Top
Tired & Agitated

coolbeans

Moderator
CRank: 23Score: 345340

User Review : The Last of Us: Left Behind

Ups
  • Combat/storytelling oriented gameplay addtions
  • Environments that have their own implicit meaning
  • Acts as a great addition to the main game
Downs
  • Final combat segment during present time feels artificial
  • Some of the prompted choices you have to make (even if it's only in a couple of instances)
  • Comsumerist Warning: $15 might be too steep for some

A Tale of Two Malls

*NOTE: This DLC being reviewed takes place during the latter half of the main game. It’s recommended that anyone reading this should’ve completed TLOU’s campaign. I WILL also be spoiling a lot of story-driven activities in this DLC to explain what I liked about this experience. Viewer discretion advised.*

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us..."
(Beginning of Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities")

Comparisons made in reviews, opinion pieces, etc. for The Last of Us (TLOU) often elevated it above others of its kind in the AAA blockbuster market. Whether focused on the campaign’s structure or multiplayer, it didn’t take too much searching for that go-to response to crop up. Just as that dissatisfaction many will admit about AAA games may also vent against the nature of current DLC practices, the first ever crafted single-player DLC from Naughty Dog, Left Behind, will also be used with similar enthusiasm as another example in displaying the higher purpose they can serve. It’s understandable to not anticipate a simple DLC overcoming the quality of the main game—different price points or no. Yet, examination of specific additions shows it accomplishes great feats that complement the main game.

The center of this adventure is focused on Ellie and her best friend Riley, shown previously in the American Dreams comics, as they trek through an abandoned mall. For anyone who’s completed the campaign (which you should’ve done), the reason for Riley’s absence in the main game is already understood. Handling prequels can be tough since surprise is deflated when certain outcomes are already known beforehand. How this is handled here is with constantly reinforcing the present importance by hanging on to everything two naïve, wistful teenagers will say and do for one night in a post-pandemic mall.

That’s not the only mall setting here.

While juggling that prequel story, Left Behind also serves as a "deleted scenes" of sorts: it serves to answer some questions of what happened between Joel's impalement in Fall and his period of convalescence in Winter. After finding shelter at an abandoned Colorado mall, Ellie’s tasked with scouring for medical supplies. The most interesting thing about this simpler set of stories is the environmental consistency of the present day setting and the prequel flashbacks. It goes a long way in being a simulacrum of Ellie’s disparate dispositions to combat between the two seasons: the warm, brighter attitude during summer in the Boston QZ to icy combat-readiness in Colorado. Before, she’s prepared to wander aimlessly and laugh thunderously with a companion while reading a joke book; now, that levity is stripped away for the immediate circumstances at hand and the worry of a quick, life-ending punishment waiting around every corner.

The disparity can feel uncomfortable to see a young teen pitted in, but it’s necessary to reinforce not only central themes within the core game but even the implications given in a subtitle such as Left Behind.

Even beyond how this setting works so well for the dual situations at hand, the way the friendship between Ellie and Riley is explored sucks you in with its subtleties. One criticism I’d seen of the main game would be how cut scenes and gameplay never felt glued together like in many other AAA titles; mechanics weren’t used in ways to explore who the characters are or what they’re feeling, such as in cut scenes in essence. And though I have my own personal appeals to make about that, such as how that's implicitly handled within combat scenarios and certain exploration moments, I can somewhat understand that critical analysis in the wake of titles like Brothers or Papers, Please reaching that plane of gameplay and storytelling working in unison. That sort of tighter-knit focus in Left Behind pays dividends in that regard in informing us of who these characters are through the mechanics in a much more prominent way.

Throughout several instances with Riley, the same tools that were once used as a means of distracting or stunning enemies were now replicated for a simple brick throwing contest. The cover-based shooting and sneaking was able to be readapted into a simple water gun fight. It’s with these sorts of ideas we’re able to make a connection of who these characters are through gameplay that feels so satisfying. Though it may also be about the stealth/action/survival horror hybrid nature, it’s also about entrusting us to recreate the more relational aspects found within cutscenes to our own volition. There are a couple of instances where an added gameplay element didn’t work: choices. Whether it was selecting which question to ask or deciding to take a drink, these couple of moments seemed to run in contrast with what the main game set in motion when it came to extra dialogue. Replayability in TLOU was slightly reinforced by the previously-missed places the triangle button prompt would pop up. Getting all of the game’s dialogue now requires a few replays of one chapter, making the replay value feel more artificial.

