GTA: The Trilogy – Definitive Edition Review: A Major Missed Opportunity for Rockstar

The Trilogy - Definitive Edition, perhaps one of gaming's biggest missed opportunities.

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GTA The Trilogy

For a smidge more than 2 decades now, Rockstar Games and the GTA franchise have occupied rarified in the industry reserved only for the select few that have been able to achieve an almost infallible status. Prior to the reveal of Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – Definitive Edition, there was an overwhelming amount of chatter surrounding the GTA franchise that seemed to indicate that perhaps, for the first time in the publisher’s history, they weren’t quite in sync with their audience. Things seemed to have calmed down post-reveal as fans regained some semblance of faith in Rockstar to deliver on the promise of nostalgia in its purest form.

GTA: The Trilogy – Definitive Edition contains probably 3 of the most seminal games of our times – Grand Theft Auto III, Vice City, and San Andreas. Three games responsible for birthing a genre that has dominated the industry since, three games that hold an extremely special place in the hearts of fans. With that kind of almost guaranteed success also comes an immeasurably high degree of pressure, was Rockstar able to persevere deliver on their promise or did they, for perhaps the first time in 20 years, fail to hit the mark?

GTA: The Trilogy Definitive Edition – This ain’t it, Rockstar

 

Gameplay and Presentation

GTA Trilogy

Players don’t need reminding of how influential the first game in the trilogy was as GTA III pretty much single-handedly kicked off the open-world game revolution. While other studios at the time were experimenting with sizeable 3D open-world sandboxes, Rockstar was able to deliver an experience that was simply unparalleled. The game went on to garner not just critical acclaim, but eventually carved itself a place in pop culture, and the studio was able to capitalize on that kind of success with 2 sequels that upped the ante in every way imaginable. The reason why GTA was able to take off the way it did was not solely due to the controversy surrounding the games’ content, the razor-sharp satire, or the clever marketing. At their core, all 3 of these games were extremely well-made and polished AAA games that simply left no room for complaint. While yes, there always the odd complaint of either some mechanics being rather pointless or the control scheme being a little too contrived, the overall game managed to rise above its issues and be a solid experience.

Grand Theft Auto San Andreas

So, when Rockstar pretty much had a second pass at games that are provably incredible, one can expect them to be that much better than they remember. In some ways, they are, but at the same time, all three games pretty much play exactly as you might remember, which depending on how you might feel about that, is a positive or a detriment. The biggest change Rockstar have made to all 3 games is adapting GTA V’s control scheme, which allows players to play the game in a way that seems a lot more comfortable by today’s standards, but there’s always the option to switch back to the Classic control scheme. As to other little changes, Rockstar have added a convenient weapon wheel a la GTA V as well as a selection wheel for the Radio. In terms of gameplay improvements, that makes up pretty much everything new Rockstar has to offer – save for the slightly improved drive-by controls in Grand Theft Auto San Andreas. One of the best additions made to the games are the mid-missions checkpoints which will help players restart missions directly after failing them. That, in addition to to the autosave, is generally something that was very much what all three games needed as their absence doesn’t mean “challenge” as much as it is pretty much an exercise in tedium.

The improved targeting also helps cover up the lack of a modern cover system, which I feel could have really made a gigantic difference in the way players can experience these games. The minute-to-minute gameplay of all 3 games is virtually unchanged from their original version, except for a couple of neat improvements in the controls scheme and targeting.

Grand Theft Auto Vice City

Like I said before, if you’ve grown up loving these games and didn’t want Rockstar to tinker with them and change things that fundamentally change the overall experience – then you’re going to enjoy the familiarity in the way that these games play. However, if you were someone who has loved these games all this time but actually wanted Rockstar to provide you with new reasons to come back to these games – the Definitive Edition isn’t for you. For all means and purposes, the Definitive Edition is simply a little touch-up for all 3 games that fundamentally improves the way that these games look in a pretty impressive way, but to be fair, that is something PC players have relied on mods to do all this time.

Visually, all three games look pretty good. Not great, not shabby, but just good. Which doesn’t feel like Rockstar, for some reason. The lighting certainly looks far better than how players remember and the improved draw distance certainly makes the cities feel a lot more real and immersive, at the same time, there are some caveats. For one, in my mind, GTA San Andreas’ open-world, which contains 3 cities and one county area, has been far larger than it actually is. The absence of the fog (which was in place to cover for relatively small draw distances) makes the game world feel a lot smaller as you can pretty much see the entire map from atop a tall building. Another thing of note when it comes to visuals is the supposedly improved rain and weather effects. On one hand, yes, there is in fact dramatic improvement in the way the streets look during and after rainfall, but that is when you can actually see the streets. In my time with San Andreas and Grand Theft Auto III, rain obscured pretty much the entire screen and made it extremely hard to see where I was going, to the point where I had to use a cheat code to stop the rain just so I can complete the mission.

