GTA: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition Review (PS5) – Most Definitely Not Definitive

GTA: The Trilogy - The Definitive Edition Review

When news surfaced that Rockstar’s classic Grand Theft Auto titles were getting a re-release with improved graphics, gameplay, and frame-rate, there was much excitement to be had. After all, these were the titles that have defined the studio’s legacy over the last decades, with them continuing down the line with many more sequels and spin-offs. I have lots of fond memories playing the original trilogy on the PS2, and although they certainly haven’t aged as well as many would hope, they’re still very much fun titles to playthrough. So, of course the thought of having a newly refreshed version, built with modern gaming in mind, filled the room with much excitement. Well, sadly, what should have been a trip down nostalgia alley, has instead turned into a bug-filled, poor replication, expensive money-grabbing attempt, that loses the soul of the originals. They may be called the Definitive Edition, but they’re far from being just that.

Shiny New Graphics That Lose That Artistic Touch of the Originals

If it wasn’t clear from the announcement trailer, the GTA Trilogy – The Definitive Edition features graphical overhauls for the original three 3D GTA games in order to make them more appealing for the modern day gamer. While that certainly sounds great, in actuality, what we got on a visual scale with these remasters is laughably some of the worst design decisions made for a remaster (possibly ever) that has more downs than ups.

Yes, it’s great to see that the visuals have “improved” from the original releases, but those improvements come at a heavy cost of losing the atmosphere of the originals with an art direction that is constantly at odds with itself.

For starter, the character models don’t mash with the environments at all. While the original GTA games have always had a bit of a cartoonish look, that was mostly due to the technical limitations of their time. With these remasters, it would appear Grove Street Games (the studio behind these remasters) have decided to upgrade each game’s environments for a more “realistic” take. Buildings, streets, trees, cars, basically everything is now richer in details, and although not the most graphically impressive title, I do think the environments look great in some areas.

The Problem is, despite those environments looking good, there is no consistency. In one instance you’ll be driving down a detailed city block, only to turn the corner and see super bland and texture-less environments. The characters and NPCs don’t fair any better, either, as they feel out of place — as if they’re plucked out of a completely different universe. They’re ugly — very ugly — and provide no consistency between the environments and themselves. It’s like a really poorly rendered CGI model thrown in a modern day movie. It looks bad now, and it will look bad in 10-20 years, and that’s what the character models in the trilogy come off as. Heck, by now we’ve seen a number of modders who have had their GTA projects taken down that have created better models than what we got from this official re-release, and these fan-made ones stay faithful to the original aesthetics of these games. 

Speaking of, despite the environments looking better than they have ever, they somehow feel worse. That’s because much of the original lighting and effects in the cities are gone, and have instead been replaced with, well, nothing, literally. While an ultra clean and clear look may be welcoming, in say, Grand Theft Auto 5 and Red Dead Redemption 2, it’s because those titles are flourishing in details. Being able to see across a map in those games provide you with so much information, that it works to their advantage. 

The original trilogy couldn’t be built like that, thus Rockstar had to get creative with the lighting and effects of the city to hide those limitations. This resulted in easily some of the most atmospheric games of their time, and for me, in particular one of the best looking open world’s with GTA San Andreas. Driving around a smoke hazed fog city gave San Andreas a unique feel, one that made the city believable and oozing in all kinds of sleaziness and corruption. The same held true to the previous GTA’s, they all had an atmosphere to match the story and setting they were in. GTA 3 with it’s mobster Godfather-like story gave the city a gritty, desperate, and sad look, while Vice City perfectly captured that ’80s Miami look with its neon, bright and warm colors that made you want to to throw a pair of shades and bask in the sunlight. It gave us that Scarface movie vibe that the whole world was ours for the taking.

You don’t get that sense anymore in the remasters, and for me, the saddest moment to realize this was when I climbed to the top of Mount Chiliad and I could see the end of the map. No polluted filled city where you could barely make out the top of a skyscraper, or fog-filled forests that always made you wonder if Big Foot was lurching around in. It’s gone, and with it, the charm masterfully crafted in the original releases. It looks and feels cheap.

