Tag Archives: Left Behind

The Last of Us: Left Behind Review

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Let me make this easy for you. If you can answer yes to these three questions, then don’t waste any time and download The Last of Us’ only single player DLC – Left Behind:

1. Did you like and finish The Last of Us?

2. Was the story an important part of your enjoyment of The Last of Us?

3. Do you miss The Last of Us?

If yes is your answer three times then you don’t need to read anymore. Yes it is worth it. Yes it is as good. No you won’t like the main game less.

Recently I’ve been making a strong attempt to minimise subjectivity in my reviews and discuss/highlight the objective qualities of a game. I cannot do this with Left Behind. I just can’t. The Last of Us left an immense lasting impression on me. So much so that I haven’t been able to shake it off my mind for nearly half a year now. I have no qualms in making the following statement: The Last of Us is my favourite game of all time. I do not say this lightly, so much so that I have begun a personal crusade to play all of the frequently referenced games in the “best of all time” discussion. Half Life 2, Shadow of The Colossus, A Link to the Past, Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy Tactics, Metal Gear Solid… and I still have a ways to go. I understand all this. It’s a testament to the quality of Naughty Dog’s latest game that it has inspired me to discover the “classics,” so to speak. 

Going back Left Behind. the biggest compliment I can offer is how much it served as a reminder of why I love The Last of Us. The minimalist HUD, a simple user interface that doesn’t get in the way, a live crafting system that escalates tension and sacrifice, scavenging for parts, all of these minutia elevate The Last of Us from great to something special. Choosing black backgrounds to white text may seem like a simple choice in menu design but even this ingeniously adds to the immersion that is so crucial to the experience. And that is by far in a way the word of choice when describing Left Behind. Experience. It pays to adjust your own environment to get more out of the digital one you’re about to dive into. Blacken your room, kick anyone out who’ll disturb you, use the best surround sound headphones you can find and let yourself go.

The headphone part is crucial thanks to the excellent sound design and subtle, melancholic soundtrack by Gustavo Santaolalla, known for his Brokeback Mountain and Babel film scores. The sounds are so abstract you will be hard pressed to pinpoint the instruments incorporated in producing such unique tones. Watching the 90 minute making-of documentary “Grounded” by Area5 TV provides some great insight into how the sounds were developed. This comes included with the Season Pass. At one point I heard rattling and clicking coming from Ellie’s backpack while she was jogging. I had to stop and take in the level of detail I was witnessing. The direction you’re facing in listen mode changes the subtly alters the sound designof the clicking and makes stealth that much more tense. It’s clear no sacrifices were made in quality when shifting from main campaign content to downloadable. 

I value the details Naughty Dog perfected to heighten the immersion, but Left Behind really shines in it’s content, just like the main campaign. You play as Ellie this time, not Joel. If you remember the winter sequence of The Last of Us (which you absolutely will), then you can recall the differences controlling her presented. Though she might not be able to stand her ground and fist fight her way through like Joel, Ellie’s character design presents certain advantages, just like in winter. Her switchblade does not break and unlike shivs has unlimited use. It could just be me filling in the gaps, but due to her smaller size and being more nimble, it felt like Ellie was capable of being stealthier and sneaking was an even more viable option than before. For example it seemed like crouch walking was faster and it was easier to hide behind objects. There were certain points where sneaking through wasn’t an option and Ellie had to eliminate all foes in the area to continue. This brings me onto one of Left Behinds strongest features. There are multiple sections of gameplay that involve pitting Clickers and runners (the infected) against the hunters. This was incredibly satisfying everytime and also surprisingly challenging to pull off smoothly. There was a multitude of strategies to try out and pick from. You could consider alerting the presence of the hunters to the infected and then swing through while they duke it out, or you can create chaos and pick off one of each around the edge. Or you could molatov cocktail a group, or just stab them with your switchblade. Then the choice is who do you eliminate first. one wrong choice and suddenly Ellie is the target of everyone’s fury. I didn’t expect a completely new dynamic that adds a layer of complexity and engagement that wasn’t present at all in the main game. And being able to do this at multiple points demonstrates confidence in the mechanic and I can say that it was almost always fun. I have to mention that towards the climax of the game there was a combat sequence that seemed oddly laid out and involved knowing the environment through trial and error, rather than observation due to the imminent failure if you don’t begin picking off your enemies early. This was different to what I’m used to, and seemed to contrast the rest of the game, though isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If nothing else it reminds me how solid the combat and mechanics of The Last of Us are. Again with the small details: when turning, if your torch I on your neck and field of view alter first and the light follows after, the quick turn mechanic (down and X) speeds up movement, the aim circle decreases in radius when standing still and changes size when you move or turn. Time and time again I find myself playing a game unlike so many others in how it treats me, as a player.

