Review | Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition

The cultural significance of Grand Theft Auto 3, Vice City and San Andreas needs no explanation. Few game series ever managed to leave their mark on a genre like GTA at the time of the PlayStation 2. A reissue to make these classics easily playable on modern hardware is not a bad idea at all - if only with a view to the preserving cultural heritage. Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition, however, has nothing to do with preserving cultural heritage.

We can be brief about the games themselves. In all honesty, in 2021 there is little fun to be had in GTA 3. The city looks bare, the missions mean nothing and cars don’t drive as smooth as we’re used to in GTA V. Yet the first part in the trilogy is still intriguing. Especially in combination with Vice City and San Andreas.

After all, those two games have withstood the test of time much better. When you play the games in succession, you increasingly see the contours of a modern open world game. The missions become more extensive, the characters start to talk more and more, and especially the game worlds are undergoing an enormous evolution. The streets of Liberty City are still empty and gray, but Los Santos has a unique vibe. A vibe that changes when you swap the city for the countryside, or later chug past the casinos of Las Venturas.

But it really doesn’t matter how good or fun the games themselves are. Anyone who has actively experienced the games knows exactly what to expect. The potential for nostalgia is great, especially when iconic music by Nena, Toto, Dr. Dre of Guns N’ Roses reverberates from the speakers. Those unfamiliar with the games might want to play GTA: The Trilogy out of curiosity to see why these museum pieces made such a splash two decades ago. In either case, it’s more important to look at how Rockstar has handled the source material. And that’s not too good.

For the re-release, the classic games have been rebuilt in a new engine. The original code has been partly reused, to give the games the original look and feel. Improved lighting and numerous small quality-of-life adjustments also reduce the culture shock. For example, your minimap automatically shows how to drive and it is easier to switch weapons or radios, thanks to selection wheels that we know from GTA 5 and Red Dead Redemption 2, among others. The controls have also been modernized, including a freely moving camera. No idea if that was the deciding factor, but even infamous missions like Demolition Man (Vice City) and Wrong Side of the Tracks (San Andreas) weren’t nearly as frustrating as in our collective memories.

Many fans feared the iconic music in this reissue. There are indeed a few songs missing. In fact, it’s missing some pretty iconic songs, including Billie Jean and Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ by Michael Jackson in GTA Vice City), as well as 2Pac’s I Don’t Give a F*ck and Hellraiser by Ozzy Osbourne in San Andreas. That is of course a shame if you just like those few songs, but with so many songs and radio stations there is enough left to create nice 80s and 90s atmospheres. Moreover, the endless chatter of the disc jockeys and the countless commercials and jingles have been preserved. So much for some good news.

The GTA Trilogy technically rattles on all sides. That starts with the fact that you have to choose between a Fidelity and Performance mode. We’re not dealing here with cutting-edge games that squeeze the most out of your hardware; these are three games that were already playable on twenty-year-old hardware. The fact that the three games are still plagued by frame drops and pop-in even on an Xbox Series X is therefore in no way justified.

But the trouble doesn’t stop there. Many graphics models have been artificially ‘enhanced’ to still look somewhat acceptable in a modern resolution. Some objects have clearly been given attention; you can see a surprising amount of detail in Tommy Vercetti’s colorful Hawaii blouse. But the way arm hair has subsequently been applied to his plastic-looking forearms is unintentionally comical.

Worst of all is the ‘renewed’ rain. A terrible effect has been applied, causing rain to distort the entire image as a kind of bright noise. Strangely enough, the rain stops spontaneously when you enter a tunnel, even outside the tunnel. To make matters worse, this effect is not applied ‘over’ water. If you see a lake or the sea in the distance, there is a ‘hole’ in the rain. It’s impossible that the developers missed all this, because the entire opening scene of GTA 3 is not to be seen because of this disfigured effect.

These once iconic games are now graphic monsters of Frankenstein, where old animations, jacked up resolutions, new lighting and completely failed effects come together unsightly. Even if the technique doesn’t falter, a lot of magic is lost. If you look out from Mount Chiliad, the highest point in San Andreas, you will see the complete map. Technically clever, but so sterile and without atmosphere. Hazy effects or air vibrations are not only there to mask imperfections, they are also there to add atmosphere. That was forgotten for a while with this Trilogy.

Sometimes it all works. The Strip in Las Venturas, for example, looks brilliant under the right conditions. The contrast between the dark starry sky and the bright neon lights bouncing off your car is something we could only dream of in 2004. An optimistic dreamer can squeeze a bit of nostalgia out of this Trilogy now and then, but nothing more than that. If this is how we should definitely remember the GTA Trilogy, the reputation of three legendary games has been tarnished for good.

Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition is available now for PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One, Series X and S, PC and Nintendo Switch. For this review, the games were played on PlayStation 5.

Score:

5,5

+ Plenty of quality-of-life improvements
+ iI you squint and drift off to the music you can feel a touch of nostalgia
+ Improved controls and camera, ,

 

– Loses a lot of atmosphere due to ‘clean’ look
– A lot of Frame drops
– Have to choose between Fidelity and Performance modes
– Disfigured rain effects