No third-person action adventure game is more enthralling than Naughty Dog's The Last of Us
. This week, I finally got around to playing the story add-on, Left Behind
, and I'm not surprised to say that the same sentiment still holds true.
If you've read my Bio panel (see right), then you must certainly know that The Last of Us
stands among my favorite games of all time. Under normal circumstances, you go into the announcement of story DLC with skepticism. Is this going to sully the 10/10 experience of the main campaign? Is this just a ploy for more consumer dollars? Yet I didn't have these reservations going into Left Behind
. Naughty Dog has proven their pedigree on more than one occasion, and I knew they would deliver an exceptional addition to The Last of Us
I could not have been more correct.
I'll be frank - I knew one of the big twists going in. (This is where that spoiler warning becomes important! Turn back now if you have not played Left Behind
.) I knew that Ellie and Riley were going to kiss at some point in the 4 to 5 hour adventure. IGN ran an article awhile back about gay characters in video games, which I avoided solely for the fact that the article's cover image had Ellie and Riley on the forefront, but the damage had already been done. Ellie was gay - and I had missed out on the opportunity to discover it for myself.
But saying one or two twists made this DLC exceptional would be selling it short. The whole adventure was masterfully crafted, switching back and forth between two big moments in Ellie's life - her mission to find medicine for an injured Joel in Colorado and her "girl's night out" with an old friend during her time in the Boston Quarantine Zone.
Both stories are mirrored in setting but focused on different styles of gameplay. The former sees the survival, crafting, and action elements carried over from the main campaign while the latter focuses almost exclusively on contextual exploration. This speaks volumes about the expansion's production value. Swapping between settings keeps the story moving at a refreshing pace; it allows us to enjoy the core mechanics we mastered in the main campaign while taking some time to smell the roses in this, presumably, last hurrah in the universe. (Naughty Dog is discussing sequels, but whether or not these plans will come to fruition has yet to be seen.) Ashley Johnson returns to lend her vocal chords to Ellie; she delivers the same high-quality performance prevalent throughout the main game.
But enough blanket statements. Left Behind
shined in a few memorable places:
Playing games throughout the mall in the flashback sequences with Riley catered towards my inner child, who has often wondered what he would do if ever left loose in Wal-Mart. Touching all the trinkets in the Halloween store and even getting to trade off on some cool masks was a fun experience.
The game even integrates social media via a run-down photo booth in which players get to upload their pictures to their Facebook wall. Mundane? Sure. But it was incorporated in such strong narrative context that one can't help but marvel at how seamless it felt. It didn't feel "thrown in." It felt like a very conscious decision that A) made sense in the context of the story and B) made for one of the more-memorable moments in the DLC.
Are we just totes adorable?!
In the other half of the story, as Ellie searches for medical supplies for Joel, a few moments stood out as well: There were a small handful of encounters where Ellie gets to play defense and use her resources to pit the Infected against the Bandits. This was a new approach to The Last of Us
's combat encounters. I felt like a totally manipulative badass by pitting enemies against each other, all while I skirted around the enemy lines to safety. In one instance, a group of Clickers stood unawares in a back room. With a calculated toss of a brick, I lured them out in front of a group of unsuspecting Bandits. Within seconds, both factions were in open conflict, and when only two Clickers remained, I had the last laugh in the form of a molotov cocktail.
This is just another testament to Left Behind
's high production value. Not only do combat encounters return, but they are innovated
Left Behind is everything I want from story add-ons in video games. It gives us more of the mechanics we loved from the main game but delivers a fresh experience entirely - like hiking a different trail than the one you'd normally take through the forest. Going into this DLC, I expected nothing less from a studio as world-renowned as Naughty Dog - and yet they still managed to blow me away.
That's what I've been playing. How about you?