- Developer – Naughty Dog
- Publisher – Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
- Platform – PSN
- Price - £11.99
- Release date – Out now
The Last of Us: Left Behind Review
Typically, I dislike DLC. To me it represents commercialism, long-windedness, a compromise of the original work. Surely, if the game's creators truly adored the contents of the downloadable package, they wouldn't have sold them in a downloadable package in the first place – they'd have included them in the game proper.
DLC is an offshoot. It's scraps, leftovers. At best I'd compare it to the "deleted scenes" section on a DVD. At worst, I'd say it was cynical, cowardly. It mocks the idea of a pure and complete artistic vision.
I'm an enormous fan of The Last of Us. It's an opaque, inaccessible and brave work. A AAA game of real substance, it stands tall against the easy commercialism that DLC betokens. Because of that, though I'm relieved it's been a financial success, I don't want to see it become a product.
The Last of Us is so completely well-done that it belies the need for further instalments.
What needed to be said, was said
As such, I question the motivations behind its first DLC pack, Left Behind. Though it's expertly written, it adds nothing to the whole. Of course, that's a reflection on the original game's containment - everything that needed to be said about this world, these characters, was said in The Last of Us.
However, it also hints that Left Behind, like most DLC, is a monetary rather than artistic endeavour. Besides profiteering further from the success of The Last of Us, I see no reason for it to exist.
It's well made, of course. A half prequel, half companion piece to the original game, it centres on the friendship between Ellie and Riley, another teenager from the Boston quarantine zone.
In contrast to The Last of Us, which focused on loss and sacrifice, Left Behind is filled with fun, colourful vignettes. The two characters tell each other jokes, try on Halloween masks and dance together. This is Ellie as we haven't seen her before – carefree, untouched by the outside world. She and the game happily skip from one light-hearted moment to the next.
Her time with Riley is underlined with sadness however when Left Behind cross-cuts to a scene halfway through The Last of Us, where Joel is critically injured and Ellie is forced to find him medicine. Placed in this context, Ellie's time with Riley appears sinister. A ride on a carousel preludes transporting Joel's body on a real horse. An innocuous water pistol fight is the training for killing real live people.
The two narrative strands are poetically tied together, with each moment in the past reflecting the present. But it feels like a story I've heard before.
The Last of Us charted Ellie's transformation from naïve teenager to embittered adult. She begins the game curious, wandering away from Joel to explore drawers and rooms, and ends it defeated, following reluctantly behind him, barely saying a word. So again, it's a matter of The Last of Us overshadowing any attempt to follow it up.
If I'm criticising Left Behind for having nothing new to say, then I'm also complimenting the original game.
Burgeoning teen sexuality
Towards the end of Left Behind, Ellie and Riley share a kiss. It's the first example of intimacy in a videogame that's meant anything to me. I've seen John and Angela Marston kiss, Meryl and Snake, Max and Mona, and never felt anything. I struggle to empathise with virtual characters, non-humans. But Ellie and Riley's embrace is familiar to me. It's an expression of both burgeoning teen sexuality and of a friendship so dear words don't suffice.
It's also tinged with sadness. It's a desperate kiss, shared between two people who by now know their relationship is doomed. If Left Behind retreads the narrative of The Last of Us, it's still, at least, the first videogame with a truly tender kissing scene. That's a plaudit worth more than any game of the year award.
But other than that moment, that kiss, I'm not convinced Ellie is an interesting character, certainly not as interesting as Joel. Joel was flawed, weak. He reflected the men we often play in videogames, who kill and harm other characters to satisfy a sense of maleness.
Playing an archetype
Ellie on the other hand is a just teenager and although her humour, her foul mouth and her bolshiness are entertaining, she doesn't have the complexity to carry an entire game. The Last of Us was specifically about her development. At the beginning of the game, Joel barely talks to her – the camera barely looks at her. It's only as Ellie blooms into a more complicated person that the game, and the audience, start to take an interest in her.
Left Behind occurs before she's undergone any of that growth. And although I admire how faithful it is to her character – how she's naïve, even more-so than at the start of The Last of Us – it doesn't make for complex drama. I felt like I was playing an archetype.
And so, I'm back to my criticism that Left Behind is financially rather than artistically motivated. The creators don't say or do anything new here. In fact, by revealing more of Ellie's past, they compromise the nuance of her characterisation – they labour sub-texts that The Last of Us handled subtly.
I sense that I'm being patronised, that Naughty Dog somehow didn't trust me to glean the details of Ellie and Riley's relationship from the dialogue in The Last of Us. That, perhaps, is why Left Behind feels like a financial endeavour. It opens up parts of The Last of Us that were deliberately, refreshingly interpretative. It lets us in. It diminishes the sense I have when playing The Last of Us that it's true to a creator's vision rather than commercial pressure to be accessible.
By no means is Left Behind poorly written or designed but it signifies a leaning towards mainstream pandering, something which Naughty Dog, with The Last of Us, so beautifully gainsaid.
- Gameplay: 9/10 – The expected mix of tense action and meaningful, interactive character beats.
- Graphics: 9/10 – As good as The Last of Us. The shopping mall Ellie and Riley visit is a stark change of scenery from the now familiar greens and greys.
- Writing: 7/10 – Better than pretty much any other game available but a compromise of the original. Left Behind wears its intentions on its sleeve whereas The Last of Us was wonderfully subtle.
- Sound: 8/10 – Gustavo Santaolalla's score is as effective as ever.
- Overall: 7/10 – A well-written and enjoyable game that, nevertheless, feels like an unnecessary addition.
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