, the whole dynamic changed thanks to my approach. The infected were directed by me, the human AI responded differently thanks to my influence. It was intense, amazing and awe inspiring at once.
As with any game, there are some issues. The good news is all of them in Left Behind are pretty much opinion based. There is no technical failing or flat story elements to ruin this experience.
The first point is the question of the combat itself. Some fans would have liked to see more, others even less. For me, it felt just right. Each fight was brief, but memorable and they were few and relatively far between.
The second issue is the one of length. Left Behind, including a little exploration, will take you in the region of two and a half hours to complete, a little longer on hard or survivor mode as you have to be even more cautious. However, in the great debate of quality vs. quantity – Left Behind provides unparalleled quality that, in my opinion, adds a great deal to the overall story.
The actual issue fans are having is not so much the ‘length’ as the ‘price for the short length’. The equation is simple, if you are a Season Pass holder, already enjoying the delights of the online DLC, Left Behind is incredible value for money. However, if you are buying this a stand alone experience – £14.99 may feel a little steep. I like to think of this as Naughty Dog trying to entice you to buy the Season Pass and get online (which you should).
The final issue is to do with a plot point some way into the game, so I won’t discuss it here, but it has been somewhat divisive (perhaps even more so than the ending to the main game?). It comes down to your personal opinion of the events in game. For me, this was one of the most amazing, real, brave and beautifully melancholy moments in video game history. The fact that not everyone feels the same is a little disappointing, if not wholly surprising. You’ll have to get through the game for yourself to join that particular debate though!
Rest assured, there will be a spoiler filled, follow up article that will help blow the debate wide open. Come back to Twinstickgaming soon to make your voice heard.