McGinnis: Get “Left Behind”: New “Last of Us” content is as memorable — and important — as the main gameWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Strange, such beauty to be found in such a derelict world. Of all the places video games have taken players over the years — from the furthest reaches of space to the inner workings of the mind, from the diabolical test chambers of Aperture Science to the dingy streets of Gotham City — few have stayed with me as long as the vacant streets of Naughty Dog’s apocalyptic tale “The Last of Us.”
The 2013 PlayStation 3 title, which has won hundreds of “Game of the Year” awards, features some of the most memorable locales ever created for a game. In a world where a horrific fungal infection has wiped out the majority of the human race, once bustling cities have long since been abandoned. Moss overgrows walls and streets are flooded from disrepair. Windows long broken invite in overgrowing plants, allowing nature to once more claim areas vacated by human caretakers. This is a foreboding, terrifying place, where one can never truly feel safe. But it is impossible to walk the streets of this abandoned world and not be struck by the artistry that it took to create it.
As such, one of the great pleasures of the new single-player downloadable addition to “The Last of Us,” entitled “Left Behind” (released on February 14), is the ability to immerse one’s self in that world once more, seeing new locales colored with that sense of beauty mixed with dread. But the real star of this 2-3 hour adventure is Ellie, the main game’s second protagonist who here takes center stage and establishes herself as one of the most compelling and, in some ways, important characters in gaming history.
In the original game, players mainly control Joel, a middle-aged survivor who is charged with escorting Ellie across the country. Then, about halfway through the game, the narrative suddenly shifts and gamers find themselves playing for a while as Ellie, whose own story comes more solidly to the forefront. In “Left Behind,” though, Ellie is the star and sole focus, in a tale which takes place both prior to and during the events of the main game.
The narrative of the new content shifts back and forth from controlling Ellie at a crucial moment during “Last of Us,” and to events taking place months prior, as Ellie steals away with her friend Riley on an adventure into a nearby shopping mall. Each half of the story feeds and stands in stark contrast to the other — we flash from the relatively carefree fun Ellie and Riley experience as they share each other’s company, to the desperate efforts of Ellie to save Joel’s life.
But there is drama to be found in the Ellie and Riley dynamic, as well. The backstory of these two friends was fleshed out in a “Last of Us” tie-in comic called “American Dreams” last year, but the events of this story make Riley a crucial character in the main tale, spelling out how her relationship with Ellie shaped who she became during her journey with Joel. And though we may know the basic facts of what happened to the two of them before “The Last of Us” begins, this story still has some remarkable surprises in store for us. (The implications of “Left Behind”‘s revelations may turn out to be some of the most crucial events in modern gaming history — but because they are very spoiler-ific, I will refrain from elaborating. For now.)
The controls and gameplay remain largely unchanged from the main title, with shooting, melee skills and crafting remaining second nature to anyone who has played the original game. There are subtle differences in Ellie’s combat as she fights off hordes of infected and villainous looters alike, such as her adeptness with a switchblade knife, but in large part veteran players will feel right at home. But there are also fun new additions as Ellie and Riley explore the abandoned mall, with throwing competitions, a photo booth and even a water gun fight adding unique and memorable variations to the formula.
Many gamers have a justifiably jaded attitude toward downloadable add-ons to games they’ve already bought, and “Left Behind”‘s $14.99 price tag indeed seems a little steep for what amounts to a few additional hours of play. But so crucial is this tale to “Last of Us”‘s main narrative and so memorable are the particulars of these characters that it feels less like an add-on than an essential part of the “Last of Us” experience. For players who have already wandered streets with Ellie and Joel, flabbergasted by the wonder that could be found in such ruin, “Left Behind” is a journey that is well worth taking.