Topping many of 2013's best-of lists, The Last of Us proved that there was something worthwhile to drag out of the "let's shoot zombies in video games" trend.
This action-adventure game put the focus on quiet, personal moments between the lead characters while providing the intense combat you would expect from a loud, shooty video game. And the low-key drama was much more fulfilling than the shooting.
Left Behind, a new story add-on for The Last of Us, dives even deeper into unexpected moments of humanity amid the chaos of a ruined American civilization.
In the original The Last of Us, jaded guide Joel is tasked with transporting young Ellie across the country, because she is immune to the fungal virus that turned most of the population into monsters. The pair must contend with warring factions of survivors, decreasing supplies and, naturally, the fungus-zombies hiding around every corner. Perhaps the toughest challenges, however, are the constant reminders of what life used to be like as they make their way through abandoned homes and destroyed cities.
Left Behind is a prequel to the events of the main game, introducing Ellie's friend Riley. Riley is about to skip town to join a resistance movement, and she wants to give Ellie one last night of teenage fun. These sections are told via flashback, as the game jumps from an unseen portion of Ellie's present-day adventure with Joel to her memories of that night with Riley.
Yes, there's plenty of dodging and shooting enemies, of both the infected and the survivalist varieties. But what is most amazing about Left Behind are those flashback scenes, when the game literally becomes the story of two teen girls on a trip to the mall.
Of course, that mall is ransacked and abandoned, and the girls have little frame of reference for understanding the remains, but that doesn't get in the way of two kids having fun. Throughout the ruins of the mall, the pair explore bygone scenes of American culture: Halloween costume stores, arcades and photo booths.
These calm, funny parts of Left Behind do something uncommon in video gaming: They show kids just being kids.
It is important to note that this is all playable, not a bunch of dramatic cut scenes. Left Behind turns from surprise to surprise as you find yourself having as much fun as the girls, doing normal things unfamiliar in the world of video games.
This being The Last of Us, you can expect a dour framing — the world as we know it is gone, after all — but the fact that Left Behind so adroitly explores the connection between two young friends makes it a standout addition.