In one of the most famous missions in the entire franchise, CJ and Big Smoke are chasing a train. The design is iffy, so the mission is easy to fail. “All we had to do was follow the damn train, CJ!” Big Smoke chides you upon each failure. I mention this, because, when one of the biggest publishers in the world remasters its three most beloved games, all it had to do was take the GTA Trilogy, add some quality of life improvements, dress up the graphics, and call it a day.
Instead of doing that, Rockstar Games hired Grove Street Games, the mobile game developer famous for its shoddy mobile ports of the trilogy, to bring the three games closer to modern standards. Unsurprisingly, it just ported its three mobile versions into Unreal Engine 4, bugs and longstanding issues included, and slapped on a new coat of paint. Fans of the games, which there are many, are horribly unsatisfied by this, for good reason. On PC, we got it even worse. I didn’t even get to play the games until nearly four days after they launched due to Rockstar removing everything from both sale and download on the platform. It’s been a rough go.
Upon finally getting to boot the games up, I was greeted with more nasty surprises. The framerate at 1440p often hung around 30 fps. The brightness and contrast are horribly out of whack at default settings. The rain is so horrible that, sometimes I can’t even see what’s going on around me. GTA Trilogy runs a lot better if you force it to utilize Directx 12 via launcher settings, though. But at 1440p, I get around 70 fps on average. For games this old, it’s kind of shocking. The brightness and contrast defaults were just implemented incorrectly, but, the rain? I needed to mod the games to make that tolerable. I’ve never had to mod such a new release just to play it before.
How did this even happen?
The rain is extra important because it points to a different problem. Grove Street Games knew it was bad. Rockstar knew it was bad. But, nobody did anything. Within a couple of days, lone modders figured it out and fixed what a giant publisher saw fit to just ignore. There was a reason that the GTA Trilogy was announced out of the blue a month before launch. There was a reason all we got was a trailer with carefully chosen footage to hype it up.
I can’t imagine that the massive amount of brand damage that’s been done was even remotely worth the launch profits. But, what about the games themselves? As I said, these are basically the mobile ports plugged into Unreal 4. The mobile-geared minigame changes are still here. The things that people took umbrage with regarding San Andreas‘ console release circa-2012 are still in place. The slow swimming, the missing animations, some of the iffy controls. A lot of it is frankly offensive.
Grove Street Games overhauled almost all aspects of the games’ visuals, including full texture and model replacement. And… shit got more fucked up. Many character faces are worse. Models often have strange proportions or gangly, misshapen limbs. The art styles of different characters clash when they’re in scenes together. Textures flicker in and out of existence. A bridge in San Andreas is invisible from most angles. All three games have an ugly outline on enemies you’re aiming at (Oh, but someone already modded that out) and CJ’s goddamn head is still a different color than the rest of him. Just like that shitty mobile port. Good grief.
GTA Trilogy is quite playable once you adjust the brightness and contrast, drag and drop the mod folders, and add the launch arguments. Well, mostly. Some missions are bugged and need workarounds to finish. Arms Shortage from GTA III has a bug where, if you shoot the enemy vans at the gate and make them stop, the third van won’t spawn. A famous mission in San Andreas where CJ needs to escape a burning building wants you to use a fire extinguisher to put the flames out. But, it doesn’t really work, meaning you have to jump over it. Don’t worry, though, a modder has fixed this, so PC players can download and install that and play their $60 USD product as intended. I’ve also gotten into cars without the doors opening and I’ve even randomly been knocked out of a car, only for it to continue on down the street. Enemies often can’t pathfind around walls and get stuck afterward. This shit is super buggy.
I honestly haven’t played GTA III in nearly 20 years and it’s held up the worst of the three, although it’s still entertaining. Most of the time, at least. Playing Vice City back to back with it is impressive as hell, though, as that game is so much better in nearly every way that’s it’s amazing Rockstar North was able to pull that off in just a year’s time. Vice City is, of course, still great fun. It has an actual story and protagonist, plus a lot of colorful, memorable missions.
If GTA III put the structure and ideas in place, Vice City was the one that filled them in and showed what this franchise was really capable of. San Andreas is the crown jewel of the trilogy and is still the most enjoyable game in the entire series, with its stat improvements, detailed world, and strong narrative. That is, when I’m not cringing at characters’ heads’ and bodies’ mismatching color palette. Also, you’ll find assets from GTA V in some of the games. There’s a bottle of wine from that game in San Andreas, even though the vintage on the bottle is decades after that game is set. The games also share some assets and sound effects with one another, including in the menus. So, yeah, it’s a bit of an asset flip in spots.
It’s strange what desire will make foolish people do
Granted, there are undeniably times all three games are damaged by the bugs and mobile port issues. The physics are sometimes just weird too, which makes these already annoyingly random games even more annoyingly random. Pedestrians that are in no danger of getting hit will still dive in front of your car. Other vehicles will plow into you at random. The most egregious thing is that, in this version, cars sometimes explode out of nowhere. As frustrating as these games can be, they didn’t need more piled on top.
Grand Theft Audio: The Trilogy – Definitive Edition is far from definitive. It’s a mostly insulting cash grab that will be up to the fans to fix. There’s fun to be had with the games, but there’s no good excuse for their quality to be in this state, especially when the original versions were all pulled from storefronts. After all, these are the games that made Rockstar what it is. That they’ve been treated this way is truly surprising. Whether or not diehard fans will forgive this collection of insults is another matter entirely.