Video games as we know them today wouldn’t exist if not for Grand Theft Auto 3. With the seminal 2001 classic, Rockstar established itself as a major force to be reckoned with, and more importantly, established a style of game design that remains a ubiquitous experience in this industry to this day- the open world craze, after all, owes its existence to GTA 3 more than anything else. Following its launch, over the next couple of years, Rockstar went on to cement both itself and Grand Theft Auto as household names with excellent sequels in the form of Vice City and San Andreas, each building upon the foundations laid down by GTA 3 in excellent ways.
Packaging these three games together in a collection that brings them to modern hardware with meaningful visual and gameplay improvements should have been a slam dunk for Rockstar. On paper, it sounds like an excellent idea, one that is guaranteed to be yet another remarkable victory for a series that keeps going from strength to strength. And yet, with Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition, what Rockstar and developer Grove Street Games have instead ended up delivering is a thoroughly uneven experience that fails to live up to its name, and the legacy of the three all-time classics it repackages.
"With Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition, what Rockstar and developer Grove Street Games have instead ended up delivering is a thoroughly uneven experience that fails to live up to its name, and the legacy of the three all-time classics it repackages."
That’s not to say the three remasters on offer here have nothing going for them whatsoever. On a fundamental level, these games remain a blast to play. That should come as no surprise, seeing as GTA 3, Vice City, and San Andreas are, to this day, among the best games ever made, and going back to them in any form is bound to be enjoyable. Of the trio, GTA 3 in particular (and Vice City, to some extent) do show their age in terms of game design and can feel a bit too quaint by modern standards, especially when compared to what the series itself has accomplished in the years since then, but for those who have a hankering to revisit these games (or perhaps to experience them for the first time), there’s plenty of fun to be had here. No amount of disappointing remastering can take away from the inherent qualities of these games- San Andreas especially is an absolute masterpiece.
The problem is that in order to launch this so-called Definitive Edition, Rockstar has ended up digitally nuking the originals from every storefront while also removing some of the best mods that the community had worked on over the years on PC, which means that this new release is, for all practical purposes, the only way to go back to the three games now. And that’s a big bummer, because in so many ways, this is the exact opposite of definitive. Yes, it does make some good improvements, but none of those improvements are good enough to justify what Rockstar ended up sacrificing for this release.
Visually, GTA 3, Vice City, and San Andreas’ remasters look really good, for the most part, thanks to an excellent new lighting system and a general sharpening up of environments and assets. Things look significantly crisper and much more detailed, and the lack of the omnipresent fog that games on the PS2 had to resort to to cope with hardware constraints means that these renditions of Liberty City, Vice City, and San Andreas can be genuinely excellent to look at every now and then.
"On a fundamental level, these games remain a blast to play. That should come as no surprise, seeing as GTA 3, Vice City, and San Andreas are, to this day, among the best games ever made, and going back to them in any form is bound to be enjoyable."
But even where visuals are concerned, things are not perfect. Character models tend to look plasticky and unnaturally shiny, distant objects tend to flicker and shimmer erratically, and when it rains in either of the three games, it’s practically impossible to see anything in front of you, which is a particularly weird issue that should have been caught by the developers before launch. There’s plenty of glitches here as well, from issues with hit detection and the geometry to weird animations to cutscenes fading to black while characters are still speaking and more. And sure, a lot of these glitches existed in the original releases as well- but isn’t the whole point of a remaster to iron out the rough edges of old games and polish up the experience as much as possible? The fact that GTA: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition doesn’t do that is a little disappointing.
Quality-of-life changes are a hit-and-miss as well. What is on offer in this area is definitely appreciated, such as the ability to instantly reload failed missions, or place waypoints on the map, or new controls for gunplay, aiming, and drive-bys that are based on the much more modern GTA 5 control scheme. What’s disappointing is that there are other obvious improvements that GTA: The Trilogy could and should have made, but didn’t.
For instance, the GPS feels quite outdated, because you still constantly have to keep looking at the minimap on the bottom left, which not only takes you out of the experience, but can also lead to what would otherwise have been easily avoidable crashes. Simple on-screen prompts informing players that there’s a turn coming up, for instance, could have easily fixed this issue. Similarly, while the aforementioned ability to instantly reload failed missions is certainly appreciated, it’s disappointing that there isn’t a more robust checkpoint system on offer here. When you restart a failed mission, you do so from its very beginning, which can be quite annoying in the especially longer missions. Why the remasters couldn’t have placed checkpoints in between missions and allowed players to restart from there is beyond me.
"That, sadly, is a running theme with Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition. It does make some improvements, some of which are well implemented, but it feels like a soulless remaster, like its trying to create a curated list of all the improvements that you’d expect to see in a modern remaster that can be used to market a new release."
That, sadly, is a running theme with Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition. It does make some improvements, some of which are well implemented, but it feels like a soulless remaster, like its trying to create a curated list of all the improvements that you’d expect to see in a modern remaster that can be used to market a new release. It does the bare minimum (sometimes not even that), but never goes beyond that. For games as beloved and influential as these three, that feels like a massive injustice.
The inherent strengths of GTA 3, Vice City, and San Andreas allow GTA: The Trilogy to be an enjoyable experience on a very fundamental level, but as a remaster – especially as a remaster of three of the greatest games ever made – it falls short of expectations. These games deserve much better, and it’s disappointing that Rockstar doesn’t understand that.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox Series X.
GTA 3, Vice City, and San Andreas are timeless classics (San Andreas in particular); The remasters can look genuinely great at times; Some smart QoL upgrades.
Some disappointing visual issues here and there; Quite a few technical bugs and glitches; Doesn't make what should have been simple and obvious quality-of-life improvements.