Review – Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition
Grand Theft Auto III, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. These games were the cornerstone of my early teens (I had very liberal parents, don’t judge). I grew up playing these titles, loving each and every second of them. GTA III introduced me to Michael Madsen, as well as The Sopranos in a weird way. I discovered Miami Vice, Scarface, and new wave music because of Vice City; and San Andreas‘ Radio X pretty much made me the die-hard alternative rock and grunge fanboy I am today. I had sheets of paper full of cheat codes I had written down from a friend’s magazine, I even knew some of them by memory. In short, I am the target demographic Rockstar was aiming at when they announced Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition.
Initial rumors were too good to be true. A package with all three games, with brand new visuals, and quality of life improvements? On all consoles? Ray freaking tracing on PS5 and portability on the Switch version? Wait a sec… a Switch version?? This is how Rockstar makes their money: they know how to make you want to buy their products multiple times even before release. The announcement of Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition‘s versions already made me want to grab a copy for PS5, for the quality of life improvements, visuals, and trophies, as well as a Switch port so I could raise hell while listening to Jane’s Addiction’s “Been Caught Stealing” on a portable. Then the ports finally came out. And boy, something just wasn’t right with this collection.
Let me start off with an actual positive: the Definitive Edition of Grand Theft Auto III is actually the most trouble-free of them all. GTA III was in dire need of a remaster or a remake. For as much as I’ve loved this game ever since buying an original Xbox back when I was eleven, this one had aged like spoiled milk. It was a game made with the Dreamcast’s limitations in mind (look it up, I ain’t inventing stuff), with a bizarre control scheme and even more bizarre camera system. It looked hideous, ran poorly, and had utterly never-ending loading times. Yes, it is one of the most important games of all time, but it was a relic of its time. It needed a fix. And for the most part, I won’t deny, this Definitive Edition does fix a lot of its issues.
As ugly as the now-infamous character models look in the other two games, I didn’t mind them that much in Grand Theft Auto III. Maybe it’s due to the fact the original artwork for each character already resembled melted wax statues, so I ended up kind of liking their new models, especially the new Claude. The framerate, while wonky, doesn’t suffer that much, especially since Liberty City is as small as a kiddie pool when compared to, say, the entire state of San Andreas. Lighting effects were actually impressive and the city itself didn’t look so hideous. I would say that the contrast between the beautiful cityscapes and horrendous characters is what hurts this collection the most, but in GTA III you can get used to it quickly.
What makes this version better than the originals is the improved gameplay. A few elements have been borrowed from Grand Theft Auto V, as well as more modern third-person action adventures games. You now have free control of the camera, both when walking and driving a vehicle. Aiming is free-form and you can dictate the intensity of your aiming assist. No loading times whatsoever. There are checkpoints at the beginning and in the middle of missions, letting you respawn inside of them in case you die or fail it.
The inclusion of a GTA V-esque weapon wheel was also a welcoming addition. You now accelerate and brake with the triggers. You can also aim and shoot with the same triggers. Finally, for all three games, there is the inclusion of waypoints on your map. All in all, even if the rest of the control scheme is still weird (handbrake attached to the R1 button? For real?), those quality of life improvements are all great.
Bear in mind, I grew up knowing how bad GTA III was in terms of visuals and controls. This brand new Definitive Edition doesn’t bring it to 2021 standards, but hey, it makes it a lot more playable, a lot more enjoyable. But there are glitches here and there. There are tons of issues pertaining to the framerate. These are the ones that can be fixed with patches over the next few months (or so I hope). The character models… well, we just have to live with those, at least in GTA III. Time to jump into some uglier results.
I’d say that Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is the worst game in this collection. No, I’m not saying that Vice City was bad back in the day, or even that it is bad now. But sadly, the character models look quite bad in here, notably worse than in GTA III. Plus performance is less stable, mostly due to the size of the city, amount of particles, and all that 80s neon scattered around the town. The gameplay improvements are mostly the same as the ones in GTA III, so there’s no need to jump into details about them once more. Finally, a chunk of its EPIC soundtrack was cut, mostly due to licensing issues. It’s sad, I know, but I also know that dealing with anything Michael Jackson-related in this day and age is a nuisance, even for Rockstar’s standards.
Let’s talk about San Andreas. Right from the get-go, you can realize this is the main focus of the collection. Its file size is bigger than the other two games combined. Hell, even the studio behind this remastered collection is named after it (Grove Street Studios). It is my favorite GTA game to this game, and one of my favorite games of all time. I know a lot of people my age share the same opinion. We all know Radio X’s setlist by memory. We’ve memorized the classic quotes, such as Smoke’s drive thru order. We all failed to follow that damn train. Rockstar knew this particular game was going to be the main selling point for the entire collection, but while this is still, undoubtedly, the best and most enjoyable game in this package, it’s also the one that got modified the most. For better AND worse.
