I’m of the opinion that The Last of Us was such a perfect game -- such a perfect experience -- that it didn’t warrant a downloadable content episode. Where we had landed with Joel and Ellie at the end of the narrative felt open-ended and ambiguous, sure, but there was also a sense of finality; we’ve seen these two remarkable people to the end of our road with them. So when I heard that Naughty Dog was releasing a single-player, story-based DLC episode, I raised my eyebrow both skeptically and in confusion. Now, after having played through the handful of hours in The Last of Us: Left Behind, I can say that maybe I was wrong in fearing the worst.

Since you’re reading this, I’ll assume that you’ve already completed the game proper in The Last of Us and have suffered through plenty of clickers, looters and other hazards courtesy of the Cordyceps apocalypse. With that said, Left Behind is both a prequel and a side story that takes place towards the tail end of the game. It does a great job of catching you up to speed by presenting you with a short montage that recounts the events that happened that led to Joel being impaled, putting him out of commission. Since there’s a big gap in the main game between the time Joel gets injured and comes to in the ski resort town, Left Behind fills in the blanks perfectly.

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Throughout the duration Left Behind, you play as Ellie, both in the past and the present. Most of the action and combat will be played out in the present. There’s also a handy hint mode available if it’s been a while since you’ve played and need to re-acclimate yourself to the heart-pounding rhythm of the exploration and combat in The Last of Us. Ellie’s goal is simple: grab some meds to help nurse Joel back to fighting form. She might not be as big as Joel, but she’s proven that she’s every bit as tough and resourceful. It also helps that she’s always toting around a knife, which kills foes in one hit if successful with a sneak attack. She’ll need these skills and more in the mall in which she tries to scavenge for supplies.

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Like the game proper, Left Behind has its own cadence. You’ll find that the more quiet, pensive moments are mostly in the past and are spent with Ellie and her old best friend, Riley. The events between Ellie and Riley take place a mere three weeks before her meeting with Joel, but you can sense that this Ellie is world’s apart from the one we know.

Every time we travel back to the past, we see more of Ellie’s relationship with Riley and get to explore how harsh an environment this new world is, because it shows us that even though the pair of friends have been hardened in a life where survival against monsters is never guaranteed, they still try to retain their childlike wonder and awe. There are many beautiful moments between the friends, a lot of which you can affect directly, so it’s nice to know you have a hand in creating memories for Ellie. These moments are made all the more important when you play them out knowing that tragedy is about to befall the girls.

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The present is where all of the action happens. You’ll face bandits, clickers, runners and all kinds of environmental puzzles as you make it through an empty mall, in the hopes of finding supplies for Joel. All of the trappings of the original game are present as you collect items like alcohol and scissors to create weapons and other helpful tools. You’ll then use these items to help you fight off enemies, both human and infected.

Each encounter with enemies is tense and it forces you to think about what you’re doing instead of just unloading a hailstorm of bullets into the darkness. All of the controls seem to be intact, so it’s a breeze to switch between sneaking, listening, shooting and stabbing. In fact, the entire sequence could have been inserted into the main game and it wouldn’t have felt out of place. The only complaint I have is that maybe it would have been cool to have a non-canon weapon unique to the DLC to play around with, but I understand it wouldn’t have made sense in the overarching narrative.

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So you’ll experience combat and exploration in the present while witnessing poignant moments of friendship and love in the flashbacks. Though you keep switching, the transitions never feel jarring and you’re always able to pick up where you left off, which is kind of symbolic of a good friendship. The relationship between Ellie and Riley is a beautiful one that begs to be explored some more, past this DLC. It also happens to be a pretty groundbreaking one, but I won’t spoil why for you.

The DLC plays beautifully and brings you right back into the harsh world of survival that we explored months ago. The controls remain tight, the gameplay remains tense and exciting and the story is still as gripping as ever. The only real complaint here is that it only takes about four hours to complete, and that’s if you go at a snail’s pace. For $15, that might not seem like a lot of content for most people. But the quality more than speaks for itself and is easily worth the price of admission. Of all the things that should be left behind, this DLC is not one of them.

This review was based on a purchased digital copy of The Last of Us: Left Behind for the PlayStation 3.

9.5 out of 10 arcade sushi rating