Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition Review – This ain’t it, Chief…

Let’s be honest: Rockstar games have been around for generations. I may not have been around for the glory days of PASOK (forgive me for the Greek joke, I had to), but I certainly was around for those of Rockstar. If you did not get together with your friends every Friday in front of a CRT TV to murder innocent people with a Katana in the Vice City Mall or to try to steal an F-16 from the Los Santos military base, then you must have had a pretty miserable adolescence. Reminiscing these joyful moments, I can’t hide that my heart skipped a bit watching the first trailer of the remastered trilogy. “Here we are,” I exclaimed. The graphics are obviously upgraded but the overall vintage Grand Theft Auto vibe was the same.

Or at least, that’s what I thought….

And when the first outcry from the public about the remasters being full-price, I did not mind. I still believe that €20 for each of these gems is not that much. My rose-tinted nostalgia glasses, however, made me overlook that this particular trilogy had other, more serious problems. The launch period of the Definitive trilogy appeared full of issues. The public outcry now, while tarnishing the name of a series that changed the industry forever, is perfectly justified. Rockstar was not prepared for this launch and it became blatantly obvious when all PC-side Rockstar services collapsed, leaving not only the trilogy, but also all the other games dependant on the Rockstar Launch in limbo for a couple of days. But hey, at least it’s still not as bad as Cyberpunk.

The Grove Street Families gang

Before we move on, let’s clarify that the Remastered trilogy contains three games that acted as a catalyst for the evolution of the modern gaming landscape like no other. The “not so good” state of their remasters at the time of writing does not change that. The core is still of the highest quality. Dated, but very high quality. It is like having a treasure chest, but the treasure is slightly cursed. Let’s delve deeper:

TL;DR – 6/10

You’ll love it if:Probably not for you if:
– You’ve played the original trilogy and are looking to relive those sweet memories– You’re not a big fan of visual bugs and glitches
– You’re looking to experience for the first time three of the most influential games in history– You expect the game you’re playing to not crash constantly before you’ve saved your progress.
– You’re into immersive stories with apt humor that is still relevant– You think the new NPCs faces are horrendous, not funny
– You’re looking for one of the finest vintage sandbox experience, and you don’t mind the dated gameplay mechanics and controls.– When you hear the word “Remaster” you expect something more than than just a higher resolution reskin of the source content.

Grand Theft Auto III

This is the one that started it all. Grand Theft Auto III is undoubtedly one of the games that started the open-world sandbox trend. A large and detailed world, full of things to do and NPCs to intimidate, this was a real innovation from Rockstar back in 2001. Combined with a decent story, and perhaps one of the best soundtracks to date, Grand Theft Auto III had the recipe that just couldn’t miss.

A trip down memory lane

We get into the shoes of Claude, a small-time crook who gets betrayed and left to die by his girlfriend, Catalina, during a robbery. Claude survives but is arrested. However, he manages to escape during his transfer to prison. To survive, he starts working for the Italian mafia, which is starting to make their first steps in Liberty City.

Grand Theft Auto III's Liberty City

Liberty City is an obvious parody of New York, for anyone who needs subtitles to get the joke. The humor is overt and is intended to ridicule the American reality of the time. Writing is offensive, but in a tasteful way, as Rockstar has gotten us used to over recent times. At the same time, that’s what betrays this game as a product of another time. All the characters are stereotypical, they act as generalized parodies and they’re far from that PG rating. Old Grand Theft Autos are like the vintage Eminem: if you are offended by what’s being said, that’s good, because that’s the point.

Cruising in Grand Theft Auto III

Of course, the plot also has its fair share of problems. Grand Theft Auto III does not get an award for its ingenious story, but it gets the job done. As a game that has almost as many years on its back, as I do, we can cut it some slack. Claude is a silent protagonist, and this somewhat breaks the immersion in a plot clearly inspired by Goodfellas. Claude comes across as a witless crook, who just follows the orders of the other characters. The technology of the time left no room for detailed cutscenes, so they’re usually limited to short briefings at the beginning of each mission.

