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Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy - The Definitive Edition

Platform(s): Android, Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, iOS
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Rockstar Games
Release Date: Nov. 11, 2021

About Andreas Salmen

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PC Review - 'Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy - The Definitive Edition'

by Andreas Salmen on Dec. 7, 2021 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition will feature across-the-board upgrades, including graphical improvements and modern gameplay enhancements for all three titles while still maintaining the classic look and feel of the originals.

Between the technical issues and overall product quality, the release of Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy - The Definitive Edition has not gone smoothly. The visual presentation is inconsistent, and there are performance issues and cut content. PC players like me didn't get to play the game until days later due to a string of Rockstar Launcher issues. Despite all of these roadblocks, it's strange that I've had a blast playing the "definitive edition" of this iconic trilogy.

There were definitely red flags leading up to the game release, such as the limited footage and coverage, but I was cautiously optimistic because this is Rockstar's most iconic game franchise. Rockstar wouldn't rush a remaster and then dump it into the world to get a leg up in holiday sales, would it? Let's say that I've learned several things in the past few days. I'll preface the review with this: The egregious issues with Rockstar's Launcher that prevented many PC players from playing any of their purchased games is another reminder that forced online connectivity for single-player games is a terrible practice. It also didn't help that Rockstar's communication during that downtime was lacking, and I was all but ready to rip apart the Definitive Edition when I managed to download and start the games four days later.

My experience got worse before it got better. Starting chronologically with GTA 3, things didn't look great. All three games have been entirely ported/rebuilt on Unreal Engine, including a bunch of visual upgrades, but they're essentially the same games that were released 15-20 years ago.

They certainly don't run like they are.

GTA 3 put up an especially fierce fight, but all three games are poorly optimized and struggle to run smoothly in many situations. In my experience, they improve chronologically, with GTA3 being the biggest offender and San Andreas running relatively the best. On our test rig with a 3070 and a 5600x, we struggled to get the best visual settings locked in with a stable 60+fps at 1440p (with DLSS enabled). We found settings that pushed performance above that line most of the time, but we repeatedly hit snags where the frame rate would drop hard. Even when it didn't, I still experienced micro-stutters every so often.

The other two titles seem to run better, but their output and performance are still erratic. A lot of this is down to available graphic settings being unclear on performance impact or differences between settings. In my experience, "planar" reflections on cars seemingly have the most notable impact, and turning it off helped us reach acceptable frame rates more consistently, but the game still functions inconsistently, even when locked to a specific frame rate. It currently isn't a great experience on the PC, and I hope Grove Street Games optimizes the trilogy on all three systems for more stable and reliable performance and a better way to optimize performance via the graphic settings.

Once I got past the performance issues, I slowly found my footing. I'm aware that most of my enjoyment comes from viewing the games through nostalgic rose-tinted glasses, but it's enjoyment all the same. Within a few missions in any of the three games, I felt transported back to my teenaged self as I sank an ungodly number of hours in all three titles (mostly San Andreas).

At their core, all three titles behave and play mostly the same as they have years ago, and the new coat of paint either elevates or disrupts the enjoyment. We still take voiceless Claude through the ranks of the Liberty City mafia in GTA3, join Tommy Vercetti in his pursuit of creating a mighty drug empire in Vice City, and steer CJ through a strange adventure of epic proportions in San Andreas. The titles haven't aged perfectly, but each still exhibits the trademark fun GTA elements: memorable characters and interesting storylines. San Andreas is stuffed with so much fun open-world mayhem that it can be overwhelming.

While I won't review each game in detail, all three titles mostly live up to their original versions as far as content goes, but there are some interesting exceptions, like the two-player mode that was originally in San Andreas or the dozens of licensed movie tracks that were cut from the remasters. All three games seem to be based on the mobile ports, which isn't great since those versions aren't bug-free or faithful ports of the originals. I haven't encountered as many bugs as the internet would suggest, but there were enough of them. There are plenty of visual glitches, but during gameplay, it can be difficult to discern whether you're encountering general bugginess in the source material, which wasn't perfect, or experiencing bugs that were introduced in the subsequent mobile ports or this remaster.

There are plenty of downsides that we can attribute to the remaster, such as hard crashes back to the desktop, specifically when playing San Andreas. I also experienced repeated crashes on startup that sometimes didn't resolve until I restarted the PC.

When things run well, the presentation still isn't up to snuff. From animation issues to weird AI behavior, a lot of things don't add up. For example, rain is incredibly high contrast and looks like you're watching the game through a curtain of bright white particles, making it incredibly difficult to navigate the world. Be prepared to find typos and incorrectly reconstructed art that looks like it was AI-upscaled and included in the game without a second glance. There's also broken collision detection, which causes you to float above the ground in some areas and fall through the scenery in others. The game visuals felt comical in style, rather than realistic, but some character models are abysmal, both by today's standards and those set by the original release.

If you were to list the trilogy's visual improvements, they all sound like worthwhile additions — but they just don't come together. The Definitive Edition feels like a remaster for the sake of a remaster; it ticks boxes and implements features without preserving the character of the original titles. The orange haze of the sunsets and the thick fog in San Andreas is nowhere to be found. Instead, you have a map that looks barely larger than a cat litter box. It's not necessarily wrong, but it's not the experience I expect from a remaster. That's the predicament at heart, which was infinitely worsened by Rockstar's decision to pull the original trilogy. Thankfully, it's a decision that it has reversed given the reaction to The Definitive Edition.

I found it problematic that the originals were pulled overnight — games with a thriving and dedicated modder scene — and replaced with, well, this. I don't understand why Rockstar couldn't bundle the original trilogy with the remaster, since that would be the only way this package should be considered "definitive" and complete. I'd be less opposed if this remaster had a way to toggle between the original and remastered looks, which is almost standard for modern remasters at this point.

On the flip side, I also don't want to hail the original releases too much. On the PC, they weren't very plug-and-play at the time, and they exhibit a bunch of issues when you try to run them today. Mods were almost mandatory to have a decent time with them. From that perspective, The Definitive Edition doesn't fare so badly. As I've already mentioned, the titles still capture the essence of the trilogy, but it's like watching an old friend walk through a hall of mirrors: distorted and removed from reality but still fun. It's easy to start and play when it works, and some of the quality-of-life improvements make sense, like the GTA5 control layout and weapon wheels, or the addition of autosaves and checkpoints for missions. I completed some infamous missions with much less friction than I used to, especially the RC plane/helicopter missions that were abysmal to control in the past. Rockstar has pledged to fully resolve any issues with The Definitive Edition in future updates, and if it follows through, this remaster could be a lot of fun as an extension of the trilogy — but certainly not as a replacement.

I cannot currently recommend Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy - The Definitive Edition on the PC, and a lot has to happen until I do. The truth is that I've had a decent amount of fun with this remaster; part of it is based on nostalgia, and part of it is based on some ridiculous, unavoidable bugs that weren't as frequent as I'd feared. Given all of these issues and the abysmal performance of the three games on the PC, I'd stay away from the trilogy until several major updates have been released. Even then, this remaster may not be for everyone.

Score: 5.0/10

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