Not so definitive
To be blunt: Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition is a technical mess that shouldn’t have been released in its current state. To make matters worse, though, Rockstar Games also removed the original versions of these games off every digital storefront across PC and consoles.
This mustache-twirling scheme from Rockstar is ironically almost like something you’d hear as an ad parody for a remaster of a game on the radio in any of these classic GTA titles.
Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition (PS5 [reviewed], PS4, Xbox Series X/S Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC)
Developer: Grove Street Games, Rockstar North
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Released: November 11, 2021
If you’re treating The Definitive Edition as an excuse to replay these games again or if you’re a first-timer to the series, there is still some fun to be found here (especially with cheats), as well as some convenient quality-of-life improvements across this whole collection.
Ultimately, though, I’d advise just sticking to your original copies (if you have them) either until they’ve heavily patched these games or until the collection is at a significantly reduced price. Each game in this collection has its own unique and odd issues — alongside plenty of issues present across the whole thing — but let’s start with the game that forever changed the landscape of 3D open-world games to come.
Grand Theft Auto III: Definitive Edition
Someone once described Grand Theft Auto III as “a lot iller,” and much like the word “iller,” GTA III hasn’t aged all that gracefully. Its missions are relatively basic and bland compared to modern open-world games and even to its younger siblings found in this same collection. If you’re a big fan of picking up things to a timer, driving through rings to a timer, or killing people to a timer, you’re going to be in for a good time (pun intended).
If not, well, the Definitive Edition of GTA III offers some improvements in the form of an in-game map with markers, waypoints, and GPS routes to help you find, steal, and kill things to a timer. One of my favorite updates to the Definitive Edition is now just being able to simply press down on the d-pad to make the on-screen mini-map expand and show more of the map itself. This minor update to the mini-map was a godsend for finding various markers during missions or quickly finding those pesky bridges.
There have even been some minor tweaks to the control schemes; for example, using the sniper rifle feels so much better now on analog sticks compared to the original PS2 release (although that could be the hardware itself). Missions like “Bomb Da Base” — where you have to guard 8ball as he infiltrates a container ship and plants a bomb — are a complete breeze now since I could pop everyone’s heads in a matter of seconds.
As a result, the sniper rifle became one of my go-to weapons in the Definitive Edition of GTA III and Vice City because it gave me the distance advantage, and I didn’t have to deal with the incredibly dated lock-on shooting systems. I’m surprised Grove Street Games didn’t wholly overhaul this shooting system, in general. Switching between targets does a feel bit faster and snappier now across the whole collection. However, you still take so much damage out in the open in GTA III that you’re better off picking enemies off from a distance or relying on your vehicle to drive people over or gun them down.
Don’t rely on your vehicle too much, though, as gangs in GTA III are still incredibly hostile late into the story and can blow you up out of nowhere. This became very frustrating whenever a race or mission had me going back to older (and now much more hostile) areas. Thankfully, this collection also has one of the best quality-of-life improvements in simply restarting a mission upon failure. No more reloading a save or restocking all your weapons after waking up at the hospital. Now you can begin the mission again with all your health, armor, and weapons you had on you when you initially started it.
For GTA III, specifically, it’s a much-needed necessity given that it’s the most challenging game in the trilogy. However, the biggest crime with the Definitive Edition of GTA III is just how soulless it feels in terms of art direction. Although the new lighting system is impressive, the original PS2 release had a distinctive blue, green, and gray color pallet that added to Liberty City’s dreary atmosphere, which is now completely absent. I even miss the more minor details, like the random newspapers blowing all over the streets. In the Definitive Edition, the overall aesthetic looks so much cleaner and sterile now as a result.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Definitive Edition
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is my favorite out of the PS2 trilogy, and it also feels like it got the most love within the Definitive Edition trilogy. The new lighting system is put to good use with all the bright neon featured in Vice City. The more colorful color pallet is also more appropriate for the setting and atmosphere. Walking out of the Ocean View Hotel early in the morning, for example, looks stunning with the vibrant pinks and blues in the skybox. The same goes for once the sun sets, with the dark purples filling the night sky.
Combine that with an incredible ’80s radio mix (despite missing a few notable tracks), and it makes just driving around Vice City pure bliss. That said, I’m still not crazy about some of the updated character models, including Tommy’s updated look. There are also several bizarre misspelled art assets and signs throughout this collection, with some notable highlights in the Vice City Definitive Edition that either ruin the joke entirely or no longer make any sense at all. It’s just downright baffling this stuff wasn’t caught or addressed before release.
