It’s been a long time since Rockstar has released a Grand Theft Auto game that wasn’t a port of GTA V. Fans were understandably excited, then, at the prospect of playing a more modern take on some open-world classics. But while there is a lot to like here, including some nice quality of life improvements and better lighting, there’s much that needs to be fixed, too.
For those unaware, Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – Definitive Edition is a remastered collection of GTA III, Vice City, and San Andreas. It features improved visuals, improved controls, and a number of changes that bring the older games more in line with the recent games. On next-gen consoles and PC, you can even play all three games at 60 FPS. That all sounds nice. After playing each game in the collection for about an hour on the Xbox Series X, though, I’m disappointed.
The disappointment takes some time to settle in. Right from the start, seeing the world of GTA III with real-time lighting is shocking. It’s like coming back to an old childhood hang and finding everything’s been spruced up. When cars drive by, their headlights create dynamic shadows as NPCs walk through them. Neon signs illuminate the world around them and the mornings feature beams of sunlight caressing the spaces between buildings and trees. Thanks to the Unreal engine, the 30 FPS “fidelity mode” and the 60 FPS “performance mode” are wonderful to behold.
But the lighting changes also some new problems. Namely, some areas of the game are too dark, especially around the more claustrophobic alleys and streets of GTA III. Playing around with the limited visual options in the settings for each game helped somewhat, but I ended up having to tweak my TV settings as well to get the best possible image. Since Rockstar has said the trilogy will indeed get updates, hopefully the developers finesse the lighting some more. Maybe we should give Claude a flashlight, or something.
Like the new lighting system, the improved textures are at times stunning and distracting. Many buildings, streets, and other places contained in the trilogy look more detailed, with some textures on par with GTA V or other modern open-world games. Some models have also been replaced, like the trees in the forests of San Andreas, making these old digital worlds a bit less barren.
However, these changed textures aren’t always perfect, including more glaring problems that have been shared on Twitter. You’ll often see textures that aren’t properly aligned or seem to be upscaled and broken. I found an alley in Vice City that looked noticeably off, with a center gutter that was broken up in a few spots and seemed to go under buildings, making the whole area look wrong.
None of this stuff—the lighting, strange models, clipping issues, texture mistakes, and general wonkiness—is a huge dealbreaker. But this is a $60 package that is claiming to be the “Definitive Edition” of these games. And right now… it doesn’t feel like it.
It’s not all bad, of course. The controls are a definite highlight. You can now free aim and auto-aim with the left trigger in a way that feels more like GTA V than GTA Vice City. The controls aren’t as smooth as newer GTA games, but generally, the controls made life easier during missions.
Likewise, the ability to slow down time and bring up a weapon wheel is vastly better than the old alternative of spamming the weapon switch button to quickly try to get to your desired gun. And you now get a small GPS path drawn on your radar, similar to newer open-world games, making it easier to navigate the various cities in the collection. This is all good stuff that will go a long way toward making these games approachable to folks who didn’t grow up with these GTA games.
Yet, right now I’d recommend not grabbing the Trilogy collection on any platform. Currently, these games feel floppy and rough in a way that the old games didn’t, even taking into account some of the original clunkiness present in these games. But the new collection seems to add more glitches to the mix, some of which seem to be bugs that originated back in the famously awful San Andreas mobile port.
On top of that, players on Switch have reported numerous performance and graphical issues that make the game nearly unplayable during some sections. On Xbox Series X, in performance mode, I’ve noticed frequent FPS dips and some general slowness. The older consoles have also seen reports of performance issues. There are also weird bugs, including one that tosses your character and car way into the air randomly. And unlike the texture bugs and lighting changes, these gameplay and performance issues are much harder to ignore and actively ruin the experience.
I wanted to love these remastered games, as I’m a big fan of the older GTA titles. The idea here is sound; I wanted to experience these games in their full glory, without the wonkiness.
Currently, the collection needs a bit more polish before I’d recommend picking it up. Undoubtedly, though, diehard GTA fans or players who have no other way to experience these games are going to have an easier time overlooking these problems. But for most people, I’d recommend waiting to see if Grove Street Games and Rockstar punch these games up.