The Steam Deck is no way to play The Last of Us Part 1 – for now
Pray for performance patches
Normally, when a big game releases, I’ll test how it runs on PC, knock together a best settings guide, respond in the negative to an email that asks if it will run on a GTX 680, and we all move on with our lives. Not so with The Last of Us Part 1, which as you’ve probably seen, has launched in a technical state that’s bleaker than Joel’s face. The first few patches and hotfixes (more are planned) have made it somewhat less terrible on powerful desktops, but I’m sad to report that playing The Last of Us Part 1 on the Steam Deck is not currently worth your time.
This could change – there’s one hotfix planned for later today (Tuesday the 4th) and a larger patch due later this week, and I’m crossing every appendage going that the latter will stabilise the game’s technical issues to the point that I can start properly testing on desktop. However, from what I’ve played on the Steam Deck, it will need a major performance upgrade just to hit a steady 30fps.
This baseline is just about achievable for chunks of The Last of Us Part 1, but requires drastic cuts to visual quality. At the Deck’s native 1280x800 resolution, the Low preset isn’t playable by itself, so I had to add FSR 2 upscaling on its Ultra Performance setting as well. This looks, as you can imagine, like arse, with details pixellated out of existence when you’re viewing them up close. The Performance setting is sharper but not as fast as The Last of Us Part 1 needs, leaving us with little choice but to engage Ultra Performance and its piddly render resolution of 432x272. Before upscaling, that’s fewer pixels than an Apple Watch.
Maaaaaybe it could look nicer with some tweaks. like I said, I’m saving the settings testing for when the game feels a bit more finished, and there may be certain individual graphics options that can be left on Medium or High while keeping close enough to the Low preset’s performance. But something else I said was that TLOU can only hold 30fps for chunks, and even on these rock-bottom settings, it’s just as likely to dip into the twenties in other parts. One early chapter, which features a lot of heavy rain and water effects, dropped to 22-25fps and mostly stayed there.
This particular game’s slow pace means that sub-30fps drops don’t feel as horrible as they would in, say, fellow PS5 port Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered. Yet they suck regardless, especially when they happen in spite of an image so pixellated that it becomes hard to spot mushroom zombies in darkened rooms. To get The Last of Us Part 1 fully playable on the Steam Deck would therefore require performance improvements to the point where it can, bare minimum, handle 30fps on FSR 2’s Performance setting. Even if it comes at the cost of setting everything else to Low.
Impossible? Maybe not – I’ve yet to be haunted by the inhuman eyebrows and fell mutton chops of "Steam Deck Joel", and the initial shader compilation (while still frustratingly long) now takes around 30 minutes, rather than the hour that Steam Deck owners were initially reporting. The fixes and optimisations so far have evidently been effective, so while co-developers Naughty Dog and Iron Galaxy aren’t off the hook for a disastrous launch, it’s within the realm of possibility that The Last of Us Part 1 could find Steam Deck redemption.
(Side note: I get the impression that Naughty Dog's tweet on why they haven't submitted to the Steam Deck Verified programme is being misinterpreted. It doesn't really read like they're deprioritising the Steam Deck generally, they just want as many updates and fixes in the bag before submitting; Verified and Playable badges are useful indicators to players, but not actually required for a game to run on the Deck.)
We’ll see, in any event. Meanwhile, you can load up one of the 30 best Steam Deck games instead.