If you were born in the 90s or before, and you are going to tell me that you didn’t play or hear about these games growing up and weren’t excited and downright foaming at the mouth when this remaster was announced, I’d call you a liar. Of all the games that have come out over the years, none can even come close to the legacy that the “Grand Theft Auto” games left behind. “Mortal Kombat” had its controversies, “Mario” had its charm, “Shenmue” had its tranquility, “Pacman” and “Donkey Kong” dominated the arcades, among so many other games holding their own individual titles, and yet, none can even come close to the mark that the “Grand Theft Auto” games left on the industry. These weren’t simply games but cultural and technological milestones that depicted different cities across America in a satirical light, put the spotlight on crime, and let you get lost in these worlds to do as you please. Many games, even to this day, try to just touch the pedestal the “GTA” series is standing on and, just for a second, bask in its glory to feel what it feels, but they can’t even come close. What Rockstar Games created with this series not only put them in the stratosphere and made them perhaps the single best development studio in the industry (yes, even today, despite them changing their ways, you cannot argue that their games aren’t masterclasses), but it also pushed gaming as a medium forward and made it larger than life.
I still have fond and vivid memories of coming back from school and spending an entire day in front of my computer playing “GTA 3” or “GTA Vice City.” These games shaped me in one way or another and are the sole reason why I fell in love with gaming and video games without turning into a cynic even to this day. The little kid(me) didn’t know much about anything or anyone in the industry at that time, but the name Rockstar was embedded into my brain, so you can imagine my excitement when Rockstar Games came out and announced that they’d be releasing the three iconic “GTA” games in a single package all the while updating the visuals and tweaking some gameplay elements for the modern day. I can assure you that everyone from that era who grew up with these games shared this feeling of mine, and when the game was finally released, the disappointment it left us with was immeasurable. This “Definitive Edition” was not so much definitive as it was a mockery and a blatant disrespect of what made these games special in the first place. Bugs, glitches, cut content, bad animations, broken mechanics, and so much more were wrong with the title (some of which are still there to this day) that it felt like meeting an old friend after years and realizing that all the things that made us friends back in the day are long gone. I won’t get into too much details as it’d be like beating a dead horse, as this game was the biggest joke on the internet when it came out.
Rockstar Games as a studio has changed a lot over the years; they aren’t the same as they were back in the day, and despite their games still being way ahead of their time and being some of the most technically polished and advanced games, their lust for sucking every last cent out of their player base is more visible than their dedication towards making great games. I mean, it’s evident, isn’t it? “Grand Theft Auto 5” came out in 2013 and has been re-released twice since then, and we are nowhere close to getting “Grand Theft Auto 6” a decade later. We just know it’s coming, but I don’t think even God knows the answer to when. I know when it eventually comes out, it’ll blow us away, but it would have come out by now if they didn’t focus on “GTA Online” and shark cards so much. Greatness was achieved in 2018 with “Red Dead Redemption 2,” which is perhaps one of the best games ever made, but to see it get left behind because the online component didn’t rake in as much money as “GTA Online” does is further proof of Rockstar’s change in focus.
Despite all of that, Rockstar can’t make such silly mistakes in remastering these beloved games; even they must hold these games close to their hearts, as these games got them to the point where they sweep in billions of dollars in revenue every year at this point. The answer lies in outsourcing, as Rockstar handed this project to an outside studio called Grove Street Games, who, despite their name, butchered classics from this franchise and, with them, Rockstar’s legacy and the nostalgic love we had for this franchise.
Rant over. There is a silver lining there. I told you I am not a cynic, and despite the messy state that these games were released in, I still think there’s cargo to be salvaged, so now that the flames have settled down, let’s take a fair look once again at this trilogy, all the while not ignoring the problems it has. Let’s take a look at what makes “Grand Theft Auto: The Complete Trilogy: The Definitive Edition” worth playing.
Graphics And Gameplay Changes
As the label of the game proudly says “definitive” on it, it begs the question: how much of a definitive version of the trilogy is this remaster? The answer to that question can simply be stated by saying that it’s not definitive and is perhaps the opposite of that. The original games, though more than two decades old at this point (minus “San Andreas,” which is approaching its twentieth anniversary next year), had an eye for detail and were crisp from beginning to end. Despite being made using the now-ancient Renderware Engine, the fidelity on offer with those games was immaculate, to say the least, with great visuals, texture work, and animation—for the time, of course. The remasters, or should I say “The Definitive Edition,” straight up killed the magic that was in those games in one swoop. Rockstar’s attention to detail and the amount of care they put in despite being held back by technological limitations were simply left in the dirt here. Shoddy and misplaced textures, terrible animations, abysmal character models that could serve as ventriloquists, and misspelled text in a plethora of places, all combined with tons of bugs, glitches, and performance issues, plagued the launch of this game. That was the launch; what about now?
It’s pretty much the same story even today, with the exception of the majority of the game-breaking issues that made this game unplayable, which have now been fixed, but the foundation remains stale and rotten, and no amount of programming can fix that. It’s not all doom and gloom, and some things were done right, like the lighting, for instance, which breathes new life into these games, all combined with upping the resolution and texture work while maintaining the original style of the game. Yes, the characters now look like comic caricatures, but at the same time, it works, and I personally don’t see that as a big deal as they are in line with the art style that these games were released all the way back. Things like the horrible rain and the lack of fog present covering the map of “San Andreas” have also been addressed, but as I said, it left a rotten taste in everyone’s mouths, and some things can never be fixed, but overall, the package is serviceable now at the very least.
