The Last of Us was my favorite game of 2013 and one of the best, if not the best, PS3 games I’ve ever played. I remember that the game was supposed to come out on a Friday and I placed my preorder weeks before the release. To my surprise, I got an e-mail on Wednesday before the launch date telling me to come over to the store and pick up the game. For whatever reason, I got The Last of Us two days before the official release date. Unfortunately, I was too busy to get into it and I didn’t want to fragment my experience so I still had to wait until the weekend to play through it. However, I decided to at least see how the game looks and I played through the prologue and it blew me away. The visuals and the sounds were amazing but, most of all, the story that began to unfold was breathtaking.
More than half a year has passed since the launch of The Last of Us, which I already beat 3 times, but on Valentine’s Day 2014 Naughty Dog did something they had never done before and released a single-player add-on to their game, bringing us an extra story chapter – Left Behind. I divided this post into three parts, first giving you my non-spoilery impressions of the game, then moving into spoiler territory and finishing with a short trophy guide. I encourage you to leave your comments and impressions below but make sure you’ve beaten the single player campaign of The Last of Us and the Left Behind chapter before diving into the latter two parts of the post!
Ever since Naughty Dog announced that they are going to release a new chapter of The Last of Us, the gaming part of the Internet went crazy and started guessing what the story would be. Many suspected that previously unseen characters would be introduced, such as Ish or that other minor characters from the game, such as Bill, would be explored more. In the end, the developer decided to go in a different direction and focus on Ellie and her prequel story. The Left Behind chapter focuses on Ellie and her relationship with Riley, who is mentioned in the main game several times. The relationship has its origins in a four-part series of comic books that were released around the time the game was released, called The Last of Us: American Dreams. There are many tie-ins in Left Behind to characters and locations from the comic books so it’s a good idea to read them before playing the game. However, it’s in no way obligatory and the chapter does very well for itself without the backstory.
There have been complaints that Left Behind is very short for its price of $15. My playthrough, on Survivor difficulty, took me around 2 hours so it’s not the longest of games but I wouldn’t consider it in the context of price/gametime ratio. Obviously, I would have loved to be able to spend more time with the characters and exploring the amazing world of The Last of Us, but extending the story simply because it has to be this many hours long would only thin it out and it’s not something Naughty Dog do. I was satisfied with the entire arc of the story, it was paced very well, mixing the exploration and combat sequences, like the main game did. Some might still say that the price is too high but I say that Naught Dog deserve our support and thanks for a wonderful piece of highly-interactive drama.
Not much can be told about the visuals and the sound of Left Behind that hasn’t already been said about The Last of Us. I believe it runs on the same engine as the main game, although probably some improvements have been made to it. The game looks very beautiful, bringing us again the visuals of lush destruction, with the environment falling apart but being reclaimed by nature at the same time. This approach to post-apocalyptic scenarios is not seen too often and Naughty Dog did a perfect job with it. The sounds are an important part of The Last of Us, especially in combat and trying to sneak around groups of infected. Again, nothing to complain about here and everything to praise.
One can’t also forget about the amazing voice and mocap acting of Ashley Johnson (Ellie) and Yaani King (Riley). The chemistry between the two actresses and their characters pours from the screen and certainly enriches the experience. It’s been confirmed by Bruce Straley and Neil Druckman of Naughty Dog (*) that some of the lines and scenes were improvised by the actresses but nothing seems out of place and it only adds to the feeling of real friendship between the two characters in the game.
Another interesting feature, that has been talked about, is the new approach to combat. While in The Last of Us Joel and Ellie had to face either other survivors or the infected, in Left Behind the two groups can appear together on the screen. It’s up to the player to choose whether to fight them, which is usually not the best idea, or to force them to fight each other, at least thinning out their numbers. This makes it then easier for the player-controlled characters to defeat the remaining enemies. Straley and Druckman also commented on this combat mechanics and talked about wanting to introduce it to the main game but lacking time. There was nothing wrong with the combat in The Last of Us and I never really thought about this approach when I was playing but it really adds a new depth to fighting, giving the player some more tactical options.
I believe this is all I can say without spoiling the game. There’s nothing but positive impressions that are left after playing Left Behind. Both from the production and the storytelling standpoint, this is as close to perfection as can be expected. If you enjoyed The Last of Us, getting the extra chapter is a must.
Here be spoilers
Where to start? Where to start? For a chapter that’s only 2 hours long, there is certainly a lot happening. Maybe let’s start at the beginning, which is always a good choice. The game starts with the scene at the University of Eastern Colorado, where Joel falls onto a piece of rebar and gets seriously injured. In The Last of Us, we directly move on to winter and control Ellie, who is hunting a deer with her bow and arrow, and we wonder if Joel is dead or if he somehow made it. Obviously, he’s alive but the game never explains what happened in the meantime. This is where Left Behind comes in and tries to fill in the void. Ellie hides Joel in a shopping mall in Colorado where she needs to find medicine and equipment to sew him up. The mall is the location where the combat takes place, while the scenes with Riley, which are sort of flashbacks, are exploration chapters, which also give a lot of insight into Ellie’s state of mind and mental strength and attitude.
One of the most amazing things about the mall, which also speaks volumes about Naughty Dog’s dedication to details, is what is going on outside the game. If you follow the link above, it will take you to the ‘official’ webpage of the mall with working links to stores, etc. But that’s not all. Similar pages have been created for the mall in Boston as well as particular stores in them. Also, several Twitter accounts have been created, which can be found in the game, and which also give a fun backstory. Notice how everything stops on September 26th, The Outbreak Day (**). This kind of hidden social campaign is something extraordinary and reflects the professionalism and meticulousness of the entire development team at Naughty Dog.
