Computing

The Last of Us: Understanding the PC Stuttering Issues

Unveiling the Potential Cause of Stuttering

Joel from The Last of Us standing on a rooftop.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The recent release of The Last of Us on PC has left players disappointed due to its numerous bugs, poor optimization, and overall unfinished state. With a “Mostly Negative” review status on Steam, comparable to highly flawed games like Battlefield 2042, it’s clear that the game has significant issues. If you’re planning to dive into Joel and Ellie’s captivating story on PC, especially after enjoying the excellent HBO series, be warned. For those who already have the game, there’s an important problem to address regarding Nvidia’s Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS), AMD’s FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR), and the demanding system requirements that surpass the recommended specs.

Recognizing the Culprit Behind Stuttering

There are multiple issues plaguing The Last of Us on PC, including stuttering, crashes, and long loading times. While I personally encountered minor fps drops and extended loading screens, crashes were not part of my experience. Nevertheless, it’s not surprising that the game is encountering problems on various systems.

The issue here is different from games like Gotham Knights, which suffered from shader compilation problems. In the case of The Last of Us on PC, the game takes an excessively long time to precompile shaders during the initial loading process. While it took around 30 minutes for me, some users reported waiting for over two hours to complete the shader compilation.

Certain users speculate that extended loading times are related to a faulty version of the Oodle decompression library utilized by The Last of Us. Supposedly, replacing the associated Oodle file could resolve longer loading times, but I wouldn’t expect it to fix the stuttering issues.

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The likely cause of stuttering and crashes lies in the high CPU utilization and demanding video memory requirements. Although the system requirements indicate a minimum of 4GB of video memory, my experience differed significantly. Even when playing at 720p with the lowest graphics settings, the game consumed close to 7GB of video memory. At the native resolution with maximum graphics settings, it soared to nearly 14GB.

Even if you own a GPU with 8GB of video memory, such as the powerful RTX 3070 Ti, there’s a good chance you’ll encounter video memory limitations, even with modest settings. This limitation could result in stuttering and hitches. However, there’s a more significant issue at hand: your processor.

The Ineffectiveness of Upscaling

VRAM usage in The Last of Us on PC.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

DLSS and FSR are both super resolution tools intended to enhance frame rates by rendering the game at a lower resolution. While this method typically works well, it’s prone to issues in The Last of Us on PC, affecting most PCs.

The problem lies in the exceptionally high CPU utilization of The Last of Us on PC. Even when playing at full resolution on my Alienware 34 QD-OLED, the game consistently demanded 30% to 50% CPU utilization. This level of CPU usage surpasses that of many real-time strategy games, which are notoriously demanding on processors. Enabling FSR or DLSS increases the CPU utilization even further, reaching up to 70% in my case.

Such high CPU usage is surprising for a predominantly linear game like The Last of Us. While there are other games, such as Marvel’s Spider-Man, prone to CPU bottlenecks, they usually involve large open worlds with extensive simulations. The Last of Us, being a linear experience, doesn’t benefit from CPU-bound settings, as reducing the graphics settings to the lowest preset had no impact on CPU utilization.

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The irony lies in the fact that I tested the game with an Intel Core i9-13900K, which is undeniably one of the fastest gaming processors available. Lower-end chips will likely struggle even more, potentially reaching maximum CPU utilization and causing stutters or crashes.

Returning to the topic of FSR and DLSS, both features work by rendering the game at a lower resolution, reducing the workload on the graphics card. However, this subsequently places a greater burden on the processor. Instead of the processor waiting for the graphics card, we now have a scenario in which the graphics card waits for the processor, resulting in a CPU bottleneck.

Consequently, DLSS and FSR won’t significantly improve performance, as observed during testing. Activating DLSS or FSR in their Quality modes did boost frame rates on my RTX 4080 and Core i9-13900K, but even switching to the Ultra Performance mode with FSR 2 failed to provide any further performance gains. If you’re already facing a bottleneck at the native resolution, enabling a super resolution feature won’t alleviate the issue.

The Road Ahead

While it’s possible that addressing the bugged version of Oodle may alleviate some of the issues with The Last of Us on PC, the game’s port suffers from other performance-related problems. High CPU and VRAM usage can significantly impact overall performance, leading to stutters and hitches. Additionally, adjusting the graphics settings has minimal impact on optimizing the game’s demanding nature.

Naughty Dog is aware of the problems and actively working on fixing them. However, it’s worth noting that the port was handled by Iron Galaxy, the same studio responsible for the notorious Arkham Knight PC port. Undoubtedly, patches will be released to address obvious issues like the Oodle library, but further optimization targeting VRAM requirements and CPU usage is crucial to ensure the game runs smoothly on a wider range of systems.

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Editors’ Recommendations

  • After four months with the ROG Ally, I’m going back to my Steam Deck
  • Why I couldn’t live without an ultrawide gaming monitor
  • Why I leave Nvidia’s game-changing tech off in most games
  • I use Steam every day, and I couldn’t live without these 6 hidden features
  • A major Asus ROG Ally challenger could be in the works

OnSpec Electronic, Inc.

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