Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X
November 12, 2021
Grove Street Games
Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition features updated versions of three of the most influential and successful video games of all time, Grand Theft Auto III, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. On release, each of these games were incredibly successful as they were controversial and despite only releasing a few years apart, the improvements from one to the next at the time were mind-boggling. From a basic beginning set in Liberty City, to the neon soaked 80s style of Vice City, to the epic adventure that was San Andreas. It is crazy to think all of these games were part of the same console generation.
When Rockstar confirmed that these three were getting the semi remake treatment, it is easy to understand why gamers would be excited. The prospect of diving back into those worlds was exciting, with enhancements Rockstar described including brilliant new lighting and environmental upgrades, high res textures, increased draw distances and GTA V style controls. Gameplay footage was scarce until almost right up to release date, I think people can be forgiven for hoping that these games would look semi close to GTA V. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long after release that the GTA Trilogy Definitive edition was review bombed on Metacritic and the internet lit up with scathing views on the final product.
Even Rockstar themselves have now released a statement apologising for the state of the titles, which some have called broken and inferior to even the original trilogy from two decades ago. So, is this Cyberpunk 2077 take two? Is this collection truly the great tragedy as some would have you believe?
The thing is, with Grand Theft Auto III and Vice City in particular, when they first came out they were excellent titles and they were truly unlike anything else available. But like many legendary games, trying to go back and play the originals now is just painful. From both a graphical and gameplay perspective, the jump from III to Vice City at the time was huge and then San Andreas with its epic story and improvements everywhere else, made those two immediately obsolete and almost unplayable in comparison. Although I had fun with those titles at the time, I have never ever felt the need to go back and try to play them again. They were better left in the past.
As a fan, I also would have liked a full on remake from the ground up of each of these titles with fully modern controls and gameplay, using the same engine as GTA V or even Red Dead Redemption 2. I admit, I was a little disappointed when it turned out we were just getting slightly prettier versions of the old games with slightly updated controls. Once I got over my disappointment and actually sat down and played through the collection though, I have to say, I actually quite like it and the idea that they are inferior to the originals is ridiculous. Let me tell you why.
I was not looking forward to playing GTA III again in particular but when it was finally its turn, I was pleasantly surprised. GTA III was definitely the title that needed the most work and I think it got it. I dare say, Liberty City actually looks really good. What was previously a fairly dull and dark city is now looking glorious and can stand next to Vice City and San Andreas in the visuals department. What has happened is that each of these titles have been ported over to Unreal Engine and enhanced. This provides some aesthetic continuity between the three that just wasn’t there before.
The benefit of that is that going from playing say, Vice City then turning on GTA III is nowhere near as jarring as it has been up until this point. Now that all of these games, aesthetic choices aside, are fairly on par in the overall graphic quality department you can appreciate the more subtle differences between them without being swayed by how dated one looks in comparison to the others.
One of the things that stands out more then ever is the unique tone in narrative across the games. From the gritty Mafia story in III to the overblown 80s action and characters in Vice City to the Boyz in the Hood story in San Andreas. This provided me a new appreciation for the games and the unique flavour each of them possess.
There are some interesting aesthetic decisions made across the collection as well. Despite them being largely on par with each other in the quality of the visuals, the treatment of the characters differ between them. Vice City in particular looks like it has amped up the cartoony aspect of the main cast which is understandably divisive, but at the end of the day, I have no problem with that, if I wanted to play the original I would get a PS2 and do it. I think highlighting the differences between the games with a slightly different approach to the character design is a good idea and just more clearly defines the tone of each of the games.
As far as graphical issues and glitches go, there are a few problems here. Yes, the rain effect across all three are pretty iffy. It’s hard to describe, but it’s like just loads of white lines flashing down your screen like its raining in front of the action and it makes trying to drive through it very dangerous indeed.
I would imagine that will be fixed with a patch before too long. Also, depending on the game some of the close ups in cut scenes make for some pretty horrific character models. The worst offender for this is definitely San Andreas with GTA III coming in in a close second.