Let’s move on to Riley and the kiss. Yes, the tension can be felt throughout the chapter but I wasn’t sure if the developer would go for it or not. Obviously, Naughty Dog don’t pull any punches and they did show the girls having a deeper relationship than friendship. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last long, which we already know from The Last of Us. They are attacked by a group of infected and fail to escape. They both get bitten which leads to maybe the most moving dialoge in the entire game. They consider their options – whether to use the gun and kill themselves or to sit it out. None of them like the first option but Ellie, angry and desperate, asks about a third option, to which Riley simply answers she’s sorry but there isn’t one, which ends the game. They don’t know that but we do that the third option is exactly what happened. Ellie, being immune to the fungus, comes out of it physically unscathed but she is forced to see her loved one die, which perfectly relates to Joel and Sarah from The Last of Us prologue and completes the arc between the main game and Left Behind. It’s really amazing how a ‘zombie’ game can be so detached from that theme and focus on the emotions of the characters. This entire sequence explains so much how Ellie grew as a character we know from The Last of Us, the strength she has to carry on and to relate to Joel, who is often dismissive of her, not knowing that she had to go through similar pain and suffering he did.
To end this on a more positive note, let me also talk about the exploration of the mall in Boston. The girls act like the world around them stopped and it’s only them and the mall that count. They break car windows in a brick throwing competition, they play around with water guns but also visit the arcade, which includes what has to be one of the best executed quick time event sequence in game history. With no visual representation of the game but only Riley’s commentary and sound effects, Ellie plays The Turning, a fighting game. Fantastic execution. There’s also a working photo booth, where the girls make faces and can then share the pictures to Facebook (‘What’s Facebook?’ they ask). The Boston mall sequences feature no combat and focus on character development and they do it perfectly.
| Don’t Go – Easy
|Finish Left Behind on Easy|
| Don’t Go – Normal
|Finish Left Behind on Normal|
| Don’t Go – Hard
|Finish Left Behind on Hard|
| Don’t Go – Survivor
|Finish Left Behind on Survivor|
This is pretty straightforward. Just beat the chapter. Make sure to conserve ammo and make use of the bottles and bricks as much as possible. Not only will this give you more ammo to use in the difficult last fight, it will also keep you quiet and won’t draw attention to extra enemies, making it easier to simply slip by some of them. Those are all tips that were valid in the main game as well. In Left Behind, wherever you see both the survivors and the infected, throw a brick or a bottle at the survivors so that the infected attack them. Then, either kill the remaining enemies, or quietly walk away, while they settle their differences on their own. The last fight against the survivors, and later against the infected, is more difficult. I made it through by first shooting three guys in the head, which made it much easier to sneak around and eliminate the other survivors one by one quietly. Then, when the infected come, make them attach again and once more clean up the remaining ones.
|All optional conversations found in Left Behind|
| Picked Clean
|All Left Behind collectibles found|
All the optional conversations can be found in chapters 2 and 4 and are only between Ellie and Riley. A lot of them are triggered by the magic fortune-telling skull in the Halloween store but there are also others, triggered by different items in the mall. On the other hand, most of the collectibles can be found in the Colorado chapters and tell an interesting side story of the crew of the medical helicopter, where Ellie finds the medkit. These includes notes, letters, pictures and recordings, which are not hidden that much and if you knew where to look for them in The Last of Us, you won’t have problems finding them here. I was only missing one after my walkthrough but I got distracted with some enemies and missed one room.
The trophy hunting community can be counted on, as always, and there are already detailed guides and videos where all the collectibles and conversations are shown. I recommend the videos by PowerPyx on YouTube, which are always of very good quality both content-wise and production-wise (Conversations and Collectibles).
| Nobody’s Perfect
|Played Jak X Combat Racing|
This is a fun little trophy that plays off the older Naughty Dog franchise, Jak and Daxter. Jak X Combat Racing is a real PS2 vehicular combat game. In Left Behind, in the arcade, there is a Jak X machine, opposite The Turning, which is switched off but can still be interacted with. Ellie ‘plays’ the game by making driving and shooting sounds and saying what a cool idea it is to mix those two together.
| Angel Knives
|Defeat Black Fang without getting hit|
The Turning is another arcade machine that can be interacted with. Even though the screen is on, the game is broken and it’s Riley that comments the entire fight. I already wrote how enjoyable this little QTE interlude was. The difficulty of the fight depends on the difficulty of the game but I had no problems beating it on Survivor. Just follow the on-screen instructions and you’ll be fine. If you have problems, replay the chapter on easy and there will be more time to execute all the QTEs.
|Win the water gun fight|
This ‘deathmatch’ between the girls is also a nice way to include some sort of combat into the otherwise more exploratory chapter of the game. It’s a best of 3 challenge between Riley and Ellie and it includes a ‘one-hit-kill’ water gun fight, while running around the store. In my case, Riley always tried to sneak up on me in the exact same spot and a simple strife, evade and counter technique worked against here. Just make sure she doesn’t get you first.
| Brick Master
|Win the brick throwing contest|
Another fun minigame, which is also quite easy to win. Ellie has to be the first to smash all 6 windows in the red car. You need to look for bricks and then aim them at the windows. Make sure to go around the car not to miss any of the targets. Even though I missed three or four of my throws, I still won, so I don’t think this should be any problem, especially that we’ve had much practice with brick throwing in The Last of Us.
Thanks for sticking around to the end! I would love to hear from you what your impressions of the game you had. Was it worth the time and the money? What part did you enjoy most? Would you have preferred a different story to be told? Share your opinions in the comments.
(**) Thanks to reddit’s Ell233 for completing the list of links.
All screenshots, except for the photo booth pictures, have been sourced from official Sony PlayStation materials.