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I really don’t want to get into much of the story. Like I said, if you’ve played the main game you can expect the same level of quality in acting, writing, animation, emotion and pacing. Ashley Johnson reprises her role as Ellie while Yaani King brings Riley, Ellie’s close friend to life. They both do incredible jobs. Ellie feels real. Riley feels real. I don’t see a bunch of pixels changing colour and polygons moving around when I watch them. I don’t know, it’s a level of quality I’ve grown to not expect from AAA games. I think a huge part of this is the design and animation of the eyes of the characters, especially Ellie. Her big, green eyes feel alive. They feel like they carry weight, pertinence and expression. When I see her I’m reminded of Tish from Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, a game I feel influenced a lot of The Last of Us’ excellent design. Quentin Tarantino’s more recent films have had this uncanny ability to toy with your emotions, to make you laugh your ass off then observe the darkest and saddest moments, then rejoice or breathe a sigh of relief. This is how I would describe Left Behind. There is no one thing above all else to look forward to, but know that it’ll be a strange, ultimately dark journey through a teenage girls experience in a decaying world. While she tries to hold onto something that brings her happiness, your knowledge of what’s to come battles with your expectations. It serves as an excellent demonstration of what a prequel should do. You know what’s going to happen, but you still fight it with everything you’ve got. Your heart and mind won’t be sure what to agree on. Even this encapsulates what The Last of Us, and more specifically Left Behind represents. 

 

 

There are some key things I’m not going to discuss on purpose. I’m leaving that for you to discover and form an opinion on. Left Behind tries some brave things, all of them culminating to produce one of the only rewarding and worthwhile prequels of any medium. The Last of Us is one of the most complete games I’ve played. I didn’t want anything new to negatively affect my overall feelings towards the game (*cough* Star Wars prequels *cough*). I was anxious to play this add on in fear of that very thing. But Left Behind does not hinder The Last of Us in any way. Instead it provides one of the most touching, rounded and complete side stories to a game ever. Left Behind gives me hope for DLC.

 

 

 

My Score: 10/10

(scores are given in 0.5 increments, in AKA a 20 point scale.)

Video Game Review Format – Captain Positive Niegro

Taste in entertainment media is probably the most subjective thing since fetishes. “Final Fantasy X is the best Final Fantasy because blah blah blah…” “Bitch you crazy. Did you see Sephiroph stab that girl? It’s another level of…” and so on. If people can’t agree what is the best instalment in a franchise, what makes them any better at deciding what the best game of all time is? What about best game of the generation? Of The Year? What about why a game is bad? That’s all. Why it’s bad. “you should not play this game because ABC…” The correct answer is nothing. It’s subjective. Therefore it’s bullshit and nonsensical to put pen to paper (or hand to keyboard) and write down why somebody should or shouldn’t like/buy something based on your opinions. The logic is backwards. Why do we stick to it? By no means am I saying opinions don’t matter. Shit when you break it down they’re all that matters. But when describing if a random individual will or won’t enjoy a product of art, an opinion is not helpful. There’s too much noise involved. Sometimes you just have to analyse a game for what it is, not for what it does to you.

I read a lot of reviews from a lot of sources on a bunch of different games. Every time I do so I can’t help but find myself getting hung up on that one flaw the reviewer couldn’t get past and, oh crap now it’s taken over my entire outlook. If it’s a game I’m highly anticipating, then that negative suddenly, for no good reason at all, fills me with rage quit rage and overshadows the reviewers opinion from mattering at all (I have a feeling this might explain impulse comments on youtube and messageboards, but that could be a whole other blog.) But in reality what the fuck do I know! the reviewer is the one who has been given early access for and played the game, is hired on the basis of knowing what makes a game good or bad and is providing me with information based on their experience. But in the heat of the moment I’m blind to these facts. lternatively, a game revealed a while back looks interesting, I wait a year or so for review to decide if I should play or not, discover the gameplay mechanics are not spectacularly tight and the story takes turns which the reviewer didn’t particularly like and now I’m turned off from the game. Again, how does this make sense? Why aren’t the positives highlighted and promoted more heavily than the flaws? I won’t find to suck what you find to suck. I like blondes you like brunettes. I like girls you like guys. It’s arbitrary and not effective when describing what a game is and if they should play it. All that matters is what it’s good at. If there isn’t much good to talk about then don’t talk so much and this in itself should demonstrate the quality of the game. If for example the story is exceptional yet the gameplay is kinda janky and just keeps you moving through so you can watch the cutscenes, then talk about how good that story is and describe the gameplay in respect to that story. It’s a more effective way to verbally illustrate who this game is for and if it’s what the reader is looking for.