“Vice City” benefited the most from these changes as “GTA 3” lost its atmosphere and “San Andreas” lost its scale, but the neon paradise that was 80s Florida has seen a massive bump in presentation because of these visual changes if you ask me. There are some good changes here, but they are so few and far between, and the work that Grove Street Games has put into this project shows absolutely no care and respect for the source material that I can’t help but point out their incompetence (I am sorry, I hate playing the blame game, but there’s no other way to describe this) as a studio. It’s a shame, too, as these games are the memories of a lot of people (me included), and it truly feels like they robbed us of the chance to relive our childhood by handling it so poorly. They had a golden opportunity on their hands, and they totally squandered it. Let’s talk about the games themselves a little before we move on to the final verdict, shall we?
Grand Theft Auto III
“Grand Theft Auto III” was originally released in 2001 and is perhaps the first ever third-person open-world action game ever made, pretty much laying the format for modern open-world games. Now, it must be reiterated that this is technically the first open-world game and not the first, actually, as other games like “Shenmue,” for instance, arrived before it. The game gives you control of a silent protagonist named Claude and tells a story where Claude climbs the ranks of the criminal empire in Liberty City. Speaking of Liberty City, this will be your playground. It is inspired by New York City and features three islands for you to explore and unlock as you progress through the story. The map of the game is extremely small by today’s standards, but it remains a classic despite that, and even here in the definitive edition, it is a place well worth exploring. This game takes heavy inspiration from mob movies like The Godfather and Goodfellas, and everything about this game is charming and memorable. A fun and fantastic game that’s well worth playing. With that out of the way, let’s look at the second game.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Next up, we have “Vice City,” which was released in 2002 and gave us a protagonist who can actually talk alongside a new city to explore, set in a different era. “Vice City” took us back in time to the drug-fueled and neon-drenched era of the 80s and gave us the charge of Tommy Vercetti, brilliantly voiced by the legendary late actor Ray Liotta. The setting here was heavily inspired by Miami, Florida, and I honestly have nothing but praise to sing about this game. In my humble opinion, “GTA Vice City” is the best “Grand Theft Auto” game Rockstar has ever made. The story here is once again about the rising ranks of the criminal empire, but the presentation steals the show. From the music to the aesthetics to everything in between, “Vice City” delivers in spades. As I said earlier, I have nothing bad to say about this game, and this is one that everyone should definitely check out on its own, so let’s move on to the finale of this trilogy.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
“GTA San Andreas” was the third game, released back in 2004, and gave us another new location alongside a new character. This time, Rockstar didn’t give us just a new city but an entire state with three different cities alongside the countryside, a desert, and more. “San Andreas” was BIG, really, really, really big in its scope and scale, with tons added to the “GTA” formula, like the ability to swim, fly planes, customize cars, mild RPG elements, and so much more. The city of Los Santos was inspired by Los Angeles; San Fierro was inspired by San Francisco; and Las Venturas was inspired by Las Vegas, and each city offered a different tone and vibe that came along with it. There were tons to see and do as you went on a journey about family and gangs with our protagonist, Carl “CJ” Johnson. “San Andreas” needs a billion commendations for pushing the envelope this far, and even to this day, it’s a game that you have to see to believe, but at the same time, this game is my least favorite from the trilogy. Don’t get me wrong, I love this game as well, but for some reason, it never clicked with me like “GTA 3” and “Vice City” did. Either way, that’s my personal opinion. Overall, this game is fantastic as well and is something that you should check out for sure.
I have already made my feelings about the games in general and how poorly the definitive edition handled them clearly, so I am sure you think that I do not recommend this product. The answer to that question is, shockingly, I do recommend it. Not for $70 or $60. Nope. For $20 or less, however, it’s worth buying. It’s a shame that this legendary trilogy was handled so poorly, and while both Grove Street Games and Rockstar Games are to blame, it’s the only way to experience these games on modern consoles. It often has its price dropped to $20 or so, and if you are interested and have the money to spare, you can totally buy this and get some enjoyment out of the package. The games will run you for 15–20 hours each, and if you wish to complete them all, then you can play these games for nearly 200 hours.
The problem here, of course, is the horrible technical state, and that is something that we as gamers shouldn’t accept, but at the same time, these games hold such a special place in my heart that I am willing to make an exception for them at the right price, of course. Rumor has it that Rockstar has canceled the remasters for “GTA 4” and “Red Dead Redemption” after the disaster that was this trilogy, and I hope that they still make them, maybe by handing them off to a more competent studio if they don’t have the time to remaster them internally. These games are legendary, as is every Rockstar game, and they need to be preserved for the future properly, so let’s forget about this one mistake they made and hope that the future holds something better for us. The change is Rockstar’s direction in philosophy. Going into the future is painful, but that doesn’t mean their past isn’t rich and full of memories. When “GTA 6” arrives, it will blow us all away; that’s a guarantee. Until that day comes, we can at least enjoy the old classics that made this studio what it is and reminisce about the old days, can’t we?
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