This version of San Andreas received a few extra gameplay improvements that aren’t featured in the previous two games, such as the ability to perform drive-by shootings without the need of moving around the camera. The aiming isn’t as free-form as the one in Grand Theft Auto V, but that’s already one hell of an improvement over the original. CJ is also able to automatically vault over fences just by holding down the run button. These are all extremely welcome additions. There’s no denying that, gameplay-wise, this is a vast improvement over the 2004 original… with the exception of how terrible it is to run and swim this time around, as you are now forced to tap X in order to sprint or swim. No more infinite sprinting by tapping X like a maniac like back in the day.
Visually speaking, though, San Andreas might not exactly be the absolute ugliest in general, but damn, it’s still very hard to look at. It all boils down to these damn character models. What the hell were they thinking with these characters? And no, I’m not talking just about the random NPCs, as those would have been hideous regardless. Rockstar and Grove Street Studios wouldn’t have spent a lot of time and resources on random passersby. It’s all about the main characters. CJ looks like Flo Rida. Ryder looks like Eazy-E’s Madame Tussaud’s statue halfway through the melting process. The Truth looks dead on the inside, as if the tons of peyote he had consumed through his life had sucked his life energy. Those character models are a monstrosity.
To make matters worse, these characters contrast really poorly with the shiny, ray-tracing filled skies of Los Santos and Las Venturas. The improved landscapes of Bone County also look excessively realistic for a game inhabited by borderline Lovecraftian abominations. It feels like you’ve downloaded a graphics mod for San Andreas on your PC, but you forgot to download a character skin pack to fit with the rest of the visuals. It looks wrong, and it’s hard not to feel grossed out during cutscenes, or especially during high speed chases on San Andreas‘ rural highways, where the framerate tanks hard.
San Andreas is also, without a doubt, the glitchiest of all three remasters. Bridges disappeared in front of me during rural car chases. Cars just spawn from thin air, as if the entire game was performing the classic button combination cheats in order to populate the map. Characters got stuck onto walls, and other dumb things. Granted, the game never crashed or froze, it just had these annoying Skyrim-esque glitches. No hardcore Cyberpunk 2077 issues in here. That doesn’t make things more acceptable, though. A remaster should not be glitchier than the original game. I thought I had seen the worse with Sonic Colors, but I guess I was wrong.
Yep, I had a hard time with these three games. At the same time, I just couldn’t stop playing them. Before I even noticed, it was two in the morning, and I was already halfway through GTA III and en route to San Fierro in San Andreas. That is the magic behind the PS2-era Grand Theft Auto games: they were the pinnacle of open world sandboxes. There is no single open world game released over the past decade that is as fun to fool around with as these games. They may have aged like a piece of gouda cheese under the sun, and these remasters may have turned them into eldritch homunculi, but their core gameplay and fun factor remain strong. Very strong.
I am not going to pretend I didn’t have a lot of fun with this remastered Grand Theft Auto trilogy. At the end of the day, they’re still the PS2 classics, and I have loved them for the past two decades. I also won’t deny that, yes, there ARE some good quality of life improvements in each of the games, such as an improvement aiming system, camera controls, checkpoints, and much more. But man, these visuals, this framerate, these glitches, all of those are unacceptable. Rockstar should have shown their own games some love. These are still great games, and you can still wreak havoc like a happy psychopath if you want to. Is this the “definitive” way to play them, though? Well, only by process of elimination, since they have replaced the original remasters in every single gaming storefront.
The ultra-detailed environments and lighting effects just clash horribly with the uncanny valley monstrosities that are the brand new character models in all three games. All three titles suffer from framerate issues, despite mostly aiming at 60fps.
Some welcoming gameplay and quality of life improvements, but for the most part, it’s still the same gameplay from before, which has obviously aged. There are also some glitches that were not present in the original releases, as well as the aforementioned framerate issues.
Some of the dialogue still sounds very compressed, but all three games feature tons of talented actors delivering iconic performances, not to mention the pristine selection of songs and radio stations in each game. Radio X still reigns supreme!
Even if this isn’t exactly the kind of remaster these games deserve, they are still tons of fun. The fact I had the time of my life replaying them for the billionth time is a testament to how strong this trilogy is. I also cannot deny the handful of actually welcoming quality of life improvements in all three games.
Final Verdict: 7.0
Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PC, and Switch.
Reviewed on PS5.
A copy of Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition was provided by the publisher.