Back to the future

Now in 2021, Grand Theft Auto III’s open-world sandbox doesn’t mean much to the average gamer. It’s something we’ve become accustomed to thanks to the progress of modern gaming. The upscaled graphics offered by the remastered version of the trilogy, eh… they don’t have much going for them either. While the city looks modernized, maintaining the game’s vintage vibe, the character models look absolutely horrifying at times. I seriously cannot believe that these character models passed Rockstar’s quality checks and they were approved as “ready to ship”. Obviously, this is some sort of an upscaling AI that did not understand the assignment. I would prefer the characters being those that got reworked more than cities.

Apart from visuals, there’s not many additions to talk about. The weapon wheel sure does make the game easier to play, as do the updated controls and the checkpoints during missions. Quality of life improvements. The sound, on the other hand, has not received optimization corresponding to that of the visual presentation. It’s reminiscent of a PlayStation 2 game in quality. That’s embarrassing because these games used to be golden standards back in the day when it came to sound quality. 20 years later and they still sound the same. The voice acting is not the best, and the remaster doesn’t do much to help. At the same time, many tracks from the game’s iconic soundtrack are missing, making our walks in Liberty City less tasteful, and therefore less memorable.

Grand Theft Auto III cutscene
That’s how most cutscenes in Grand Theft Auto III look.

On the other hand, physics and intelligence of the NPCs remain as they were in the original version of the game. It is not uncommon for NPCs to commit suicide by jumping in front of your moving car in an attempt to avoid you. NPCs cars turn out of nowhere and then go off-road hitting either you as a pedestrian or other NPCs. It looks more like a parody of Athens than New York.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

Vice City is the spiritual sequel to Grand Theft Auto III. Although it is not a continuation of the previous game, we see several references to the events of the previous story. In fact, it is in Vice City that we learn Claude’s actual name since it’s not mentioned once in Grand Theft Auto III. Vice City is the title that, in my opinion, benefited the most from the remaster.

Bright lights and neon signs

We travel all the way to the enchanting Miami the enchanting Vice City, the capital of drugs in North America. Tommy Vercetti is released from prison and, in his attempt to get in good graces with the mafia that’s trying to expand from Liberty City to the South, organizes a major drug deal. Unknown assailants make the deal go sour, and Tommy ends up losing both the blow and the cash. To make amends, he desperately tries to find out who ruined his drug deal. His trusted allies will be the always well-dressed Lance Vance, whom Tommy initially doesn’t like, and also any kind of swindler based in Vice City.

Drug deal gone wrong
Drug deal gone wrong.

Tommy, unlike Claude, is fully voiced in Vice City, and in addition to his barters with the other characters, we learn much about his personality from his monologues every time a new mission begins. The characters are much more interesting than in the previous title and some of the jokes are still relevant today. If Grand Theft Auto III was inspired by Goodfellas, then Vice City certainly draws a lot of its inspiration from Scarface.

I’ll stay in the ’80s, thank you

Vice City is truly unique in its atmosphere. I dare say that an open world since 2002 shows more character than most similar efforts today. The rework of the city is definitely at its best in the middle child of the trilogy, as it beautifully highlights the amazing art direction. Pink sunsets, neon signs, and a map filled with sights to behold. Vice City definitely sells the dream, it presents you with a larger-than-life reality. This game, as well as San Andreas, was the starting point for Rockstar to evolve into today’s master of storytelling.

  • Riding bikes in Vice City

Vice City takes all the positive elements of Grand Theft Auto III and adds its own touch. There are many new things to do. You can now buy businesses and, get this, ride motorcycles. There are mini-games and side stories that you can complete, such as the vigilante missions, where instead of the thief you play as the policeman. You can also become the average paramedic in any Netflix show, running over pedestrians, and no one will bat an eyelid as long as you save the one indicated by the game. You can buy extra houses as you become the Tony Montana of a parallel universe and make your own stolen yacht collection.

Same-same but different

Naturally, Vice City suffers from the same problems no game in the trilogy can seem to shake. Driving in each game is different, in Vice City, in particular, the vehicles feel lighter than in GTA III. I agree with this because that way each game retains its identity and it’s not all just a reskin of the previous one. But AI remains just as miserable as the character models.

