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Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – Definitive Edition Review (PS5)

Where do we even start in the GTA trilogy? Recreating rock stars’ groundbreaking sandbox trio for modern consoles should have been a slamdunk, but it received more criticism than Tommy Vercetti’s Hawaiian-inspired shirts. This is a compilation that succeeds for its core content alone, with developer Grove Street Games getting little else beyond that.

With the PlayStation 2 classics GTA 3, GTA Vice City, and GTA San Andreas, let’s start on the positive side: The Open Worlds have been modernized in a number of key areas, with vastly improved camera controls, target acquisition, and the addition of checkpoints. This means no more having to go back to a mission giver if your car unexpectedly explodes on the way home.

Additional amenities include a GPS system, similar to that found in modern sandbox games, as well as weapon and radio wheels that make switching a breeze. It was all inspired by the familiar setup in GTA 5, and while the gun game still feels ancient, take a trip back to the early 2000s and you will feel the difference.

Part of the condemnation of this package, of course, comes from business decisions outside of the product itself: Rockstar unceremoniously pulled the PS2 versions of the same games from the PS storei.e. the only way to enjoy the originals is to visit eBay. In addition, parent company Take-Two has sent legal threats to modders who have been working on their own dime to improve those titles.

It’s the kind of context you’d expect from a GTA game, which is the biggest irony here. But the background is important because as a collection of remasters, the GTA trilogy undoubtedly disappoints. All three games running on PS5 hardware suffer from serious performance issues, and in the case of GTA 3 we’re talking about a drop of just 25 frames per second in a mode that aims at 60 frames per second.

GTA San Andreas holds the best of the three, though purists might argue that its art style has been stripped of any character. Los Santos, the setting for the opening exchange with gangster group Grove Street Family, had a fuzzy look on the PS2 designed to capture the overwhelming dampness of the coastal city. It’s more detailed here, no question about it, but a lot has been lost in the translation.

The character models are another point of contention. While we weren’t expecting a full remaster like Mafia: Definitive Edition, the developer tried to clean up the original polygonal graphics and it just looks bizarre. Some stars like CJ in GTA San Andreas and even Tommy Vercetti in GTA Vice City manage the transition well – others, like the supporting cast in GTA 3, border on nightmare.

To be fair, seeing San Andreas and even Vice City in a higher resolution reveals a lot of details that were lost in the originals, though unforgivable gags murdered by the developers’ use of AI upscaling on textures are. We understand that blasting ancient assets from 480p to 2160p is a thankless task, but someone had to at least proofread them before they were added to the game.

It’s frustrating because the core trio of titles is still a lot of fun. GTA 3 has aged the worst, as you’d expect, with its simplified selection of missions centered around the dark and desolate Liberty City that lacks the creativity that would emerge in later parts. As a throwback to a simpler age of sandbox games, however, this is an iconic excursion; a groundbreaking game.

Originally released just a year after GTA 3, GTA Vice City has the flavor of an expansion pack – but it’s carried by its’ 80s aesthetic that actually translates well here. Grove Street Games screwed up the contrast, which is unfortunate, but the city’s searing neon colors and larger-than-life personalities are still popping off the screen. And even without Michael Jackson, the soundtrack is a thriller.

Of course, it’s GTA San Andreas that is arguably Rockstar North’s best work, and although many of its systems have been iterated over the 17 years since it was first released, we’d argue that it still stands shoulder to shoulder with some of the best sandboxes -Games of today. The sheer creativity of mission design, from a remote controlled war between two San Fierro nerds to a robbery where you have to woo a croupier to get a key card, is limitless.

Frustrations crop up in all three games: Even with the new checkpoint system, you will often get annoyed about loss of progress when enemies shoot you with a shot from behind walls or your vehicles inexplicably explode. There are new bugs in these remasters – we’ve lost control of our character when restarting missions a dozen times now – but many have also been carried over from the original code.

And yet there is nothing quite like GTA, even the classics when it comes together. Rockstar creates incredibly lifelike worlds, and there are systems in these games that aren’t even in today’s biggest blockbusters like Cyberpunk 2077. This alone makes all three worlds feel immersive and alive despite their age.

But there is no question that this compilation should have been better, and it works better because of Rockstar’s original work than Grove Street Games’ conversion. Even with the higher-resolution assets, all three games should run flawlessly on a PS5 – there’s no excuse for that. And it needed better art direction because a lot of the soul of the cities and characters had been removed.

diploma

All three mainline GTA games from the PS2 era are groundbreaking pieces and still stand modern scrutiny – especially the standout GTA San Andreas. As a remaster, however, these are weak: They chug on modern hardware and are undone by questionable artistic decisions. Rockstar has built its reputation on attention to detail, and while all three of these games are still highly recommended, this disappointing compilation will go down as an eyesore on the label’s records.



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