GTA III

Despite the overall improvement in presentation, all 3 games have a very comic book-ish feel to them that can be a major issue for a lot of players. In terms of visuals, everything looks like it got a bit of a touch-up, but something that broke immersion quite often was the muddy audio in the mid-mission dialog as well as in some cutscenes. While some of the audio is a lot better, sounding very pristine in their full HD glory, mysteriously, other voice lines sound like they were recorded on mildly ancient hardware.

While GTA Vice City and San Andreas definitely look like they’ve benefitted the most, Grand Theft Auto III almost feels like it was an afterthought. From the character models to vehicles, Grand Theft Auto III feels like it could have used a few more months of polish – if nothing but to just improve the some of the most downright cartoonish character models. Vice City, despite being the middle child, looks the best – perhaps because it has, by far, the most interesting art style, thanks to the neon lighting down Ocean Drive. San Andreas looks pretty decent, for the most part, until you pay close attention to certain character models such as Denise.

Technical Issues

Grand Theft Auto III
The new character models just look smoother, not better.

While I played the Definitive Edition on a PlayStation 4, the word on the PC version hasn’t been great so far. To the point where Rockstar actually pulled the game from sale on PC, apparently, to remove certain files that were in the game “unintentionally”. While that could be true, there is also no shortage of videos on subreddits and other social media of the Definitive Edition not exactly performing up to scratch. In certain cases, flying a Hydra in GTA San Andreas caused the rain to look eerily static. In others, upon having reached maximum Fat levels, CJ’s character model ran into issues where his torso became unattached to the rest of his body.

In my time with the game, while I didn’t run into any major game-breaking bugs, there were certainly enough to break immersion. For some reason, sprinting in Grand Theft Auto Vice City seems fundamentally broken, or perhaps Tommy Vercetti was somehow the fastest man on earth unbeknownst to me. Curiously, it wasn’t just Tommy who was blinding quick, certain pedestrians could virtually outrun an F1 car upon being either fired at, or just running away for GTA-related reasons. While I didn’t experience many crashes on a PS4, Grand Theft Auto III crashed twice in the same mission “Mike Lips Last Lunch”, which requires players to place a car bomb in a certain car and leave in the parking lot. Both times, upon arming the bomb, the game would crash.

While I didn’t experience many of the hilarious bugs and glitches that seem very Cyberpunk 2077, I ran into only a couple that seemed fairly innocuous. Regardless of my personal experience, the internet is flooded with players posting major glitches and bugs, which all point to the conclusion that all 3 games could have used at least a couple of more months in the oven, if not at least half a year – to get them to a point where they are truly impressive.

Final Score – GTA: The Trilogy – Definitive Edition

GTA Trilogy

Rockstar Games is not one for half-measures, as is proven by the number of games they’ve cancelled in development simply because they didn’t live up to the immeasurably high standards the studio and the publisher has set for themselves. Anything short of extraordinary simply isn’t worth Rockstar’s time, as there is virtually nothing that is preventing them from making FIFA-money with annual releases and put out half-baked games that get better with post-launch DLC and microtransactions. Despite being one of the biggest publishers around, Rockstar doesn’t mess around by putting their resources behind a game that isn’t worthy of Hall of Fame status.

Yet, sadly, this feels like the one time Rockstar decided to hang up their guns and put out something that didn’t need to be out just yet, perhaps ever. The trilogy, in its original form, continue to be dearly beloved titles that are enjoyed to this day in some form, whether through mods or by simply appreciating the age of these games and embracing their flaws. The hope from Rockstar Games was that them revisiting these games meant that they’d be able to bring something new to the table as opposed to just a half-baked product that fails to achieve anything truly impressive, which is sadly exactly what the Trilogy – Definitive Edition is.

GTA: The Trilogy – Definitive Edition is an extremely confusing game as it is extremely difficult to see what the audience for this game is. New players who have never played the game will find the visuals, and even some of the controls, quite archaic and simply not worth their time. Long-time fans of the series have been able to relive old memories through the 10th Anniversary release on console, or through mods on PC, and the Definitive Edition doesn’t do enough to move the needle. At full price, GTA: The Trilogy- Definitive Edition simply isn’t worth the money, and players would be much better off buying the game months down the line for half its current price. Yet, even at that price, the Definitive Edition doesn’t feel like it justifies the cost as the games simply feel rushed and disappointing, which is a shame, since the fanbase and the gaming community at large were rooting for Rockstar to deliver a winner as they have several times in the past.

Final Score – 5/10

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I possess the dexterity of a toddler when it comes to fighting games, but the confidence of a hundred Jay-Z's. Absolutely love narrative-driven games - with a particular obsession with indie side scrollers and retrowave scores. Currently playing: Disco Elysium for probably 5th time in the last 6 months.