The Definitive Edition of Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy is an odd release. On the one hand, you have a remaster of one of the all-time best open-world games, which has maintained its cult-classic reputation and influenced countless game developers. On the other side, it is also one of the year’s worst-received games due to inconsistent graphic quality, a lack of quality assurance before release, and poor technical performance.
I’ve played GTA Vice City and San Andreas so many times I’ve lost count, but I’ve never had the opportunity to play through GTA 3, which is why a remaster has always seemed attractive to me. Indeed, this remaster has made significant changes not only to the game’s visuals but also to its basic gameplay. There are some quality-of-life improvements as well, but the new remaster frequently seems like a step back.
To put it simply, imagine someone attempting to reproduce a recipe that they are certain is 100 percent real and precise, but the end product is a dish that tastes the same but has a different style and presentation. All three games have such a disjointed visual design that it’s difficult to understand why this style was chosen in the first place. The landscape and cities have all been retouched to a greater extent than the player models, therefore they are the ones that give the decisive improvements in this remaster, although even their quality does not match some of the better results.
The game’s graphic design is a bizarre mash-up of low-poly blocky character models seen in classic games with current rendering technologies seen in Unreal Engine 4. The games were entirely redesigned and remastered on the new Unreal Engine, which meant that everything from the lighting to the texturing had to be redone. The developers have also employed AI Upscaling to resolve some of the low-quality details to a higher resolution, which results in certain textures displaying mistakes or some of the original in-game jokes losing their meaning because the AI upscale algorithm has no clue how to resolve it effectively. All of this required a human touch, which is absent in this situation.
The character models are nothing more than a gigantic question mark. I understand why they were supposed to be rebuilt in this manner, but surely they could have done better? While I can understand the lack of focus on NPC models, even the major characters have suffered so much in this shift that there are innumerable jokes and videos about their bad design. Some of the character designs have also been changed absurdly, causing them to lose their original appeal. Similarly, Lance and CJ look terrible in GTA San Andreas. Scratch that because practically everyone in GTA San Andreas is ugly. Vice City, on the other hand, fared better in this respect.
Despite my gripes about the inconsistency of the visuals, the games are a lot of fun. The new features, such as GTA-V Style controls, are more noticeable in GTA 3 and Vice City. While you don’t have complete control over your aiming as in the recent GTA games, the controls seem enhanced here. Because the original hasn’t aged well, GTA 3 is the better improvement out of the bunch. Because of its neon lights and beautiful beaches, Vice City is the most visually appealing game in the trilogy. It is the only one that gives us the impression that we are playing a true remaster. It’s a shame that San Andreas suffers the most from inconsistencies in graphic quality and bugs. Even if the game itself is enjoyable if you get past the problems, it is not a perfect experience right now.
One of my complaints about these games is that they are simply too clean. We don’t get the dark and gritty mood of GTA 3, Vice City, or San Andreas’ enigmatic foggy nature. The view from above shatters the illusion of a massive open-world because the developers somehow failed to capitalise on the new hardware and just let everything out in the open, rendering an open world with a draw distance that allows you to see the entirety of Liberty City, Vice City, and San Andreas from a plane. It’s as if a magic trick has been revealed in front of you, shattering whatever illusions you had about it.
What I don’t understand is how these games continue to perform so horribly even on the most recent consoles. I played the trilogy on a PS5 and was startled to see that it doesn’t even manage to maintain a stable 60 frames per second. These games were published more than two decades ago, and the remaster doesn’t appear to be graphically demanding, so why is the performance so poor? To be honest, I don’t get it. You do have a Quality and Performance mode, but neither provides satisfactory performance. On the positive side, you can say goodbye to loading screens, as the new consoles’ SSDs eliminate the need for them.