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Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy - Definitive Edition Review - Underdefined

Rockstar and Grove Street Games' Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy - Definitive Edition doesn't contain the best versions of GTA 3, Vice City, and San Andreas, but it can occasionally be very pretty to look at in motion. All three games are still as engaging as they were when they released 20, 19, and 17 years ago, but an overall lack of polish and inexplicably missing features make it hard to call the GTA Trilogy the "definitive" way to play them - which makes it even more unfortunate Rockstar recently made GTA's older versions harder to come by.

Despite how the Definitive Edition (specifically, the Definitive Edition's characters) look in screenshots, for the most part all three Grand Theft Auto titles in the GTA Trilogy look better here than they ever have before, not counting mods. However, the visual improvements don't discount the fact that there are a lot of things missing in Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy - Definitive Edition, including basic functions like the series' iconic cinematic camera mode which premiered in GTA 3. Gone also from GTA 3 is the top-down camera angle which was added in to please players coming over from GTA 2. Both of these camera angles were also missing in previous re-releases of GTA 3, but not including them in what is called the Definitive Edition feels like a mistake.

Related: San Andreas Definitive Camera Looks Like GTA By Darren Aronofsky

Each of the three GTA games on display in the Definitive Edition are buggy in their own ways, although there are some oddities - like vehicles hovering too high above their tires, making it seem like every NPC in GTA Trilogy owns a lift kit and uses it at will - which are prevalent in all of them. There are multiple locations in GTA 3 where the overworld's visual models don't match up with the mesh underneath, creating situations where players can run straight through fences but then be stopped by invisible walls. Vice City seems to be the most unstable of all, crashing to the PS5 home screen multiple times even after short play sessions, and twice a car Tommy was driving exploded for seemingly no reason.

It isn't just the PS5 version of Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy - Definitive Edition which has problems. Another Screen Rant editor playing the game on Nintendo Switch reported similar issues, and described one mission in GTA 3 where the NPC they were attempting to chase simply fell through the level geometry and disappeared; the PC version of GTA Trilogy was pulled from the Rockstar Games Launcher shortly after release. San Andreas, by contrast, both looks the best out of all three titles and is the most consistently stable, although it has its own issues with graphical glitches, especially in cutscenes.

None of these games were bereft of issues at launch. All three 3D-era Grand Theft Auto titles suffered from instances where the level geometry would completely disappear and players would fall through the "blue hell" for a few moments before landing somewhere on the map, usually dying from fall damage as a result, and the original release of GTA 3 contained multiple bugs related to save files becoming corrupted. What makes the problems with Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy - Definitive Edition stand out so much more is the distinct lack of polish and streamlining its title suggests.

Not every change Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy - Definitive Edition makes is bad. The most immediately noticeable difference is the shooting controls. No longer will Claude and Tommy wave their arms wildly as the game struggles to determine which NPC in the immediate vicinity is worth targeting, and instead what players are presented with is a gun system slightly less enjoyable than GTA 5's. This makes all three games in the GTA Trilogy much easier overall as a result, as many of the series' most difficult missions feel somewhat neutered by including useable weapon controls.

Related: GTA: San Andreas - All Gang Tag Locations In Los Santos (GTA Trilogy Edition)

Some new but fun inclusions also make returning to Liberty City, Vice City, and San Andreas enjoyable, like San Andreas' updated bridge facts or the new cheat which lets players turn on Big Head Mode in all GTA Trilogy games if they enter the Konami code. The ability to instantly restart missions after being killed, busted, or otherwise failing is also much appreciated - although it does make Vice City's introduction of functional taxis, which would sometimes appear outside of the hospital after being killed during a mission to take Tommy quickly back to the starting point if the player wished, obsolete.

Unfortunately, while parts of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas can look stunning in the Definitive Edition, the increased draw distance and lack of any sort of fog (except, of course, when the weather itself is exceptionally foggy) make this new map look incredibly plain and quaint when compared to the original. Much like how Silent Hill 2 would look small and non-threating without its own oppressive layers of fog, the fog in San Andreas and, to a lesser extent, GTA 3 and Vice City, served to make the game world feel larger and more impressive than it really was. Without that, San Andreas feels small in a way that it never did before.

Besides the changes mentioned above (along with bringing GTA 3's driving controls more in line with the rest of the series, putting the gas on the triggers instead of the face buttons) the overall gameplay and story remains intact for all three titles in the Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy - Definitive Edition. Certain exploits are gone - players can no longer hold down R3 while exiting and entering another vehicle to transfer its side mission attributes over, for instance, and certain trees which were previously only textures are now frustratingly solid, cutting off 20-year-old shortcuts - but the experience of actually playing these games is largely unchanged.

Certain parts of each title have aged poorly, of course, whether talking about dialog or content, but other parts are oddly prophetic with twenty years of hindsight. Grand Theft Auto's radio commercials, like those for "Pets Overnight.com" or "Liberty City Survivor," felt like ridiculous satire in 2001. In 2021, however, xyzreptiles will deliver "little bundles of love, in a box, directly to your door." This extends to the characters, too - taking missions from Donald Love feels different when the player knows the real-life person that character was based on went on to become President of the United States a decade after his last appearance.

Grand Theft Auto 3, Vice City, and San Andreas are some of the PlayStation 2's best games and helped to both pioneer and define the open world genre. Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy - Definitive Edition does not provide the best way to experience these titles, nor should this be considered the "definitive" edition of the games included. The Definitive Edition is often prettier and slightly more modern in its controls and presentation, but missing features and poorly optimized content let down what could have been ideal remasters. Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy - Definitive Edition feels rushed - and after twenty years, that's disappointing.

Next: Are GTA Trilogy Remasters Why There's No GTA 6?

Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy - Definitive Edition is available now on PlayStation, Xbox, and Switch, and the PC version should be available again soon. Screen Rant was provided a PS5 code for this review.

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