The first part of The Last of Us is much improved on PC – but big issues remain unaddressed

The first part of The Last of Us arrived on PC at the end of March in a pretty desperate state – a good experience only available to those with more powerful hardware, with deep issues facing players on more common components. However, progress has been made through a series of patches and we thought it might be a good time to check out the port to provide an update on the current quality level of the game. There is a lot of good news to convey here, but there are also some outstanding issues – which we worry may never be dealt with.

But let’s get to the good news first. At launch, there were profound issues with texture quality on the 8GB graphics cards—a big deal considering how many such cards are on the market. Setting texture quality to a high level is limited by the GPU’s VRAM limit, which leads to massive stuttering issues. The alternative was to downgrade to medium quality or even low quality mounts, depending on the resolution – the problem was that the quality level seemed more like ‘too low’. In fact, the decorations from the PS3 original were much more elaborate.

I dare to suggest that this problem has now been resolved. Medium textures now look just as good, with minimal impact on quality compared to the High preset. Improvements in memory management now mean 8GB GPU owners can use the high-build preset instead if they wish, giving the appearance of being very close to the PlayStation 5 version. Naughty Dog deserves credit for providing this. It shows how PC scaling should work, and why you shouldn’t blindly assert that 8GB GPUs are now obsolete.

Our fresh look at The Last of Us Part 1 on PC reveals that while there are still issues – and a few new ones added – owners of at least 8GB GPUs can now enjoy a very engaging experience.

So, how was this achieved? Based on the difference in medium textures, there seem to be completely different image maps that appear when the game is set to medium. It’s almost as if the game had art clearance implemented for medium textures to keep the resolution higher and to retain more detail – so textures that might not have been there before might be. Moreover, there is also a change in how the texture stream works, to accommodate GPUs with different memory sizes. This is controlled by a new option called Texture Flow Rate, which is a nice addition.

This option defaults to Normal in the Medium and High presets. When set to normal, the texture cache size is smaller, so more VRAM is released while keeping the texture quality the same as in rendering. However, if the camera moves quickly, some of the environmental textures can come loose later. On the fast or faster setting, the appearance of the texture virtually disappears, but this comes at the cost of more VRAM usage. If you’re playing the game on an 8GB Gigabit GPU, I’d recommend high builds with either the normal or fast setting, which looks just as good.

In the video embedded on this page, you’ll see that there are frequent improvements to GPU and CPU usage, but make no mistake – The Last of Us Part 1 is still quite heavy for PC users and looks at unlocked performance based on the VRR mode of the release. PS5 for the game, the console version is 55 percent faster in a GPU-limited scenario compared to the RTX 2070 Super, which is usually identical to the PS5 in most other point-and-shoot games.

A selection of head-to-head comparisons, stacking up average quality op-code material against how it’s presented today. Honestly, it’s an improvement day and night. Click on the images for high-resolution screenshots.

On the CPU side, Naughty Dog still uses a lot of CPU to perform background streaming, which makes life very difficult for users with more modest mainstream processors, like the Ryzen 5 3600, for example. I’d like to see more work done here – such as implementing DirectStorage – but it’s clear that, for now at least, Naughty Dog’s priorities lie elsewhere.

An area where there is good optimization – but at a cost – comes from the game’s shader bundling strategy. In short, to avoid stuttering, The Last of Us Part 1 has a lengthy assembly step at the start of the game. At launch, that was about 41 minutes on the Ryzen 5 3600. It’s now 25 minutes for the base game, with an additional four minutes for Left Behind DLC.

This is good news, except that my view says that the compilation step is incomplete – I’m seeing an obvious shader compilation stutter that wasn’t there before. We know this is the problem because it goes away on the second rendering, then comes back when I turn on the GPU drivers and shader cache. I hope this gets sorted once and for all because I simply shouldn’t expect to see any stuttering issues like this on a major studio triple release out of Naughty Dog.

Things got a lot better after the disastrous PC launch of The Last of Us Part 1.

Other good news? The game’s severe loading time issues have been improved. At launch, starting the game from the main menu took about a minute to load on a Ryzen 5 3600 with a 3.5GB/s NVME drive. This loading length was excessive in an era when games like Marvel’s Spider-Man on PC would go from menu to game in just six seconds. With the latest patch 1.05, this initial load is now 30 seconds. This carries over to in-game loads – for example, skipping a scene and loading the next chapter took nearly 27 seconds when viewed in our original coverage of the game. This same download is now achieved in less than 12 seconds on the same device and on the same settings.

The first part of The Last of Us was in better shape after that, but it’s still far from the optimal experience I was hoping for. Other issues still need to be addressed. DLSS and FSR2 both manage to affect the quality of the shadow maps, which really shouldn’t happen. And of course, there were still bugs to contend with: in my playthrough, an enemy died and the key needed to advance was spread out under his body, which meant I couldn’t pick it up. There’s a lingering feeling that PC users remain second-class citizens, and so running into issues Naughty Dog won’t force on its console audience.

Ultimately, The Last of Us Part 1 on PC is in better shape than it was at launch. Build quality is greatly improved, a good experience can be had on 8GB GPUs and the game runs a bit better overall. However, there are still many issues and new ones have been added. If Naughty Dog and Iron Galaxy can ease the limitations of background-streaming CPU, increase GPU performance, and completely eliminate shadow-pooling stutter, the port will be well-placed. But for now at least, I still think it needs quite a bit of extra work.

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