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June 2024

The Last of Us Part I

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Naughty Dog
Release Date: March 3, 2023


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PC Review - 'The Last of Us: Part I'

by Cody Medellin on March 31, 2023 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

The Last of Us Part I is a genre-defining experience that blends survival and action elements to tell a character-driven story about a population decimated by a modern plague.

Ten years ago, Naughty Dog released The Last of Us on the PS3. Considered to be one of the last big titles of the PS3, the game was a big shift away from the action-heavy games of the company's past due to the increased focus on narrative while still maintaining some action with limited gunplay and more brutal physical combat. It was a big hit with critics and players alike, and a majority of the issues people had with the graphical fidelity and performance were alleviated with the remastered PS4 release a year later. Another remastered version of the game hit last September for the PS5, and while the game still retained high praise for improved visuals and a story that still holds emotional weight, the price tag gave many people pause since the PS4 iteration was still very playable on Sony's newest console. Six months after that release, we get the PC version, and the track record for Sony's PC ports would suggest that this would be the best iteration of the game yet. Alas, this isn't the case at all.

We've done both regular and in-depth reviews of the PS5 iteration of this game, and this iteration's core elements remain fantastic, since it doesn't remove anything from the PS5 version. Those hoping for a return to the multiplayer mode in the PS3 and PS4 iterations will be disappointed that it'll be spun off into a stand-alone game in the future, but those focused on the single-player game are in for a treat. The story remains solid, even with the somewhat overused backdrop of a monster apocalypse and the constant reminder that humans are just as evil. The characters are well written, and the combination is so strong that the HBO series didn't have to alter much to get quality TV out of the source material. The game features tweaks to the enemy AI that actively promotes movement while staying true to the roots of being more of a tactical action game. You sneak around trying to kill enemies while also trying to conserve ammo by using bottles, planks, and bricks to take care of humans. You do anything you can to get rid of the clickers without getting overwhelmed. It's a tense experience from beginning to end, and the big moments still hit hard with shock and emotional strength.

Those aren't the things that you'll think about with the PC version — at least not immediately. After downloading close to 78GB for the game on two devices, we decided to start with the Steam Deck, where the problems started to appear. After going through some accessibility options, the game began to compile shaders. Many recent games have had issues with shader compilation producing constant stuttering and other performance glitches. This shader compilation process lasted for a little over an hour, with the device running its fan at almost full speed and device temperatures averaging around 88 degrees Celsius (190 degrees Fahrenheit).

Once this was done and the CPU and GPU temperatures returned to normal, the graphical options show it defaulting to 856x536 using AMD's FSR 2 in Quality mode to take it to 1280x800. The graphical preset is Custom with everything set to Medium save for Low on all of the shadows, Screen Space reflections set to off, and a quarter resolution on Ambient Shadows Quality. Using the opening scene of the main campaign, the game looks fine. The cut scenes are close to hitting 40fps, 30fps in other indoor areas, and it can drop as low as 19fps in the first outdoor scene. Go past this, and the story remains the same, where indoor areas can be good but outdoor ones hit harder, all while getting an average of 100 minutes of battery life from a full charge.

The default settings give you something akin to how the PS3 performed, which can be taken as praise if you consider that this was made with a PS5 in mind — or a condemnation of the optimization process when you consider that we've seen some new titles perform better without the aid of upscaling techniques like FSR. The joy of running a portable version of the game would've been enough to overlook these launch issues for the device were it not for the fact that it takes a little over one hour to get the best chance of not stuttering and crashing while playing those opening moments. This is if you're lucky enough that the Steam Deck doesn't crash in the process and that it's plugged in during that hour instead of running on battery power. That time also means that you have less than an hour to evaluate the game before your return window runs out. That doesn't exactly fill players with hope.

With the low-end side of things taken care of, we turn our attention to a much higher-end PC with a Ryzen 7 5800X, 32GB of DDR4 RAM, and a GeForce RTX 4090. One thing we found out quickly was that if you install the game on a drive without much free space remaining, the shader compilation process fails. You can still play, but based on online reports from other players, doing so almost guarantees a crash will occur sooner rather than later. From a fresh install and if you give the game an extra 22GB of free space to successfully compile and install shaders, the process took 22 minutes.

With the options automatically set to everything at Ultra at 4K, the opening cut scene hovers around the 71fps mark. Indoor areas hit around 75fps, and going outdoors can dip as low as 48 on intense scenes. The story is the same everywhere else, and we haven't experienced any crashes or long loads so far. However, we do have fairly frequent stuttering and hitching in cut scenes and while playing the game. It's baffling because of the high-end hardware involved, and this is what shader caching was supposed to resolve.

We got off lucky in this respect compared to what other players are reporting online. Depending on the CPU, the amount of time needed to compile shaders can be longer than the one-hour mark if you have something less powerful than the Steam Deck. The wait is shorter if you have a great CPU, but the time spent is a big ask for those who may have already spent a great deal of time just downloading the game. Even if you have the free space for it, there's a good chance that the process can fail due to those same CPUs not being of a higher class. GPUs fall into trouble where the game seems to eat up a ton of VRAM, so if you're not dropping things to below console settings, you're going to experience crashing.

While it was mentioned before that those who aren't waiting through the lengthy shader compilation process will have a much higher chance of getting bad-looking models, load times when they shouldn't exist, and crashes, even those who go through the process can still experience these issues without explanation. Whether you're using the bare minimum specs or have something that's considered top of the line, the game doesn't seem to adapt well while expecting players to wait on a process that takes much, much longer than what was experienced in Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection. As of this writing, the patch process has already begun, but it'll take a bit of time before things are under control.

It is a shame that the game is suffering from these things because it looks gorgeous when things are going fine. The environments still have that general dirty apocalyptic look, but the level of greenery and the sharpness of every texture makes this very picturesque. The character models are very well detailed; individual stitching on clothing can be seen just as well as the cuts and individual hairs on characters. The PS5 iteration ran at 30fps when going for native 4K, but the option for an uncapped frame rate and various ultrawide configurations gives this a graphical leg up on Sony's system — provided the game wants to work with you.

This should have been a victory lap for the PC iteration of The Last of Us: Part I. From the gameplay to the characters to the story, this is one of the highlights of the past few gaming generations. The appearance on the PC should've given the game even more room to show off things like higher-quality textures and reflections along with Sony's now-standard ultrawide support. Yet the game's ability to only work with reduced risk after waiting for an abnormally long time for shader caching mars the release. The game crashes, frequent pauses in gameplay and other nonsensical bugs put into question the decision to release this despite the obvious issues. There's a chance that this will recover via patches and the game can bounce back. For now, it is sad to see that one of Sony's best games has received one of the worst PC ports thus far.

Score: 5.0/10

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