The story within Left Behind won’t have an innumerable amount of details as the main game in regards to subtext and environmental storytelling, but it still contains all the same qualities of it and then some. It’s certainly not enjoyable to become rapt in a relationship doomed to meet a tragic end, but it doesn’t take long for all the pieces to come into place and just revel in the moment-to-moment activities just like these two characters were doing. The quality dialogue supplemented by the presentational values, the natural integration of a similar setting during two memorable moments of Ellie’s life, and how well the final words stated in the past inform the actions in the present to come full circle all made this supplemental story one of the best in recent DLC history.

The graphical and audio design of the DLC is of the same level of the main game. As many of the previous post-pandemic environments depicted, the mall Ellie and Riley explore has plant life overwhelming much of the concrete architecture. The level of detail and careful level design are once again utilized to great effect in making the various outlets packed with shopping items and noticeable spots of damage from either snow or luxuriant foliage (depending on timeline). Most of the other aspects regarding technical presentation are of expectedly high quality. The only noticeable additions would be a couple of new melodies and Yaani King portraying Riley, who did a phenomenal job of bringing the character to life.

Overall, it’s what you’d expect as far as presentation goes.

Aside from the moments of gameplay/storytelling collaboration found during most of the Ellie and Riley prequel, Ellie has to deal with human and infected enemies during the present timeline. The panoply of various design affections that inspired TLOU are here with all the exceptions made for her playable role during the winter vignette. Interestingly enough, there’s an implicit focus in the design here that encourages flight over fight much more often—though not making the latter a bad choice either. Sections of the map are tapered off between each other in various ways. And the introduction of character vs. human vs. infected dynamic is opened up later on which creates new opportunities in the fight or flight game systems. It’s also interesting to note just how much harder it is for complete immersion to be taken away by the strange friendly AI design like before since Ellie’s often alone and the only action-oriented time with Riley is so funneled anyways.

One steep complaint to make is in the drastic tonal and combative swing during the final encounter in present day. Whereas each encounter beforehand felt meticulous with its up-and-down number of enemies per area that inevitably built up with the you vs. infected vs. humans setup, the sharp upswing of enemies here can get ridiculous. Plus, it’s also inconsistent with the previous options of Ellie being able to avoid so many kills before to now be forced into wiping out every human and infected in the area, which totals at around twenty or more. What also bugged me was the jarring enemy AI when the human vs. infected bouts took place during the end. Even though I’d silently kill a human being chased by a clicker, it made no sense for that clicker to start swinging towards me from such a moderate distance and end up killing me. I suppose it makes their “sonar vision” more in line with actual sonar, but when the main game's already set the limits in which a clicker detects the player and then does an about-face with no indication from the game’s systems informing me of that then…you’re just annoying me with conflicting information.

The value of Left Behind is something I can understand some players finding to be too steep at fifteen dollars (standalone price). And as often as I try to present some kind of a consumerist viewpoint in my reviews, I can understand that rationalization here despite it not really affecting my overall impression. Between playthroughs on Normal and Grounded where I tried to find all collectibles, the play time varied between two hours and three hours respectively; and that extra hour’s only inflated so much because of the aggravating finale. And when considering those who won’t go out of their way to scavenge for every bit of information here, there’s no doubt it could be completed sooner. But it's in how this DLC expands new ways of communicating who Ellie is through mechanics and the method in which this side story is explored that makes it one of my favorite expanded pieces of content in recent years. I’d recommend those who focus on the dollar-per-hour value to hold off on some kind of sale. But until then...it’s not like it’s going to get any worse.