The narrative is more memorable than GTA III‘s more cut-and-dry rise through the criminal ranks approach. Although you’ll still be doing exactly that while you take over Vice City, what makes it so much more memorable is the cast of characters and major set-piece moments. For one, it helps that protagonist is fully voice acted, and although being a bit dry at times, Ray Liotta does a pretty decent job overall. However, my absolute favorite characters are all the side characters and mission givers you’ll encounter on Tommy’s journey to ruling Vice City.
Drug-fueled adventures with Love Fist, gangs, lawyers, and entrepreneurs that deal with competition in ways you’d expect hiring a criminal such as Tommy would entail are just some of the many encounters you’ll have in Vice City. However, in these larger set-piece moments and shootouts, the overall gameplay shows its age. Having a handy weapon wheel that slows down time when switching weapons is an excellent addition, but the controls and gunplay are still incredibly underwhelming by today’s standards.
Although Vice City is still a bit easier overall than GTA III and its overuse of timed missions, it has plenty of larger shootouts that can be just as unforgiving. Certain weapons also feel terrible to use, such as the M4 that locks you into place and puts you into a first-person perspective. Although the remapped controls and lock-on aiming feels a bit tighter now, again, it’s just surprising Grove Street Games didn’t go all out on revamping the gunplay across these games for this supposed “Definitive Edition” collection.
Vice City also introduced motorcycles, helicopters, and functional planes into the mix, which added a nice variety to the vehicles and traversal. Boats, most notably, were thrown into the mix as well, and there’s plenty of missions that utilize them. So, you’d think another decent quality-of-life improvement would be the ability to swim now, but sadly, you’ll still get wasted the moment you hit deeper water in both GTA III and Vice City.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas Definitive Edition
Out of three games in this collection, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas feels like it was the one that was the most rushed out the door and it has tons of technical issues as a result. Character models are broken and can be incredibly buggy at times. Side characters such as CJ’s various dating options can look downright hideous. The massive draw distance does the exact opposite of making this open-world feel bigger. It’s a mess all around.
San Andreas was one of the most impressive open-world games of its time, and although not my favorite game from the PS2 trilogy, I can’t deny its sheer variety and scope. However, the Definitive Edition just straight-up jeopardizes that legacy. Whenever I’m starting to enjoy the Boyz n the Hood-inspired antics of the story and characters, suddenly CJ’s face becomes a pixelated horror, and it just pulls me right out of the experience.
For context, I spent four hours with each game on launch day, and by the time I got to San Andreas and experienced how broken it was, I felt like an egg was thrown at my face. Not to mention this whole collection suffers from frame rate and crashing issues. If you’re on PS5 and play the PS4 versions, I hear the frame rate is much smoother, but the resolution is now sub-1080p as a result. Why modern consoles can’t run games that look like this at a stable frame rate is beyond me.
As for San Andreas itself, this game’s mission variety, customization options, and scope are impressive. Many of the missions in San Andreas also further ramp up the complexity, spectacle, and set pieces — making some of them a lot longer as a result. Thankfully, a new checkpoint system was implemented in the Definitive Edition, making it so missions can be restarted at specific moments (as opposed to entirely from the beginning). Outside of that, though, many of the new quality-of-life updates are not as noticeable when contrasted with how they affect GTA III and Vice City.
However, no amount of checkpoints can help my frustration with the RC toy missions across this trilogy. Notably, they did add additional time to some of these to make them more manageable, but these tiny vehicle horrors control just as poorly as I remember. The toy helicopter is easy enough to keep afloat, but getting it to turn can be a bit of a pain, while the toy planes are still an absolute nightmare to control all around. The Top Fun van and Zero’s missions in San Andreas and Vice City will forever haunt my memories and spoil the thought of replaying these games.
It’s safe to say this collection has already accomplished spoiling things for a lot of people. Outside of some decent quality-of-life stuff, there are just too many technical problems to consider these versions “definitive,” and I can’t wholeheartedly recommend anyone play or purchase Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition at the moment.
So, to recap my advice at the beginning: stick to your original copies if you still have them. If you need to see this mess in action for yourself, either wait until developer Grove Street Games heavily patches this collection or wait for a deeply discounted sale.
[This review is based on retail builds of the game provided by the publisher.]