Following months of rumors and then weeks of hype, Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition was released. It’s easy to see why so many people were excited – these were remasters of Grand Theft Auto 3, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, three of the most beloved games of all time. Even if the “definitive edition” moniker is a catch-all term these days, it’s usage seemed to indicate that these would be the very best versions of each game.
Of course, several days before release, there were numerous concerns. Why hadn’t Rockstar, or the actual developer Grove Street Games, showcased any extensive gameplay footage? Why hadn’t we seen improvements like the Grand Theft Auto 5-style control scheme in action? The trilogy was already receiving a bit of backlash for its aesthetic, which leaned more into a cartoony 3D style than photo-realism, so there was already some skepticism.
Sure enough, we wouldn’t get any real comparison footage until the trilogy was actually released. And by that, we mean “released on consoles.” If you were one of the unlucky few to buy it on PC, then Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition – arguably one of the most anticipated remastered collections in years – was unplayable at launch. This is due to the Rockstar Games Launcher going down for maintenance. So if you spent $60 on this, sight-unseen or not, then you couldn’t play it for more than a day after launch. But wait, there’s more.
Eventually, the Rockstar Games Launcher did come back online but the GTA Trilogy was made unavailable to play or purchase due to “files unintentionally included” in the same. These “unintentionally included” files were discovered by dataminers to be comments by the developer and several unlicensed songs. The comments are whatever but these were songs that were supposedly removed due to licensing issues. Instead, they were actually just disabled. While they can’t be accessed by your average player, it’s still not a good look.
Keep in mind that all of this is just with the PC version of the game. The console versions have been knocked for performance issues, including frame rate drops on PS5 and Xbox Series X/S (don’t even get us started on the Switch version). While the environments have been praised, character models have seen better days whether it’s in strangely shaped shoulders, odd fingernails or faces that are completely different from the original games. Then there’s the oppressive rain in GTA: San Andreas, misspellings galore, glitches, broken textures, the list goes on.
Rockstar has already begun the process of issuing refunds for the PC version and Grove Street Games has already promised updates while also stating that it was “enjoying this unparalleled level of scrutiny.” While comparisons have been made to Cyberpunk 2077 and its disastrous launch, Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition isn’t quite there. These games, at their core, are still classics and fans are enjoying what they can. But the fact that a project with the Rockstar Games label – which last adorned Red Dead Redemption 2, lest we forget – and which has been a dream for many a fan has come out in this state is just downright confounding.
What the hell happened? How did the developers fumble this so epically? Many have pointed to the fact that Grove Street Games was originally War Drum Studios. It’s known for developing the 10th Anniversary Editions of Grand Theft Auto 3 and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City along with bringing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas to iOS, Android, Xbox 360 and PS3. Those ports were dubious for not only making unwanted changes to the visuals but also having performance issues and bugs (which is interesting given how positively received San Andreas was on iOS).
One could easily point to Grove Street Games and blame them for everything but things are often more complicated than they seem. How long the remastered trilogy was in development, the budget allocated to the team, the effect of current events on the development pipeline – all of these things are to be taken into account. But how much of a role did Rockstar play? What was Rockstar mandated and what wasn’t? Did it make the decision to go with this new art-style because it didn’t want to shell out the cash and resources for full remakes? Were remakes initially planned and then reduced in scope due to the amount of resources required?
It’s hard to say but given how Take Two Interactive has been taking down fan remakes and mods over the years – and how it’s already begun doing the same for Grand Theft Auto 4 – it’s hard to believe that there isn’t some agenda at play to cut corners while reaping in the most profit possible. Besides, at the end of the day, it’s Rockstar and Take Two that decide how to market the game. They made the decision to not show any extensive gameplay footage or comparisons until launch.
They also made the decision to price this trilogy at $60 while removing the original versions from sale on digital storefronts. Rockstar even made the decision to not have any pre-loading for the PC version. It’s almost as if this was to prevent anyone from getting their hands on the incriminating data before launch and causing a stink, thus impacting sales. Why did they think no one would notice after launch? A question for another time.
One could theorize about all of this endlessly and push Rockstar to do better. One could also get angry at Grove Street Games for doing a poor job or curse Take Two Interactive for its money-grubbing ways. They could also try to enjoy the trilogy for what it is and perhaps find some tinge of nostalgia that the 3D Universe provides (warts and all).
But is this whole debacle going to have any major, long-term ramifications for either Rockstar or Take Two? Some fans will be less than eager to jump into the definitive edition of GTA 4 when that’s inevitably announced (based on what rumors say, at least). Yet there will be millions who jump in, no questions asked, just because of the Grand Theft Auto name. And even if that fails, well, don’t worry because the hype cycle can kick off once more when Grand Theft Auto 6 is announced.
That the same thing can happen, year in and year out, regardless of which game or publisher makes headlines is indicative of much bigger problems. Regardless, if you’re going to pick up Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition, then either hold off until updates have improved performance or try GTA: San Andreas on Xbox Game Pass to see if it’s your speed. Or you could buy any number of remasters/remakes, to say nothing of all of the great new games that have been released this year. You may not put much of a dent into Take Two’s financials but at least you’ll be having fun.