Putting the few complaints aside, Left Behind accomplishes a lot of things not often done in DLC altogether. Like how the Alan Wake DLC’s expanded upon its gameplay or how the more popular Mass Effect DLC’s had amazing moments, Left Behind is able to show a similar level of engaging instances and gameplay expansions. From the cohesiveness in contrasting the different moods between similar locations within the game's systems to the expansion in combat scenarios, it’s another example of how to get this sort of DLC done. Left Behind isn't just more content, it’s supplementary content; and as a result, TLOU is a better game because of that.

coolbeans’ *Certified FresH* Badge

Score
10.0
Graphics
The dense levels between the two malls show the same amount of dedication to these environments as the main game. All of the various technical bells and whistles still look the same here.
10.0
Sound
A few softer tones for the passive moments fit in perfectly with Ellie and Riley’s time together. Yaani King may just be one of the most fitting actors/actresses out of the game’s entire roster thus far.
8.5
Gameplay
While not keeping all the mechanics, as it was when playing as Ellie during winter, the simpler approach works well. Stronger emphasis on sneaking was complemented by level design. Annoyances with infected during the end and the arbitrary choice system didn’t get in the way too much.
8.5
Fun Factor
It seems expected that a smaller scale can result in a greater enhancement in marrying gameplay and storytelling, DLC is no exception. The finale can feel jarring and disappointing, but hopefully that means what works and what doesn’t will be examined and utilized in future DLC’s like this one.
Overall
9.0
The story is too old to be commented.
coolbeans2911d ago (Edited 2911d ago )

Sadly, no Nicolas Cage to be found here. :P

Hope everyone enjoyed the review. To be clear about one thing: the 'down' regarding the Consumerist Warning isn't meant to contradict what I mentioned in the written portion. When considering instances like this and future titles I may review, similar questions regarding dollar-per-hour value are bound to creep up. I think this just serves as a sort of "flashing indicator" to anyone stumbling into this unprepared to understand the cost and avg. run time. Essentially, it's me saying "eh...I personally didn't feel conflicted with that kind of an asking price (non-sale) when it came to my experience with the game, but I can totally understand that's not going to be the case with some gamers." Make sense? Maybe not? Let me know how you feel about that or anything else regarding the review.

Anyways...

That ends my run with ND's 7th gen releases. Now with them and the Mass Effect entries out of the way, I wonder what I'll end up focusing on next. Maybe something even more daunting like...AC series or all 7th gen Lucasarts' titles I can grab on 360, PS3, whatever (from Force Unleashed to Lucidity). For now, it'll just be back to various titles across different genres.

Paprika2911d ago (Edited 2911d ago )

This is literally the best review I have ever read. Wow, seriously... just amazing!

Sorry, I couldn't help myself! But I look forward to a mass effect review. I'm about to start a fresh playthrough so was thinking of reviewing it also

Paprika2911d ago

Btw I was joking around in my reply for those reading it who think I'm now probably.... a bit weird! Lol. Last review I complimented his review and was warned not to inflate his ego! Lol

coolbeans2910d ago

http://i582.photobucket.com...

:P

Really though, thanks for the kindness.

"But I look forward to a mass effect review."

My comment referred to the set of ME reviews I made in 2012 (wow...time sure flies). I went with ME1-3 reviews a bit after ME3's release and then decided to expand to all of a developer's creative works made during 7th gen (though I only touched base on multiplayer DLC stuff found in UC2, 3, and TLOU).

FogLight2911d ago

After reading this... I think that my review for Left Behind is lackluster. Why you do this to me coolbeans?! ;_;

Seriously though, awesome review like always! Thank you again :D

Paprika2911d ago

Hey, I felt the same a few weeks ago! Lol

coolbeans2910d ago

I hope there's not an ounce of genuine belief in that first sentence--it's what prompted me to jump to the disagree option. I remember that being a rather thorough, honest assessment and it prompted some deeper discussions about the DLC as a result. No work of criticism should ever be thought of as lackluster if it has two qualities like that going for it.

Maybe that's going WAYYY overboard of your joking intention, but I just felt the need to jump on that. Thank you for the kind words. :D

Ezz20132910d ago

Ok, Gamespot and IGN need to have a look at this to learn how to make reviews

TBH i had a blast reading that
even after 6 playthrough
reading that make wanna play TLOU and TLOU:LB again now

coolbeans2908d ago (Edited 2908d ago )

Thanks, Ezz. Glad you enjoyed it.

LostDjinn2907d ago

This is a really good review beans. Who'd you steal it from?

Fat and sassy indeed.

coolbeans2907d ago

I think his name was Sergio. He felt it was so good as to get some sort of legal protection on it. I pulled an old Einstein on him after reading it.

http://www.youtube.com/watc...

:P