A fantastic little origin story that is vital for fans of The Last of Us.
Many months have passed since the release of The Last of Us, which still stands as my favourite game of 2013, and one of my favourite games across the whole previous generation. Left Behind, the first and sadly last piece of single-player DLC, is also some of the best DLC I have played in recent memory.
Focusing on the ever lovable Ellie, Left Behind gives you two separate stories, each set during differing times in Ellie's life. One stars Ellie alongside her bosom buddy Riley, while the other has Ellie on her own, set during the Winter portion of The Last of Us as Ellie tries to find medical supplies for Joel after he was gravely injured. Though while they're each set probably one or two years apart, they both manage to thematically connect and function together in coinciding as a whole.
Playing as Ellie in the 'past', so to speak, primarily plays out like an adventure game, as you and Riley muck about in a shopping mall having fun. There's no combat nor puzzles, as it instead whisks you along, all the while shining a light on what was undoubtedly a very important time in Ellie's life. Though there is still technically stuff to do mind, as you'll engage in a water-gun fight, ride a carousel, have your photo taken and many more activities. While it's a mostly passive affair, there's still plenty of interaction to get up to.
When the game places you in control of Ellie during The Last of Us' timeframe, it'll fallback on the familiar design of the main game. Ellie is of course on her own this time, and the game's combat makes a return. Because of the shorter length of the pack, however, and especially because the game will continually switch between stories, the combat isn't nearly as prominent. The pacing overall is pitch perfect, and the way the pack switches between the cold harshness of winter, and the more humorous, laid back antics of Ellie and Riley, does a great job in keeping to a natural flow. It's a contrast that works both to the story and the gameplay's favour.
Though the combat has actually been given a little freshening up. You'll still be using the expected assortment of weapons against the expected assortment of enemies, but during the later parts there'll be opportunities for you to lure a pack of infected and sick 'em against a group of Hunters. Though while both factions can take a copious amount of damage from each other--which can result in you witnessing a hunter unload about 9 rifle shots into a single infected--it made for a deviously engaging dynamic that was unfortunately lacking in the base game.
Despite the slightly new combat encounters, it's the relationship of Ellie and Riley that demands your attention. Both characters are of course wonderfully performed, with Ashley Johnson once again inhabiting the character perfectly, and Yaani King does an equally standout job as Riley. The performances combined with the writing go hand-in-hand in executing a surprisingly nuanced relationship, one that goes a long way in explaining certain characteristics of Ellie herself.
While Left Behind still carries the same undercurrent of sorrow, there's also a lot of humour weaved into the story. Ellie and Riley are greatly portrayed as regular teenagers, as they banter and joke around with one another. Even though you (most likely) already know how this'll all end, there was still a lot of moments peppered throughout that had me laughing out loud. And while we're only given a comparatively limited amount of time to get to know Riley, she still successfully manages to appear as her own character -- again, thanks to the stellar writing and performances.
Left Behind is roughly 2-3 hours long, dependent on how much you decide to explore your surroundings--all of which are completely new--and read/listen to some of the files/audio logs, but it still feels complete. And while I was disheartened by the end, it's purely because--much like my reaction to the end of the base game itself--I was sad that I had to put the pad down.
Naughty Dog continues to supply such captivating characters, and Ellie in particular has grown ever more into becoming one of their finest. If you're interested in Ellie at all as a character, then to put it bluntly, Left Behind is a must.
Note: If you happen to have a Facebook account, I would also strongly recommend you connect it when the game asks.