The Last Of Us Left Behind review – an excellent but all too short exploration of friendship

This review is spoiler free.

I’d have been happy if The Last Of Us Left Behind DLC gave me a few extra hours in that world. A brief chance to experience new content, to relive and remember just how good it was. I wasn’t expecting this, in barely three hours, to pack in just as much emotion, impact and subtly groundbreaking moments as the full game. The length? The length’s an issue, but the quality’s undisputed.

The Last Of Us Left Behind spoiler free review

Initially it seems as if this simply, as I’d hoped, gives you the chance to retread The Last Of Us’ post-apocalyptic boards. The story focuses on Ellie and her relationship with Riley – the friend she lost in an attack by the infected – and previously only seen in accompanying comic series American Dreams. As the story expands on their relationship it builds on the core mechanics of the original game with that mix of stealth, crafting and combat as satisfying as ever.

One new element is cross-faction fighting – there are points where scavengers and infected co-exist in a level, giving you the option to lead them into each other with distractions. Get lucky with a well thrown bottle and you can be left with a mess, but no enemies left to fight. It’s such a well implemented addition that it actually breaks the main game a little for me. Why wasn’t this an option previously?

However, it’s the stuff that happens away from the action that fleshes out the characters. Riley is a no nonsense girl, more strong headed and sure of herself than Ellie, who clearly looks up to her. Its possible to see echoes of Riley and her loss in Ellie’s behaviour in the original story. It’s difficult to explain what makes the relationship so effective without spoiling anything so I won’t.

Naughty Dog has toyed around with varied mechanics to build the friendship between the two and involve you in the process as they explore an abandoned mall. The tricks it uses are a little hit and miss but mostly work. Given that Riley’s fate has been a clear and known fact since the opening hours of the original story it speaks volumes that this can make you forget that, and enjoy touching moments of intimacy between the two. The few moments that maybe don’t have as much impact are weakened by the feeling that they fill time rather than use it. And that’s an issue considering the length. At a little under three hours this is brief, and despite the quality and impact, £12 is a tough price point to swallow.

Mixed emotional beats and brevity aside it’s worth praising the visual hit as well. Even now, well into the first few months of PS4, this is a incredible looking thing. The environments are richly detailed, verging on lush even, with the crud and decay of the end of the world fascinating to explore. Similarly, the fidelity and life in the facial animation is at times jaw dropping – the subtlest nuances and movements bringing Ellie and Riley to life in an eerily organic way. One major plot point was teased by the barest flicker of a look – I’d have thought I’d imagined it if I wasn’t proved right later.

Given that Riley’s fate has been a clear and known fact since the opening hours of the original story it speaks volumes that this can make you forget that, and enjoy touching moments of intimacy between the two

As I said up top there are no spoilers here making this an almost impossible review to write – nearly everything that makes Left Behind impressive would be weakened by even the slightest hint. But one thing is clear: this is a studio at the height of its powers. Narratively this enters territory that few mediums do well and does so with a skill, and more crucially an interactivity, that feels important – this isn’t a story that’s just watched or read. Like The Last Of Us there are moments where you control and live what’s on screen, then deal with the aftermath tied to those events.

the last of us left behind

The Last Of Us Left Behind DLC focuses on what happened to Ellie & Reilly before the main game.

Where both the original game and this DLC push into new territory are that those moments aren’t always about the usual shooting and shouting. Sometimes they can just be the little things that make a friendship. There is violence, obviously, and it’s as distressingly brutal as before. Possibly even more so given the fleeting glimpses of innocence and youth stripped away as Left Behind closes.

There are themes within this that I’m simply not good enough a writer to dissect (and I doubt few will do it justice). It’s incredible, considering the broader perception of video games, what Naughty Dog has managed to achieve in certain areas here. There are, yes, extended sections of stabbing and petrol bombing that are 100% vidyagams but offset against moments of bonding and tenderness that hugely affect the context, adding an emotional maturity few experiences can match. I suspect at least one moment will cause confusion, misinterpretation or worse but few studios could have pulled this off. It’s just a shame about the price. I still think this is excellent, it’s just so short for that amount of money.

(It’s probably worth pointing out as a footnote that I bought Gone Home on PC at full price, paying £14 for barely two hours of game and had no regrets. So there’s my boundary for quality/price/length.)

Our Score

Score: 9 Gold Award