Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy - Definitive Edition
"Definitive Edition" might be a bit of a misleading statement.
Grand Theft Auto III rewrote the rulebook not just for the action genre but for the entire gaming world and Rockstar went from a small Scottish micro-team to one of the world's most respected developers. The dynamic game structure, the open and above all tonally dark and violent game world, the pop-culture references, the music, the adult and film-like story ... I do not exaggerate when I call GTA III one of the three most important titles in gaming history.
When Rockstar a couple of years later continued but shifted era and city of play, drowned us in Scarface vibes and Miami Vice-aesthetics, it was time for me to surrender again - completely. GTA: Vice City offered a number of gameplay improvements and further expanded Rockstar's fantastic foundation to levels no other game developer could compete with at the time. San Andreas brought the concept to "Compton", where Rockstar exchanged purple jackets and disco music for 90s gang life from movies like Boyz N The Hood, Juiced, and Menace 2 Society. In the way that the Houser brothers framed the era, the tone wrote their characters and matched everything with just the right kind of music choices, all of these three games became cultural icons, some of the most beloved action games of all time and when they unveiled a few months ago that they were working on improved new versions, I was one of those who prepared my wallet.
On Thursday morning, this long-awaited collection was released and my hours with the game have unfortunately not been as enjoyable as I had been looking forward to. A couple of stubborn suspicions popped into my head when it became clear that Rockstar had no plans to send us a review version of GTA: The Trilogy - Definitive Edition, and now of course I understand why. Because even though there are definitely merits here that I should neither ignore nor just mention in passing (I will get there, soon) this is about a trio of PlayStation 2 games that in this state are so crammed with bugs and technical shortcomings that it becomes difficult for me to be anything other than almost solely negative.
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Behind this collection stands Florida-based Grove Street Games, which has been converting Rockstar's games into various formats and platforms for ten years now. Among other things, Grove Street developed the iPhone versions of all three games that were released a little over ten years ago under the name "10th Anniversary Edition" and it is clear that it is these versions that have been converted here. It is thus ten-year-old mobile games that have now been transferred from the game engine Renderware to Unreal Engine 4. This has been done via a couple of automated systems that have scaled up textures and changed character faces automatically, as well as improved about 100,000 textures and built-in improved light effects. The lighting in these versions is clearly better. A clear improvement, especially in Vice City and San Andreas. Volumetric lighting effects make the games look more modern and there is a graphical atmosphere here that was missing in the originals, thanks to the cars headlights, street lamps, neon signs, moonlight, and much more shedding light on the gaming cities in a way these old classics have not seen before.
However, this is the only improvement made in these three games that I am prepared to praise. The rest is about things that I only have negative things to say about. The old and clunky game mechanics which, according to Rockstar's skillful marketing team, would be "improved to feel more like a modern GTA" is largely unchanged here. Sadly. All three protagonists in all three games move like clunky blocks and especially in GTA III, both driving and gunplay feel most troublesome. Here, of course, I had expected something more, something much better and it feels very much like all three games had deserved something way better. Another aspect that has largely gotten worse is the characters' visual appearance. The automated system that has certainly fixed a handful of characters from all three games has at the same time sabotaged a number of characters that are instrumental in the stories of the three different games and there are parts here that made me laugh, hysterically. For the most part, Grove Street's automatic filter seems to have made Rockstar's hardcore gang members, street thugs, mobsters, and gangsters into something that seems to originate more from The Sims, and this of course results in some involuntary comedy. I would definitely have preferred the original characters with maybe a little sharpened textures. Or manually remade versions that did not look like they were cut out from The Sims 2.
Apart from this, it is the bugs and all the technical mistakes included here that bother me the most. It would be one thing if this was developed by a small group of amateur modders and had been released for free, but behind this production is a studio specialising in conversions and the gaming world's perhaps second most powerful gaming house that has just about as much money as you can fathom, and could give these three classics the treatment we all know they deserve. The port between Renderware and Unreal Engine has changed the density of lots of materials, which means that you can now drive straight through bridges, buildings, and other things while things like bushes or grass suddenly cause you to collide and crash/destroy the car. I absolutely understand that this part has also been automated, and I understand of course that it will be extremely time-consuming to review all this in these three giant action titles, but if you release a remaster collection entitled "Definitive Edition" and demand £60 for that, of course, it is necessary to make sure that these things work.
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There are also a few problems with the frame rate, which runs at 30 frames per second as a maximum for all formats except our new next-gen consoles (which in itself is completely absurd) but also constantly dips and makes the games cough in a way that I have no desire to tolerate. This is basically a 20-year-old PlayStation 2 game, and should therefore run at a super-stable 60 frames per second on all of today's formats. The tracklists are also slimmed down compared to the original games. A lot has happened in 20 years, of course, and that Rockstar and Take Two do not want to pay for the license fees for Blondie, Michael Jackson, and Ozzy Osbourne's music, I can understand, but it's still sad. As it is now, the playlists have been cut down and carried over from the iPhone versions of all three games, which were released ten years ago.
It feels boring to be the grumpy guy here, but it can not be helped. To release something called "Definitive Edition", charge £60 for something this lackluster and buggy, is embarrassing and Rockstar should definitely know better. Instead, a dedicated 100-man team should have been set aside here, which for a number of years should have been allowed to build one game at a time, from scratch - as Capcoms did with Resident Evil 2 Remake or Hangar 13 with Mafia: Definitive Edition. Because there is nothing "Definitive" here, except the fact that I definitely will not carry on playing this.
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4 / 10
The weapon wheel is nice. Improved lighting effects.
Expensive price tag. A lot of the original music is missing. Plenty of bugs. Character models look rough.