Before Joel and Ellie, there was Riley.
Warning: The download expects that you’ve already completed The Last of Us, so anyone sensitive to spoilers might want to finish that first. Likewise, in the interest of discussing themes and quality, very light spoilers will be discussed in this review.
The Last of Us has been hailed as one of the defining games of the PlayStation 3, having topped 2013 game of the year lists the world over, Power Nerd included. It was an adventure that took its time to cultivate the relationship between Joel and Ellie, growing from initial distrust to something touching and believable by the end of the adventure. Left Behind unwisely attempts to tug on the heartstrings in its 2-3 hour runtime, focusing on Ellie’s close friendship with Riley before the events of the main game.
Just under half of the game runs concurrent with The Last of Us itself, as Ellie flies solo against the infected and humans alike. As in the winter section of the main campaign, the teen is far more vulnerable than Joel – items too are fewer in number, so you’ll want to check out every nook and corner if you hope to craft any kind of arsenal. This vulnerability was clearly intentional, as Left Behind likes to evoke the sense of panic that comes from being locked in a darkened room with only clickers and runners for company. Skirmishes are both strategic and clumsy, but you’ll have to really fight to survive in some of Left Behind’s later moments; the end battle in particular borders on the obnoxious with respawns and an overwhelming number of enemies, with few resources at hand.
The download does do one thing very right however, presenting a few opportunities to pick sides and make life easier for yourself. Will you throw a bottle towards those hunting you down and send clickers their way, or will you pick off the infected amidst the heat of battle? That decision is yours, serving as a welcome change to the ‘infected or humans only’ confrontations from before.
The other half consists of Ellie’s friendship with Riley, the girl mentioned only briefly to Joel. The girls spend their time messing around in an abandoned shopping mall as only two careless teens can in a zombie apocalypse … as loudly as possible. Chatting to Ellie in The Last of Us as she uncovered remnants of life gone by was genuinely interesting and heartfelt, but here it feels almost entirely forced. Those little touches have been stretched out to serve as core gameplay, only made worse by the near-constant angst and uninteresting dialogue.
Left Behind offers one moment where Ellie’s friendship with Riley is put into question, and it’s a scene that a number of publications have praised for ‘tackling an issue’. Crucially though, it’s a story element that goes absolutely nowhere, clearly having been thrown in to get people talking – which in fairness it has. It also comes towards the end of a long and dull set of cutscenes, at which point you might well have grown tired of Riley’s exploits altogether.
Perhaps Naughty Dog should be praised for trying something fresh rather than sticking to what they knew made The Last of Us so great. They once said in an interview that they expected their game to split opinion far more than it did, so it’s interesting how they’ve finally managed to live up to that statement with Left Behind. It might be a part of The Last of Us, but that doesn’t mean Left Behind gets a free ride. Diehard fans have probably made the purchase already, but everyone else might want to save their £11.99 and leave the past where it belongs.