The Last of Us: Left Behind
The Last of Us is one of the greatest videogame experiences ever created. You can argue that there’s too much action, that the progression is linear, that the bodies pile up as they always have and will. But what you can’t deny is the groundbreaking character development and narrative flair that this DLC continues with aplomb. If art is affecting, both Left Behind and its parent game could well be art.
“Beautiful, funny, and desperately sad”Splitting its narrative in two, Left Behind deals chiefly with the question of hindsight, showing us how we often don’t appreciate the things we must abandon as we age until it’s too late. Playing through it evokes a similar sense, that perhaps videogames themselves are just another way for us to try and cling onto childhood. Nonetheless watching these children living for the moment in a destroyed world is beautiful, funny, and desperately sad.
The real achievement of The Last of Us then, is selling its theme so fittingly through the videogame medium, of which one of many complaints is of course that they replace real interactions with fake ones. But such a response does not go far enough. And we should question just what is behind this human drive to replace the real world with fake, people with objects, memories with memorabilia, and so on, that all of which people like Thoreau realised years ago only leaves us broken apart, like Ellie towards the end of her adventure here with her precious medical kit in her arms saying I will never let you go.
It’s perhaps no surprise that this kind of story is told in a shopping mall, or two to be precise: one in Boston, one in Colorado. The action splits between two distinct time periods with a mirror-like quality, the earlier set before The Last of Us started that follows Ellie and her friend Riley sneaking out to have fun (you’ll know how this ends if you paid attention in the main game), and the other featuring Ellie alone as she searches for supplies to treat Joel following their aborted attempt to track down the Fireflies in the Utah hospital.
Much has already been written and filmed about the link between consumer culture and zombies, not to mention the twisted double-play that comes from the simulated environments themselves representing simulation. Yet it still feels fresh here as we joyfully rifle through a costume store, take a turn on a merry-go-round, and other such delights which reach a pinnacle as Ellie imagines playing a video game fighter in a broken down arcade, one of the greatest videogame experiences I’ve ever had. It is ART, god damn it. And it’s wonderful.
“It is ART, god damn it. And it’s wonderful.”Left Behind feels even more of an interactive story than a game has ever before. But that’s not to say there aren’t things to do, action, and plenty of interaction. It could be said that there is no branching narrative, but with a story this good you don’t need it. Even the simplest (non-) choices like deciding how many puns to read out feels like the player has agency, while the great characters almost demand an approach filled with wonder.
Another selling point in Left Behind is at long last (for me anyway) the opportunity for both infected and uninfected to battle it out with one another (removed so far because it was too CPU intensive according to a Reddit with Naughty Dog), which brings in some refreshing strategy, for instance allowing yourself to get spotted by the hunters so that they fire a round your way that alerts the infected to their location. The main action here tends to be more cat and mouse, where you mostly wait it out, or pick sides and try and influence the outcome. But this is fitting having switched from Joel to Ellie again. Playing through does however suggest that some similar set-ups during the main game wouldn’t have brought too much to the table. It’s neat for a time but it makes the set-pieces less about your ability and more about choosing the right options.
Speaking of which, one of my biggest regrets was not connecting with Facebook, and I’d highly advise doing so if you can as the way it’s used (without spoiling anything) fits so well with the theme. Perhaps, though, the most fitting moment of all occurs as the fairground carousel with its pretty plastic horses and perfect lighting grinds to a halt as you sit on it, reminding us that our time with The Last of Us, as with all things, must soon end. But what a great ride it has been.