Thinking about it, what is the function of criticising a games flaws? One answer could be to give your opinion on it so people who match your opinion know what to avoid. Ok… so what about all the gamers who have no problem with that kind of flaw, such as fluctuating frame rate or inconsistent animation, yet see that these features have been called out and now lose a little interest. Not to mention the immense number of reviewers you would need to track to decide which matches you perfectly. What if a review just wasn’t subjective? What if it was based in objectivity? Does the game succeed on a level that should be appreciated (consistent story, enjoyable mechanics, good variety of combos etc) and not on what made the game good for you, the reviewer? Their are obvious exceptions to this format. A broken/incomplete games deserves to be called out and shamed as they are not what they claim to be (a functioning product) and every gamer needs to be warned away. Their are no excuses for selling something that doesn’t work. However in this case a review is almost pointless. All you need is a statement: “Whatever qualities this game may or may not have had, I cannot provide a review as it is fundamentally broken. There are several crashes and errors throughout that inhibit me from proceeding and I cannot justify telling anybody what it succeeds at as there is a chance they will not be able to see. Until a functioning version of this game is unavailable, I will not review this game.” Or words to that effect.

There could be an argument made that the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. A review that consists mostly of a factual and positive description, followed by a final, personal verdict could make sense. For example: “Enslaved: Odyssey to the West was a game that I loved a lot and found a great emotional attachment to despite not really enjoying the fighting mechanics. However after completion I found that the art design and character interaction was so well done that it defeated any complaints I had about the combat system.” putting a concise opinion such as this at the end would allow the reader to understand how the analysis of the game translates into an individual basis. However if this contradicts what is highlighted as being great in the game, then it is clear that this is a layered game that different gamers will take different things away from. This is a better alternative to reading a detailed description of what an individual liked or didn’t like about something as an answer to if you will like it yourself.

I am laying out my ground rules for reviewing a video game. They are based in the philosophy that a piece of medium this interactive is so subjective in enjoyment and satisfaction, that the review should focus minimally on flaws and opinions that directly relate to the individual. They should in fact concentrate on bullet point aspects of what makes the game good/great/amazing/fun. The review should consist of:

1. A description of the game – this can/should include: genre, approximate length, camera style (first/third person), single player/multiplayer/both, co-op mode, online co-op mode, art direction, platforms it is available on and developer & publisher. This is fundamental information that provides a basis upon which to decide if it is a typical game they enjoy or are familiar with. This also consists of information that directs the gamer into knowing what they’ll be getting into.

2. Story – in this section I will identify:

  • if there is or isn’t a story.
  • how the story is told, e.g. cutscenes, dialogue during gameplay, environmental storytelling, speech boxes, etc.
  • What the premise of the plot is
  • Who the main characters are
  • Highlight the difference between the story and the narrative (this one could be tricky but it’s important)
  • Identify the mood of the game, this is often crucial to understanding the rhythm of the story and game as a whole.
  • if the story is a good, interesting, unique. 

That last is the one most susceptible to subjectivity, however I am adamant that a good, consistent and strong plot transcends taste and can almost universally be agreed is worthwhile. Apocalypse Now, Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, Fight Club, Memento, everybody who has watched these have slightly differing opinions on them as a whole but there is an agreed consensus that the story being told is good and worth hearing/experiencing. And I will fight you if you disagree.

3. Gameplay and Mechanics:

  • I will describe the gameplay – how I interact with that world, how I engage with enemies or objects, how I move and progress and how skills are being judged. 
  • I will describe the mechanics – Is movement fluid? How varied are your options in fighting or moving? What are your tools? Do you have control over the camera or is it fixed?
  • How does gameplay and the mechanics contribute to the narrative?
  • What is the level of depth and learning involved?
  • Is it punishing, hard, have a learning curve? Am I eased in?

4. Presentation – this is without a doubt the most subjective category. It is more important identify what the presentation is and not why you do or don’t like it:

  • What is the chosen art direction and how does it make sense in the context of the story being told?
  • What is the AI character animation like? e.g. lip sync, random or trigger based movement etc
  • How does the presentation develop across the game? is it a static enivronment you learn to be a part of or is it an ever changing landscape you constantly need readjusting to?
  • Provide example comparisons

5. Audio:

  • is there a soundtrack? what type of music is played across the game?
  • How detailed is the sound design and how does this contribute to mood?
  • What is the voice acting like?

6. and Finally, how does the games differing features analysed above come together as a unison product? Do they compliment each other. What is this game like in respect to previous entries in the series? Who is this game for?

This is my goal. I aim to prove myself right by following these steps and reviewing games that came out within the past couple of years, DLC and upcoming games. My plan is to review:

  • The Last of Us – followed by story DLC: Left Behind
  • Bioshock Infinite – followed by story DLC: Burial At Sea
  • Infamous
  • Infamous 2
  • Infamous Second Son
  • Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
  • Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag

This will provide a good mix as I will be testing this style of review on games who have already been extensively judged and share established perspectives, as well as story DLC which is a tricky component to review. Along with this I will review new games to see if the reviews are interesting and helpful.

I hope this is a method that will really get my point across. Stop focusing on and highlighting why something sucks and could be better. Promote the crap out of what makes this thing people have been pouring their souls and more importantly time into, worthwhile. I’m cynical enough most of all the time, I don’t need more when deciding whether or not to have fun.

Man if you read all this I really like you and hope it made sense. Keep an eye out for the reviews. I’ll try to do them proper.

Thank you,

 

Mert Tutkun.