Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition Review – Xbox Series X

Grand Theft Auto Trilogy Definitive Edition launched in a laughable state. Since then, it has received several updates addressing the deluge of bugs, poor performance, and graphical blunders that plagued these beloved games. At the time of writing, patch 1.03 went live, and I have only reviewed the patch notes. I will endeavor to give you my unbiased impressions as I only recently dug into the background of how and why these games launched in the state they did. While I attempt to not jump on the dogpile of gifs showcasing the bizarre and befuddling bugs, I do want to give my honest impressions.

Having played the originals (Grand Theft Auto III, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas) when they first launched in 2001, 2002, and 2004 respectively, I expected the rose-colored glasses of my youth to get a reality check. What I didn’t expect was to continually scratch my head and think, “that doesn’t look right.” Public relations crisis aside, how do they play, and more importantly are they worth $60?

For the uninitiated, the gameplay is exactly what you’d expect. Faithful to its name, you steal cars, mow down mobsters (or civilians if that’s your thing), larceny, arson, and general skullduggery. You’ll get updated controls, however, even updated controls for Rockstar games are still PS2 controls. If you’ve ever smashed an X button to death in order to outrun the law, then you’ll be right at home.

Playing through the games, you see the original design concept of an open-world game that reacts to you. This was groundbreaking at the time and with each title, Rockstar steadily increased scale, complexity, and quality. Grand Theft Auto III feels so small in comparison to the other two games. Likewise comparing this old watershed game to modern open-world games is like revisiting your childhood bedroom. It just felt so much bigger when you were younger. This isn’t a bad thing as you can beat GTA III in about 5-7 hours. The other two games are a good bit more time to see credits roll. Although this is on the patch list, when you saw fly over San Andreas, you get a sense of how large games are now in size.

Modern control schemes and native resolutions built for today’s televisions are a great touch, but it’s the bare minimum I’d expect of any game. The games ran well enough on my Xbox Series S|X, but the issues come in when you consider what they’re running. Of course, I’d expect modern consoles to run PS2 games without dropping frames. The issue comes in when you look too closely at the character models and textures. To understand what graphically is happening you have to understand how the game was developed. It’s one thing if character models, set pieces, and rain effects were designed to look artificial, but we know that the original intent was gritty, immersive, and raw. Instead what we see is plastic-looking, artificial, and bizarre.

The project was outsourced to a development house that specializes in mobile ports called Grove Street Games. You can begin to see how this project lost its way. No disrespect to the studio, but they are clearly marked as a support studio that specializes in porting console games to mobile. It is apparent that the studio used AI image upscaling to streamline the workflow of “remastering” the assets. The result is inconsistent at best and characters look like melted action figures at worst.

To make matters worse, not all of the beloved soundtrack is present in this definitive edition. The music industry’s notorious copyright deals are a nightmare to navigate. However, if the aim was to bring these old games to a new generation, they missed the mark. I must assume someone was in charge of playtesting these games before going gold and charging people a premium. Because Rockstar saw fit to issue take-downs to modders who had worked on PC versions graphical upgrades, this is now the “best” legal way a consumer can experience these games. I hope Rockstar continues to release updates and seeks to make right what was an unforced error. Furthermore, given the revenue generated from GTA Online, there really was no reason to release this at this time. Consumers should expect more from publishers and developers. Likewise, console storefronts should have higher expectations for the content they allow to be sold.

I can’t say that I had no fun knocking around my old haunts. The older quest structure and dialogue made me nostalgic for the times when we’d turn the TV volume down lest my parents find out what games we’re playing. However, the launch version of this game was unacceptable. The Definitive Edition should at the very least hold up to the original Likewise, fans who purchased this at launch because it was a Rockstar game, have every right to be upset. There’s a long hill to climb to reclaim the goodwill Rockstar games carry in the meantime, I still have a couple of PS2’s lying around.

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