A Buggy, Bad Performing Mess

You know, I would be forgiving of the character designs and lack of atmosphere if it meant these titles would be polished with a rock solid frame-rate. Sadly, despite not being at all graphically demanding, these games run like utter shit. Playing on the PS5, a next-gen console that is more than capable of running some games at 120fps (frames-per-second) that have far more graphical and technological advancements, can’t even hold a stable 60fps in any of the trilogy titles. I won’t pretend that I know the work that went into this remaster, but it’s hard to argue that all three of these games shouldn’t be anything less than 60fps on the PS5 (heck, even the PS4). Yet they are, and at times can dip to a staggering 30fps. That’s half of what it targets in performance mode for games that I would say already look dated in the visuals department.

Then there are the bugs. I have lost a few of my save files due to corruption, restarted missions because of odd spawning issues, and have even had hard freezes and crashes. San Andreas was the worse for me, having crashed 10-15 times in a single session. This is a game that I had left my PS2 on for hours as I went to school so I wouldn’t have to start a mission all over again. Bad for my PS2, but I was able to come back and keep on playing just fine. Yeah, the original release did have bugs, but the point of the remaster should be to address those, not introduce new ones and somehow be worse. It’s astonishing how many new bugs there are, and the performance is completely inexcusable. 

Least I not forget to mention how the rain has been implemented in all three GTAs. You have all probably seen the videos and pictures already, but here it is again, in all its blinding galore.

I mean, come on! Seriously, whoever did this, what the hell were you thinking?? This is so unbearably playable, there is just no way no one saw this during playtesting. I am at a loss of words, though I suppose vomit inducing is the best suited description.

Quality of Life Improvements That Would Have Been Acceptable in a HD Re-Release

If there is something I was happy to see in these remasters, then it’s the quality of life improvements. A remaster should be more accessible than the original, and Grove Street Games definitely nailed at providing the series with much needed improvements. For starters, GTA 3 now has a full in-game map that you can view. Additionally waypoints and GPS navigation has been updated to be more similar to that from recent GTAs with routes being outlined.

Then there is the new checkpoint system. It’s not perfect — far from it — as it seems pointless in GTA 3 and Vice City since you are mostly having to restart the entire mission, but when it does work, and start you off part ways it feels great. Some patching could be implemented to resolve that. 

However, the biggest change in the remaster comes in the gameplay controls themselves. Now touting modern controls inspired by the latest GTA (GTA 5) all three classics (GTA Vice City, GTA 3, and GTA San Andreas) have never played better than before. This is definitely a welcome change, as going back to replay the original PS2 releases, it’s likely you’d end up dropping them due to how outdated the gameplay feels. It’s snappier, responsive, and more user friendly, all without sacrificing the core experience offered from the original gameplay. They have even added the weapon wheel from GTA 5 in each game with a slowdown so that you easily pick what weapon you want without the worry of being killed.

This is really the only part that I can comfortably say makes this Trilogy edition “definitive” over the originals, and it is a welcome new feature.

Verdict

I like to think that some thought was put into the Grand Theft Auto Trilogy Definitive Edition, at least when it came to the quality of life improvements. But outside of that, it’s hard to say that this is the definitive way to play these all time classics. The end product of Grand Theft Auto Trilogy Definitive Edition feels more like a mod created from one person. And that would have been more forgiving if that was the case, however, it’s a full team (a small one granted) and the end result just simply isn’t on par with the level of expected quality. We weren’t asking for a full blown remake, but we definitely weren’t expecting to get this. It’s horrendously buggy, disgustedly ugly, and most of all, it’s not the same GTA we played decades ago. The very soul of the original Rockstar Team has been sucked out of them, and in their place, replaced with intolerable cash grab. I would say go grab the originals, but they have been replaced with this not so definitive version of the game. Maybe Rockstar and Grove Street will somehow pull through in the end, and restore much of what made the originals so beloved, but I guess, at least for PC players out there, they can look forward to modders fixing this mess. 

Score: 4/10

Pros:

  • Improved gameplay and controls, along with other quality of life improvements such as the checkpoint system.
  • All three stories are worth experiencing if you haven’t already. 

Cons:

  • Buggy, from progression locks, to visual epilepsy, and random constant crashes. Game breaking ones too.
  • The visuals may look nice, but they lack the soul of the originals, as well as the consistency. 
  • Character models are just ugly and conflict with everything,
  • No excuse for the poor performing frame-rate, especially on next-gen consoles and PC.
  • Removal of the originals from storefronts so that they can sell this version over it. 

Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition review code was provided by the publisher. Game tested on PS5. You can read SP1st and MP1st’s review and scoring policy right here.

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