On paper, this was the perfect compilation release, having the original Grand Theft Auto III trilogy, the first trio of 3D titles in the franchise, come together in one definitive edition with redone graphics all optimised for your latest gaming platform. In execution, however, you can’t even pretend to ignore the total chaos and backlash surrounding the release and the way it launched.
Rockstar as a developer and publisher are no strangers to controversy, attracting the ire of politicians and at one stage even Lindsay Lohan, but at the very least they had the loyalty of gamers. Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – Definitive Edition on Xbox comes with the original Grand Theft Auto III, the ‘80s themed Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and the enormous Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The release is unquestionably a certifiable mess, even when you try your hardest to look away from the car crash in search of some semblance of silver lining.
With Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – Definitive Edition, even the diehard fans have been disgruntled, and understandably so. Although the trilogy initially made its debut on the PlayStation 2, the games did make their way to the Xbox platform and so some sentimental nostalgia is present. Back when the double pack was released for the original Xbox, and then later followed by the release of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (which subsequently got ported to Xbox 360), it was a magical time. This so called “definitive” edition hardly lives up to its namesake. A more accurate description would have been something like “overpriced convenience edition”. Yes, it’s no doubt convenient to have these games in one place for your latest Xbox console, but it is far too expensive given that you get these half-arsed graphical enhancements with barely any effort to optimise performance.
Another name that could work is the “no choice edition”, because unless you’ve already had them as part of your digital library in some shape or form, virtually all other digital variations of these classic games have been delisted and removed. This even includes the Xbox 360 version of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which was part of the backwards compatibility line-up. While the Definitive Edition essentially has three separate games which cannot be purchased separately, Xbox Game Pass subscribers have a bit of a try before you buy option, as the new edition of San Andreas was added to the Game Pass catalogue at launch.
Of all the games, the third and biggest game of the trilogy received perhaps the shortest end of the stick when it comes to the remastering effort. It’s almost like they gave up and did the absolute bare minimum just to get the game out of the door. But at the same time Game Pass subscribers have a risk-free avenue just to see the mess for themselves firsthand, without having to fork out the ridiculous asking price for this collection. San Andreas was always a polarising game, a bloated experience which although capable of providing entertaining gameplay and a cool storyline to follow, bogged players down with too many nonsensical activities such as feeding the main character. Chances are, if you were even a little bit interested in the idea of this collection, it was for San Andreas, rather it was to have modernized versions of Grand Theft Auto III and Vice City on console.
To be fair, the remastering work is a lot better in GTA III and Vice City, especially when compared to the sheer laziness of the work done on San Andreas, but that isn’t really saying much. The textures are bare minimum touch ups, the revised character models are hit or miss (mostly miss honestly), there are ugly weather and particle effects, and the most inexcusable of all, is the unstable and low framerate. It doesn’t matter which Xbox console you play it on, as it’s still going to have performance issues and it’s absolutely no fault of the console. Even clearing your console cache or loading the game off the internal memory rather than an external drive makes no difference. The worst part is, these games will crash a lot, and there are bugs a plenty. You can expect to fall right through the map as you’re driving, and you can expect to restart your game following a glitch lock up. These issues are most pronounced in San Andreas, but you will inevitably also run into them in GTA III and Vice City as well.
The other hyped-up improvement was how these games were going to feature improved combat based on Grand Theft Auto V. Honestly, that is a stretch, because the combat and shooting feel far worse than they ever did before, especially when the targeting system completely restricts your movement. The driving at least remains enjoyable, especially when you’re able to listen to the radio stations. These games have the best curated soundtracks, and some of the most entertaining radio banter, and more than anything else, it’s these moments that will make you smile. There’s just something about listening to a Bryan Adams song at just the right time as you’re cruising through the neon-lit streets of Vice City. You can find moments of enjoyment, but they’re difficult to sustain and appreciate when the entire package is such a poorly remastered and optimised mess.
To make one thing clear, no doubt this release is bad, but is it bad enough to be a completely broken mess? No absolutely not, but it’s still disappointing considering it could have been so much more. Especially when you consider so many of the issues could have been dealt with before launch. As surprising as this may sound, there is enjoyment to be had here, especially in GTA III and Vice City. For most, this will likely be a hit of nostalgia as the games are, for the most part, just as fun as you probably remember them. Then again, nostalgia is a misleading rose-tinted lens, as anyone stepping into these games, especially after something like Grand Theft Auto V, will be disappointed. Even the nostalgic fans will eventually start to see through the initial facade, and be immensely disappointed in how these classics were remastered for the modern era. A complete disservice to say the least.
These were good games, and they still are, but this Definitive Edition is not how you want to experience or remember them. More or less, the open world crime action gameplay is intact and it’s close to how you probably remember them on the original Xbox. But honestly unless you have those games on a digital library or are able to plug in your older console, then you’re better off just sticking with your memories. Or at most, listening to the radio soundtrack separately. It’s simply not worth tainting the legacy of these games with this frustrating mess of a Definitive Edition.
Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy- Definitive Edition on Xbox is an overpriced and poorly produced release which does absolutely no favours to the classic games it attempts to celebrate. The experience here is far from definitive, and aside from the sheer laziness in the graphical remastering and performance, it introduces a whole slew of performance issues. This is not how you want to experience these genre classics for the first time, and for long-time fans looking for a hit of nostalgia, you’re better off leaving your memories untainted. In fact, you should find some way to play the original versions, if only they hadn’t been deleted and delisted…
You can pick up the Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy- Definitive Edition from the Xbox Store