It’s been a hell of a year for queer female characters in the video game universe. Last March brought us the stellar Mass Effect DLC: The Citadel, where Commander Shepard gets the girl, and some much-needed closure. Then this past fall, The Fullbright Company wowed us with their haunting RPG, Gone Home, where the player pieces together an epic love story between two girls. Just this last week, Left Behind, a very impactful (and pretty darn queer) DLC was released for the mega-hit, The Last of Us. (H/T to readers DireLions and ALouderNoise for giving us the heads up. Thanks guys!)
If you are not familiar with The Last of Us, it’s a wildly popular action/survival game released last year by Naughty Dog Studios, developer of the Uncharted series. Last of Us takes place in the not too distant future (2033 to be exact) where an unstoppable fungus has run rampant, turning its victims insane, violent and ultimately into spore machines. Think mushroomized zombies. In the game you play primarily as Joel, a smuggler who is enlisted to deliver a 14-year-old girl named Ellie into the hands of waiting rebel group, The Fireflies. The whipsmart Ellie knows nothing of life before the plague. On the way to meet with the rebels, they are taken into military custody. Ellie resists and the events that follow set the course for the rest of the game. Ellie is infected, but not showing any symptoms. Could she hold the key to a cure?
Left Behind picks up at a critical point in the Last of Us narrative, and weaves in flashbacks of Ellie’s life before infection. While on a mission to find supplies and save Joel’s life, and triggered by familiar sights and experiences, Ellie’s backstory takes center stage.
In the middle of the night, Ellie, who attends a military run boarding school is awakened by Riley, a classmate and close friend who ran away from the school a few weeks prior. There is immediate tension between the girls, which only intensifies when Riley reveals herself to be a newly christened Firefly rebel. Ellie loses her resolve however, when Riley promises to explain her absence. Ellie follows Riley to an abandoned mall, where a majority of the DLC takes place.
What follows is a beautiful story of two teenagers, getting a rare chance to actually be teenagers. They scare each other, tell jokes, break shit, and share their deepest feelings. If it weren’t for the dystopian nightmare that surrounds them every day of their lives, it would be like any Saturday between friends. But are they more than friends? We find that out in Left Behind.
What Left Behind does so beautifully is take sexuality completely out of the equation, which allows us to focus of the natural chemistry and deep connection between the girls. This is a world where a violent death isn’t just a looming threat; it’s practically a guarantee. It’s easy to get lost in Ellie and Riley’s story because it feels so real. Friendship that evolves into something more is something that most of us can relate to. Naughty Dog has done some incredible work with motion capture, and the emotions that the characters display are as natural and realistic as anything out there. Gone are the dead-behind-the eyes game characters of the past. Fantastic voice work by Ashley Johnson (Ellie) and Yanni King (Riley) also push this DLC into breathtaking territory.
What happens on this one night will change everything for Ellie and Riley. It is the true beginning of Ellie’s journey, one that overflows with authentic joy and heartbreak. Fans of RPG heavy games will love this DLC, as will action-craving gamers.