Warning: this review does contain some suggestions that could be seen as spoilers for parts of The Last of Us’ single player story.
You have been warned.
Left Behind is not what I expected, but exactly what I wanted. Left Behind jumps between two singular stories: Ellie’s last day with her best friend Riley, three weeks before the beginning of Summer in the main story, and a scene with Ellie between the end of Fall and the beginning of Winter in the main story. Two relatively short days, directly linked to one another thematically, in which you exclusively play Ellie, and get a much better and more rounded understanding of her character.
Where The Last of Us succeeded so much in creating environments for you to see, to touch, and to explore, Left Behind succeeds even more. For the Ellie and Riley portions of the game, you are exploring a mall in Boston, and there is no combat. Just jokes between friends and some great bonding moments that are understandably character-defining for Ellie. The moments with these two have an extreme jovial nature, and are incredibly juxtaposed to the other half of the DLC, which I’ll get to in a moment. Riley and Ellie have the carefree nature of teens, and though they are making up after a falling out some time previous, you instantly grasp and relate to the relationship they have. From goofing off in a Halloween store, to telling dick jokes, there are plenty of laughs that I shared with the two of them.
The other half of the DLC also takes place in a mall, where Ellie is desperately looking for medicine. These portions are much darker, and everything from the music to Ellie’s appearance and actions drive home the complete change in her in the six months between the two halves of this story. It’s done expertly, and as opposed to seeing one half of the journey and then the other, you cut back and forth between the two at expertly-timed points to further drive home the themes in Left Behind.
This half of the DLC is where the combat takes place, which is mostly against infected, but at times against humans as well. The most interesting addition to the combat is when you find yourself literally between groups of infected and humans at the same time, and can pit them against one another. With extremely scarce supplies and ammo, I found it absolutely exhilarating. Setting a pack of clickers on a bunch of gun-toting hunters made for some of the most satisfying moments I had with The Last of Us combat.
The theme instilled here is Ellie’s growth and change as a character, as well as her extreme motivation in the Winter portion of the game. Knowing the story from The Last of Us means you know what happens at the mall with Ellie and Riley. Though you know it all leads to a depressing close, the moments shared between them through this short adventure are fantastic, and the freedom of pure exploration is incredibly satisfying and a wonderful change of pace for the game. No combat in those sections allows you to set your expectations and kind of kick back and have a little fun. It’s different than anything else shown in The Last of Us, and it is all the more excellent because of it.
Ellie has been through more than most in this horrible, post-apocalyptic world. Left Behind simultaneously introduces levity into the dark dreary world of The Last of Us, while also reiterating that there really isn’t the luxury for hope in this world. Clocking in at about three hours long, Left Behind will have you laugh, cry, and keep on fighting. Until the bitter end