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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Review: The Last of Us - Left Behind DLC (PS4)

I normally don't buy DLC content. Invariably they're either set too difficult (typically only hard-core fans buy DLC, and they want a challenge), or don't add much to the story or single player experience. But my recent play-through of Max Payne 3 made me long for more Naughty Dog content, and that in combination with a recent sale that allowed you to buy Left Behind as a standalone game on the PS4 game at $5 allowed me the indulgence of the DLC.

My previous year's review of The Last of Us was ambivalent at best. But some of the most scintillating moments of the game was when I was playing as Ellie, the character Joel was tasked with protecting. (At the end of The Last of Us, we finally realize that rather than Joel saving Ellie, the game was about Ellie saving Joel) In the entirety of Left Behind, you get to play as Ellie. The story composed of two separate sections, each alternating with the other. In the opening sequence, you open with Ellie desperately trying to find supplies while Joel is incapacitated (this isn't much of a spoiler). In the flashback, you play Ellie before she meets Joel about the events that lead up to her ultimate need to be transported.

The two stories intertwine and alternate, and reinforce each other. More than anything else, what Left Behind oozes is self-confidence. What other game would provide a good half hour of "game play" where you're two kids fooling around in a deserted post-apocalyptic mall where there's no way to fail, but isn't a tutorial? This is video-game storytelling at its finest, with you building and discerning the relationship between characters directly through interaction. The game isn't heavy-handed, and the lack of consequence of failure actually frees the player to enjoy the contrast with the main storyline's seriousness.

The serious game play is well done, and arguably much better than in the main version of The Last of Us. Ellie gets to play the zombies and clickers against the party that's hunting for her, and intelligent play can be used to great effect. I still died a couple of times, but unlike in the original game, I never felt it was unfair or I was misled. The amount of stuff I could scavenge still felt parsimonious (despite playing the game set on easy), and I still felt like I was being forced to atone for being a rat-bastard DM, but twice I managed to get the Zombies to prey on the Bad Guys was far more satisfying than the grinding I had to do in the original game.

The other interesting to note is that I played the original game on the PS3, but Left Behind on the PS4. (There's no save game state that carries over between the two, so it's OK to play that way) The PS4 version of the game is significantly faster to load and start, and also has better models, but not so much so that I'd forgo the game on the PS3. In fact, I'd say that by far the most important feature of the game is instant resume, which I love given that I often get interrupted and have to turn off the PS4 to do something else before coming back a day or so later. (I also have the PS4 hooked up to a 5.1 surround sound system rather than merely stereo, and that also makes it impressive, but the PS3 would also happily hook up to a 5.1 surround system as well)

It's unfortunate that the full emotional impact of the DLC can really be felt after you've played The Last of Us (though I'd say that the promotional material overstates the spoilers in Left Behind: you can safely play it the minute you get Ellie as a playable character in The Last of Us, and in fact, it's probably best played that way), but if you've already played The Last of Us, Left Behind will leave you feeling even more impressed than at the end of the original game. Highly recommended.

NOTE: if you have a PS4 and haven't played The Last of Us, Amazon sells it in digital release for $14.45. The full game includes this DLC, which is a bargain if you have never played it before.

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