A young girl attempts to exist in a post-apocalyptic military state in the abbreviated adventure The Last of Us: Left Behind (Sony Computer Entertainment and Naughty Dog, rated Mature, $14.99).
The girl is 14-year-old Ellie, last seen fighting alongside Joel to escape from an assortment of military thugs, cannibals, bandits and grisly, infected humans during one of the best PlayStation 3 games of 2013.
This downloadable content pack, exclusive to the PlayStation 3, requires owning The Last of Us game and gives a solo player about a three-hour adventure that takes him back to the days when a ghastly pandemic first took hold of the world.
It finds Ellie in Boston sneaking out of a military school to hang out with her friend and mentor Riley in an abandoned mall.
Mixed between the flashbacks, gamers also control Ellie as she exists in the snowy mall in Colorado while she searches for medical supplies to help an injured Joel after the pair's recent encounter with the rebel group the Fireflys.
Both situations create an even more vivid picture of this character and her descent into a violent world.
The flashback specifically features Ellie and her friend as they take some time to try and have fun amidst the chaos before Riley offers a deflating revelation.
Be it stopping by a Halloween super store and trying on masks (even asking questions to a skull head doubling as a Magic 8-Ball), riding on a gorgeous carousel horse, having a water blaster fight, playing a unusual version of a video game at the arcade and even telling an unending supply of jokes, the player makes choices all along the way that help bring to light Ellie's emotional saga.
The flashback is not about fighting off hordes of zombies, like often featured in the original game. Rather, it is about exploration and revelation within an unsettling atmosphere of terror potentially hidden around every corner.
A player who has completed the game knows about the incredible struggles of Ellie. Here, he learns about what helped turn her from rebellious teen into cold-blooded survivalist.
However, Ellie's return to the present is always a startling slap in the face for the gamer.
In her search for supplies to save Joel, she must complete objectives including feeding a generator with gasoline (while avoiding electrified water) and, of course, must stealthily avoid or confront the infected and some dangerous individuals.
The horrifying encounters often end with a bloody death for either party (if Ellie fails or fights back) similar to any R-rated zombie movie.
The really creepy infected, of the "28 Days Later" variety, roam the mall and include some rabid ones as well as living nightmares that feature humans with grotesque fungal growths covering parts of their head and body.
Their clicking noises, moans and screams of anguish still resonate in my noggin.
As in the full game, Ellie does have at her disposal weapons such as a pistol, when bullets are found, and bow as well as the ability to craft such items as Molotov cocktails and nail bombs.
She can also use her finely honed hearing to detect enemies, even through walls, when a player clicks the controller's shoulder trigger.
The Last of Us: Left Behind offers a slightly pricy and too-brief extension of an awesome interactive drama that brilliantly sucks a gamer into Ellie's life.
I can only hope Naughty offers further adventures delving into Ellie's, or Joel's past, and eventually gets both of them in PlayStation's latest console masterpiece for even a more spectacular experience.
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