I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting from the single-player expansion to the best game of 2013, but whatever it was I set my expectations too high.
The Last of Us: Left Behind is not as good as the main game, but realistically it was never going to be. It is a particularly good extra and as far as DLC goes, it's better than what most games offer. But it doesn't add to the story quite as much as I was hoping it to. It's a worthy addition, but the impact finishing it left on me is quite a bit less than that of the full game itself.
I love that Left Behind focuses on Ellie. She's such a fascinating character and as The Last of Us is more about Joel than her, finding out more about Ellie's backstory was always going to be rewarding.
But Left Behind is not just a prequel, as Naughty Dog cunningly had us believe leading up to its release. The narrative cuts back and forth between the events in Ellie's life just before the main game, and events in a section of the game we didn't see while playing it.
If you haven't played The Last of Us, now is a good time to stop reading this review. I won't give away major spoilers, but I have to give away mild ones, which will reduce the enjoyment of playing through the greatest game of 2013 and one of the best interactive stories ever released.
The prequel storyline is that of the last chapter in Ellie and Riley's friendship. In the main game, near the end, Ellie explains to Joel that Riley died. Knowing this going into Left Behind gives it an over-arching sense of dread. And she didn't tell Joel the entire story, which we find out playing through it and it's fantastic.
The other storyline is what Ellie does while Joel is unconscious and regaining his health after receiving a major abdomen wound in the main game's storyline, during the Winter section. It is this one that provides a bunch of the stealth action gameplay that helped make The Last of Us such a memorable release, while the flashback storyline is almost entirely story with very little action.
The segments of Ellie running around while Joel is knocked out bring something new to The Last of Us gameplay that is absolutely brilliant. You have the ability to set two types of enemies off against each other - the infected, and scavengers.
Throwing a brick or bottle strategically so that the infected run out and see the scavengers is great fun, and you can time and place it to slant the battle in either group's favour. If you want to end up facing surviving scavengers, try and work it so the infected all have to run on the humans over open ground, allowing for clear lines of sight and shooting. That way the scavengers will likely be able to blow them all away.
If you'd rather it be infected that make up the survivors you dispatch, distract them in a way that'll mean they can get to the scavengers around obstacles, as those silly bandits don't use cover too well and this way they'll probably end up a clicker's dinner.
This storyline revolves around Ellie trying to find medical supplies to treat Joel's injuries, but also trying to stop the scavengers from getting to him and taking revenge for their slain buddies. There are a few really quite difficult segments, particularly the final action sequence and another segment that involved a bunch of infected and some electrified water.
The flashback storyline provides greatly accepted moments of reprieve from the often intense and challenging Winter accompaniment. It starts off with Riley and Ellie reuniting, as shown in the trailer, before the two head off on an adventure.
Ellie and Riley play with masks, throw bricks at car windows, shoot each other with water pistols, listen to music, make faces in a photo booth... rather than action, this part of the game is all about character. In another title, these bits would be boring, but the Naughty Dog level of storytelling and the attachment I have to Ellie's character make them highly enjoyable.
The inevitable climax of the flashback storyline is fairly powerful. There are a few moments in the main game that are more powerful, sure, but none-the-less it hits pretty hard and the way in which this storyline's climax blends into that of the Winter one make both of them work better.
Man, I really wish other studios were as good as Naughty Dog at writing games. I really do.
Left Behind is short, at around two hours of game time. But it is very much a worthy companion to The Last of Us for any fan; even though I feel it's not as great as the main game, it's still great.
The Last of Us: Left Behind is available to buy now through the PlayStation Store.