When it comes to game breaking glitches, again I found San Andreas to be the worst offender here. There was one mission in particular that constantly crashed the game as I went to start it. I tried doing all sorts of things like purposely dying to lose my weapons for example. I would definitely suggest saving regularly, with that particular mission it had auto saved when I went to start it so it was on a crash loop until I loaded an older save. After finishing everything else on the map I had no choice but to try and do the mission, and it did magically work finally. But I was concerned that I just wouldn’t be able to progress.
“Even modern Rockstar games have their bizarre moments occurring in game and are always good for a laugh…”
Other than that, I didn’t come across anything that bothered me too much; some of the other drivers on the road can be a little crazy, crashing and taking out pedestrians, and some of the pedestrian behaviour is also a little bizarre at times. But I remember the originals being a little janky like that in hindsight anyway, hence all of those online videos of people acting like GTA non playable characters. In some ways, it is just par for the course. Even modern Rockstar games have their bizarre moments occurring in game and are always good for a laugh.
From a visual perspective, San Andreas is missing the hue of the original so Los Santos is no longer bathed in orange light toward the end of the day. I really used to like that part of the original, it felt like how I would imagine a big city with lots of cars and pollution would look like as the sun reflects off all the chemicals in the air. All of the titles have greatly increased draw distance, and the worlds all still feel just as big as they did all those years ago. Unless you want to hop in a plane and fly as high and as far away as you can to see the whole map, it’s really not a big deal.
Given that the titles are now on roughly the same graphical par and equally playable. You can also experience how the series gameplay evolved from the extremely bare bones affair of III through to San Andreas, which is far closer to the modern GTA experience with basic actions like climbing walls and being able to swim adding to the feeling of exploring a huge world.
I really would have liked to have the San Andreas control scheme applied to all of the titles, including little quality-of-life improvements like being able to swim in water so its not an instant death, climb walls, crouch and take cover for example. But it’s not the deal breaker that I thought it would have been. In some ways, if they all controlled exactly the same, the only difference between them would have been setting and story. I also suspect it could have made III and Vice City too easy.
When it comes to gameplay enhancements, all three of the titles now feature a GTA V style weapon wheel as well as a radio station wheel to save you from channel flicking whilst driving along. You can now add waypoints on the map to help figure out a route to your destination, I had completely forgotten that the originals didn’t feature that to be honest, but it is a handy addition to the collection. The driving and character movement also feel like they have had the rough edges sanded down. This means that even though some of the niggles are still there all three do genuinely play better than the originals.
Another pioneering aspect of these games was the feature of licensed music and radio stations. I am happy to report that the original soundtracks are present and accounted for, minus only a couple of tunes which is understandable with licensing after all of this time. So you can still drive around Liberty City listening to a decent helping of the Scarface soundtrack or cruise from Los Santos to San Fierro with Cult of Personality blasting from the car stereo.
At the end of the day, sure I would have liked a full on AAA ground-up remake of any of these games as much as the next person and having these come out probably reduces the possibility of that ever occurring to near zero. But for what they are, ported games with quality of life improvements, I think they achieved the basic task even though it would have been nice if they had gone a little further. The fact is that each of the three titles in the collection look far better and actually play much better than the originals, and there is now no reason to go back and play the original versions anymore other than twisted curiosity.
- Much needed gameplay tweaks are present
- Upgraded visuals make returning to Liberty City and Vice City far less painful
- The gameplay tweaks don't go far enough
- San Andreas in particular is very glitchy at times
- The package feels a little unfinished in its launch state
Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition is an interesting package; despite doing a number of things fairly well such as gameplay tweaks and refreshed visuals it’s hard not to feel a little let down. When you consider all of the possibilities or additional improvements that could have been made, it just feels like Rockstar could have gone further and created some truly memorable remakes or high-quality remasters. All of the games here do look better and play better than the originals, which technically does make these versions the definitive ones, but it feels like a missed opportunity at the end of the day. A few patches will likely take care of some of the more obvious issues, but at this point it is hard to recommend to anyone other than the GTA faithful.