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Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy - Definitive Edition impressions: WASTED opportunity

Rockstar's attempt at making the definitive versions of three of their most iconic GTA titles is ironically undefined in so many painful ways.


A little over two decades ago George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, thought it would be a great idea if he updated the original trilogy by giving it a bit of a facelift and adding in a few things here and there that no one had really asked for. We didn’t need Jabba in A New Hope, or a new musical number in the Hutt’s palace in Jedi, nor did we need a force ghost Hayden Christensen in any shape or form. The fact of the matter is, classics don’t really need an update. Things that are timeless are so for a reason and trying to modernize them or change them is just a pointless exercise in futility. This truth of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is brutally on display in Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy - Definitive Edition.

Not sure what happened to Tommy Vercetti's face here, but he's looking paler than usual.
Not sure what happened to Tommy Vercetti's face here, but he's looking paler than usual.

While the GTA Trilogy doesn’t try to add anything new in terms of content like the Star Wars rereleases did, it does try to slap a fresh coat of paint on Grand Theft Auto 3, Grand Theft Auto: Vice CIty, and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. These three pillars of open-world, sandbox gameplay are considered to be some of the greatest video games of all time. They not only helped define an era of gameplay, but also inspired countless other game series while expanding the scope of what was possible within their own titles. But if you’d only played this Definitive Edition, you’d never guess any of that.

To call these ports rough would be an understatement. There’s just so much jankiness present that I really can’t recommend it on any level. These versions of GTA 3, Vice City, and San Andreas don’t even stand up against their dated counterparts for a number of reasons.

From the moment you start up any one of these titles, you’re bound to notice some issues before you even get to the gameplay. We’re talking messed up character models that sometimes shake like they’re going through withdrawal symptoms, glitches in cutscenes, and audio issues with the dialog. For example, when starting up San Andreas the audio in the cut scenes sounded fine at first, but by the time I got to the scene where Officer Tenpenny starts telling you how things are gonna be it sounded like Samuel L. Jackson’s voice was coming out of a cheap speaker phone. The issues with dialog in cutscenes and while driving around wouldn’t be so bad if the subtitles flowed well or if the game didn’t prioritize subtitles for ancillary NPC dialog sometimes over the main conversations.

Character models are rough and disproportionate across the board in the GTA Trilogy Definitive Edition.
Character models are rough and disproportionate across the board in the GTA Trilogy Definitive Edition.

Then there’s the models for characters and NPCs. Across all three games there are glaring issues. The character models in Vice City seem like their necks are part of their clothing, and more often than not it makes it look like their heads are sliding in front of their base. In San Andreas the proportions on models are just totally off especially for arms and legs. The way faces are skinned make everyone look like a knock-off Sims character and man-oh-man are some of the foreheads huge on people! I think out of all of them though GTA 3 probably had the cleanest models, but there’s some serious frame rate issues and everyone looks like a bow-armed, stop-motion figure from Robot Chicken when moving.

The environments don’t fare that much better either. From what I can gather, all of these “Definitive” versions don’t even come from the core console versions, but rather the mobile ports made by what is now called Grove Street Games (previously War Drum Studios). For the life of me I could not find a smooth, rounded, edge anywhere in the game. You can basically see where every little piece of road or mailbox was laid down as an individual piece in the grand scheme of things. Car models and the environments in Vice City stick out as particularly flat and untextured. And good luck doing anything if it’s raining in GTA 3 because those water droplets are basically plastered over the core environment and are so intrusive it can be blinding. I know that these are old games, but those sharp angles are everywhere and aren’t forgivable by modern standards.

If all of that wasn’t enough I also took issue with the way the controls respond. Hijacking, or just getting into a car seemed to require several button mashes in most cases. The new combat targeting system was also more of a hindrance than a help. For instance, there’s a mission early on in GTA 3 where you have to aim and shoot some barrels as a brawl is happening. Trying to aim at the barrel while a half-dozen NPCs were in my way was flustering to say the least as the gun auto-aimed at one character after another. I could never tell if I was actually running in GTA 3 either as I continued to mash buttons and hope things were working.

All three games lack polish and it shows.
All three games lack polish and it shows.

Then there’s all the glitches. It was like these games were your ride and Xzibit was all “Yo, dawg! I heard you like glitches. So we put glitches in your glitches in this GTA Trilogy!” We’re talking about walls you can walk through, character models losing their skin, cars getting bigger as you wiggle them, and just more unresolved jank all around. Once again, I know these titles are older, but what we got way back feels a hell of a lot cleaner than what we’re getting now.

As you may have guessed by this point, I can’t really recommend Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy - Definitive Edition in its current state, which is heartbreaking for me, to be honest. I can’t emphasize enough how much I was looking forward to diving back into Vice City in particular, a game that I consistently point to as my personal favorite in the series. I honestly feel like the franchise would’ve been better served if Rockstar had kept the visuals intact and just worked on making a few quality of life enhancements for modern gaming. I will give the Trilogy credit for one thing though, it did ignite that nostalgic passion I have for all three of these titles and brought back precious memories of playing them when they first came out, but, as it stands now, you’re probably better off dusting off your old consoles and pulling out your original copies of any three of these games if you feel like taking a trip down memory lane.

These impressions are based on keys provided by the publisher. Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy - Definitive Edition is available now for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, and PC.

Blake has been writing and making videos about pop-culture and games for over 10 years now. Although he'd probably prefer you thought of him as a musician and listened to his band, If you see him on the street, buy him a taco or something. Follow him on twitter @ProfRobot

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