  • Grand Theft Auto remasters add the weapon wheel
  • Chillin' aboard the yacht
  • Cutscene in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

If you’ve played the original Vice City, you probably must have been impressed by the amazing soundtrack that accompanied the game. I must inform you, with regret, that a large part of the era-defining pieces that we then blasted in our stolen convertibles are now absent from the game. I understand, getting licenses for the entire music library could have been a bit tricky, even for Rockstar. Anyway, for such an iconic soundtrack, this is a big hit.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

San Andreas was what made Grand Theft Auto ascend to the godlike status it has today. Or at least that’s how I remember things. And playing San Andreas, even today, it’s easy to understand why this still rings true. A title from the distant 2004, gives you possibilities and introduces in the gameplay mechanics that you rarely come across even in recent games. Yes Cyberpunk, I’m talking about you.

Grove Street. Home.

The most gangsta game around

I may be too white to say the word gangsta without cringing, but that doesn’t change the reality. We go straight into the hood in this one, with CJ – an acronym for Carl Johnson – and ah shit, here we go again. CJ returns to the hood of Los Santos after years, due to the sudden death of his mother. There, he reunites with his siblings, Sweet and Kendl, and by deciding to stay in Los Santos, he gets involved again with his neighborhood gang, the Grove Street Families. The cast of characters may not be diverse, but it’s definitely multidimensional. From Big Smoke and Ryder to Woozie and Truth, they are all fantastically written one by one.

  • Ryder chillin'
  • Truth in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
  • Crooked police officers in San Andreas
  • Up in Woozie's Crib

The storyline we have in San Andreas is truly unique. Full of emotional moments because you simply can’t avoid getting attached to the characters. The ’90s Los Angeles that we see here is exactly as it is encapsulated in the classic west-coast hip-hop albums. This is not about the simple-minded mobsters we saw in the previous games. Here. we have many things happening at the same time. Gang wars, police corruption, family drama, betrayals, and of course CJ’s personal struggle to become something he can be proud of. San Andreas is the best story this trilogy can offer you, and fifteen years later, the entertainment value is still through the roof.

Grove Street, home.

San Andreas has a lot of elements that make it feel more like an RPG than the rest of the games in the series. Initially, in addition to the fact that you can completely customize the clothing and haircut of your character, you can further change his appearance, making him either ripped or obese. There are various parameters that affect gameplay and these change as you play. The most important metric is Respect, as this directly affects the gang wars and other mini-games. You can conquer all of Los Santos with your gang, making Grove Street reign supreme over all the small-time gangs.

You can still buy properties and businesses, while the range of side-missions is bigger than ever. Races are just the tip of the iceberg. You can dance, dance with your car, rob houses, become a taxi driver, a pimp and so much more. At the same time, the map is enormous, with four (approximately) different cities, and each has a completely different vibe. This helps the game to have better pacing. The transitions in the story also translate into transitions in gameplay, as you see the phases that CJ goes through in the environment that changes around you.

  • This AI upscaling gets kinda wonky
  • There's supposed to be a bridge there.
  • Meeting Woozie for the first time
  • Getting jacked

At the same time, San Andreas is in the worst condition of the three. Crashes to Home are more common than other titles, and while checkpoints help, when you’re leveling up your stats as they’re needed in specific missions, the game often crashes before you can save your game. There were times when I was on the verge of giving up. At the time of writing, Rockstar has just released a patch that fixes some stability in all games, but how much good that does, remains to be seen.

Verdict

Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – Definitive Edition is a peculiar case. These are three legendary titles that changed the gaming landscape forever. On one hand, the bundle includes three games, at €20 each. For someone who has not played them before, the cost is fair compared to what is on offer. Each title has something that makes it stand out from the rest. Grand Theft Auto III does not stand the test of time as much as the others but offers some interesting insight on gaming from twenty years ago. Vice City has probably the best art design of the series and extremely apt humor. San Andreas has the best story, memorable characters, unrivaled RPG elements, the best, and the most interactive open-world.

On the other hand, this remaster is as bad as a remaster can get. The only changes are in the visual department and not always for the better. No sound improvements and under-the-hood gameplay enhancements, only selective quality-of-life optimizations. Rockstar has already apologized and pledged to improve the state of all three games. However, at the time of writing, Definitive Edition remasters don’t do justice to the quality of the source material.