It should have been so easy, you would have thought. Three epic open-world masterclasses that took the game industry by storm in the early noughties, finally hit Switch, and gave us all a hodgepodge of hilarious criminal hijinks. Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition on Nintendo’s portable console should be a wedding in heaven. As it turns out, however, Rockstar has to be almost completely disconnected from reality to allow this port in the state in which we checked it.
The games here themselves don’t need any introduction. Released in 2001, 2002 and 2004, Grand Theft Auto 3, Vice City and San Andreas deliver spectacular open worlds that are absolutely teeming with edgy atmosphere, fantastic soundtracks, memorable characters and hilarious slapstick action. They are meticulously crafted pieces of satirical Americana to run amok in. The stuff is all still there, but it has been massively compromised by a port which is incredible, especially considering that the latest of these games was released 17 years ago.
This is a trilogy that should run wonderfully on Switch, there can be no excuses. What we have instead is an open one strange Graphic overhaul, blurry Vaseline-smeared graphics, jerky controls, a constantly struggling frame rate, countless bugs and glitches, missing music, poor audio quality, bizarrely long loading times, freezes and more. This is a trio of Grand Theft Auto games that are running and in some ways they look worse than we’ve ever seen them, and we just don’t get it.
We started our time with this “definitive” trilogy by immersing ourselves in Grand Theft Auto 3 and from the first few moments as soon as the game starts the problems are obvious. We had to pause and turn the brightness to maximum, then reduce the contrast to zero so the picture looked acceptable before we jump into a vehicle and take off through good old Liberty City. Except that this wasn’t Liberty City as we remembered it and certainly not nearly the Liberty City we’d expect from a remodel.
This haven – a game from 2001 – suffers from constant and serious pop-in, with buildings and bushes and passers-by magically appearing all around you as you maneuver through the city streets. Worse than this, however, are the other vehicles that tend to materialize right in front of you so you have virtually no time to dodge them, an issue that directly affects the open world traversal here and almost all of the fun of driving – something you do quite a lot in GTA.
This problem also exists in all three games. It’s infinitely made worse by a frame rate that stutters whenever you’re recording a decent speed or feel like doing a few tricks, and drastically detracts from the basic pleasure you can have in those sandboxes. We no longer drove around, switched to our favorite radio station and enjoyed the offered (cut) soundtrack, but instead cursed our screen and wondered how on earth could anyone start this cherished trilogy in such a state.
It’s a strange feeling. We spent so much time playing these games that we just did expect enjoying them, but unless you have really low expectations this is next to impossible. In combat – and this applies to all three games again – the stuttering frame rate persists, which leads to some pathetically clumsy scraps. Shootings are a mess for the most part, vehicle showdowns sucks, and they’re all still hampered by controls that just don’t feel good. There’s gyro support and HD Rumble, which is something we suspect, but it doesn’t help as the shooting feels simple, clumsy and sticky, animations are choppy, and the blurry Vaseline graphics make it decipherable where your shots land, an absolute duty.
The new visuals are certainly an acquired taste (one we didn’t acquire), but they are can look good sometimes. Vice City in particular has received a nice upgrade in this regard, but it only extends as far as the city streets, ambient lighting, and the buildings themselves. Characters are a whole different story, and as I’m sure you’ve seen online, there are a lot of very strange looking people roaming the streets of these games these days. As for the main protagonists, Tommy Vercetti probably does best when it comes to the makeover, but poor old CJ looks really extremely weird in places, like a rubber figure with curved arms and a huge bump sticking out of his back when he’s crouched.
In handheld mode, some of the visual issues – the exceptionally low resolution, glitches, texture issues, etc. – can be seen in a more forgiving light and you may even occasionally feel (and almost entirely through the power of nostalgia) that old-school GTA magic . In docked mode, however, all the shortcomings are revealed here, there is nowhere to hide. The resolution is well below 720p, it has been smeared with some sort of after-effect that makes matters worse, the default image settings are terrible, and the stuttering and chattering can be clearly seen. It all looks really bad on TV, and we’ve never thought about Grand Theft Auto before.
We really thought – or maybe just hoped – this would be easy smack a ten and let’s all go to the bar some kind of review. There aren’t a lot of safe things in this business, but it was hard to imagine how they could mess this up, especially given Rockstar Games’ deep pockets and the huge resources presumably available. Still, Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition, as it emerged on Switch, is a mess. The further you go into these games, the more action builds up, the more painful all these inadequacies become. It’s no wonder Rockstar didn’t show this before it was released. It’s also no wonder you can’t capture clips of it while you play, because under no circumstances is it even close to good enough.
There are three amazing games here, three ice cold classics that we love and that we’ve played more times than we can remember, hence why this one down here even has a score. However, we strongly recommend that you do this on another platform if possible, or at least wait until it – hopefully – receives a lot of patches to bring it to the “acceptable” level. What a disappointment.
Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition on Switch brings three of the realms of gaming into one shockingly chunky package that manages to suck pretty much all of the fun out of Rockstar’s standout crime epics. This is a bad port, a shoddy, stuttering, low resolution mess full of bugs, glitches, audio problems, and more. If you can get this on another platform, we recommend that you do so, or at least wait for it to be patched and hopefully improved in the future. From today’s perspective, this is a very, very far from “final” – we don’t want to recall these games.