I'm eschewing my normal Review for the Lazy Gamer Konami format this go round to tell you a story.
The Last of Us: Left Behind is honestly my first real downloaded content expansion pack.
Hard as that is to believe in this age in gaming the concept of extra DLC content has always gone against my grain. I view video games as works of art, and works of art are finished or they are not. You can't download The Doctor into Da Vinci's "The Last Supper", and replacing rifles in movies with walkie talkies is high treason in my mind. Trust me, I've sent more than a few ridiculous works of art out into the world, and you just have to let them live on their own.
That said, The Last of Us was the best game of 2013. Sure, you can argue. People like to say that the Rolling Stones are the best rock band ever instead of the Beatles but they're wrong, and if you don't think The Last of Us was the best last year had to offer in gaming, I'm sorry, but you're wrong too. The point is, it was such an amazing gaming experience that I was willing to try it again.
Flashback Review: The Last of Us: American Dreams
Amusing side note... I am not a replayer. I finish a game, I trade it in, and I get a new game. No point living in the past. Which means I had to take a trip out to the Gamestop to re-buy The Last of Us (For all I know the same exact copy I traded in), before I could give Left Behind a whirl. Then when I got home it took roughly the same amount of time to download and install the DLC that it took me to drive to the store and buy the retail copy. Instant gaming is fun that way.
Left Behind is both prequel and side story. The past bits take place shortly after the American Dream comic, and the present parts are the story of Ellie's initial attempts to care for Joel right after he is seriously injured in the raid in Salt Lake City. You move back and forth between the two, with the past segments serving as an exploration of Ellie's relationship with her friend Riley.
Though these are the least consequential as far as strict gameplay goes, these parts are great examples of why The Last of Us was such a triumph of storytelling. In what I'm sure is not that big a spoiler, we know that Riley isn't going to make it. Ellie, in the main game, talks about how she discovers her immunity to the mutated Cordyceps fungus that has caused the zombie outbreak after being bitten with a friend and deciding to just go mad together rather than kill themselves. The result is Ellie discovering her immunity just in time to kill her friend.
Yet Naughty Dog manages to makes something amazing out of this, building up Riley's dreams of joining the Firefly terrorist network and having her come to Ellie for one amazing night. The two explore an abandoned mall, play video games, ride a carousel, dance, and even share a kiss before it all goes to hell.
Side note again... Ellie was based on Ellen Page so closely that Page was upset The Last of Us would take away from the hype of her own video game debut Beyond: Two Souls. I find it warmly strange that mere days after Page herself came out as a lesbian that her unofficial avatar, obviously in the works for months, would totally redefine herself by the doomed love of a girl. I think the game Page wasn't involved in knew her better than the game she was.
All that aside, how do the actual play and kill parts rate?
Well. I was immediately reminded why I was so keen to trade in The Last of Us in the first place; it is terrifying. No seriously, the game is frightening beyond all belief. Frightening, and very, very hard. Even in the minor levels offered here in a rural mall as Ellie searches for medicine for Joel you're going to die multiple times at the hands of the damned clickers and the unforgiving bullets of the refugee raider you incurred the wrath of in Salt Lake City.
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It's not especially hard compared to the main story line, but you do immediately feel chills and curse God every time you hear the faint sounds of the infected or the raiders. You're far more limited than you were at this point in the main game (Your bow skills suck, for instance), and that makes it feel needlessly hard sometimes. That said, the "distract them with a brick and bust out the nail bomb" trick never, ever gets old.
And this time, you're graced with the option of pitting raider against infected, and if you're lucky you'll pass the level without firing a single shot. There's something very satisfying about that.
But mostly you just die screaming trying to get back to Joel. Don't get me wrong, I liked revisiting The Last of Us, but I'm hesitant to go full-on replay. It's such a brutal experience and Left Behind makes no exception. It's a game for those that can stare into the worst of the world unflinching. For them, it's well worth the download.