Grand Theft Auto III - The Definitive Edition Review

Richard Walker

There's simply no understating the impact of Grand Theft Auto. It's a series that's become indelibly woven into the cultural fabric, and with each new release GTA is the subject of unprecedented hype, the open-world phenom known for its always ambitious scope, filmic narratives, whip-smart satire, and a dizzying attention to detail. In short, when you play GTA, you know you're in for a quality gaming experience. And, with the release of the clumsily titled Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition, it seems that seal of guaranteed quality, which normally comes with a Rockstar game, has been tarnished. As remasters go, this isn't one that will have you cooing with nostalgia, reliving past glories while enjoying classic games, buffed with a 4K visual sheen – instead, it's a messy affair, stripping away much of the character of the original releases. 'Definitive' it most certainly isn’t.


This will never not be fun.

Let's start with Grand Theft Auto III. A watershed moment upon its 2001 release, GTA III marked a brave new stride into fully 3D open worlds, after the relatively crude, but no less influential, original Grand Theft Auto games. Having previously been confined to two-dimensional top-down cities, stepping into three dimensions, for GTA III, was astounding at the time, and even twenty years on Liberty City still stands as a remarkable achievement. For The Definitive Edition, the game's remastered visuals and modernised controls actually succeed in bringing a twenty-year-old game back to life, despite some fairly nasty flickering textures and rainy weather effects that send visibility plummeting to almost zero. Nonetheless, the essence of the original game remains, despite the remaster's technical shortcomings. GTA III actually benefits the most from an overhaul, while Vice City and San Andreas get the short end of the stick.

Again, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City has been brought bang up to date with overhauled controls, but is not without its own selection of visual oddities. Superficially, The Definitive Edition version serves as an entirely serviceable, cleaned up take on the 2002 original, albeit with a few strange-looking, slightly waxy character models. As in GTA III, the same frustrations with certain missions persist, but it's the graphical issues, like flickering clouds and textures, that stick out like a sore thumb. Tour Vice City by chopper, meanwhile, and the complete lack of fog exposes the map in its entirety, removing much of the game's smoggy urban atmosphere. Incidentally, the same is true of San Andreas' Definitive Edition makeover – without a hanging smog, the city is deprived of its oppressive ambiance, air pollution or litter on the streets seemingly no longer a problem in Los Santos.

Vice City still stands as one of Rockstar's finest moments: the perfect marriage of Hollywood talent bringing its 'A' game, an impeccable 1980s soundtrack, and a vibrant, neon-soaked city on the beach. Sadly, Vice City and San Andreas have both had a fair bit of music nixed from its soundtrack, making any claim that this is a 'Definitive Edition' of those games, all the more difficult to swallow. If you're as attached to some of the missing songs as we are, purely on the basis of nostalgia, then you'll be bitterly disappointed to find that they're still absent, as they are in previous ported releases. For now, the original versions of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and San Andreas remain the definitive editions, with their respective soundtracks complete and untouched, safe from expired licenses and the threat of permanent removal.


While Vice City has stood the test of time (aided by some evocative new lighting), it feels like time has been slightly less kind to San Andreas, some characters looking rather wonky. Essentially, very few members of the game's cast stand up to close scrutiny, the same waxen finish lending them a bizarre, cartoon look that flies in the face of San Andreas' narrative and tone. At times, it looks plain weird, and there are obvious hallmarks of sloppiness, too, if you know where to look. Take, for instance, NPCs wearing basketball jerseys, who've had different numbers plonked on top of a clearly bump-mapped number '7', or characters whose faces have been rendered comically unrecognisable. The majority of GTA: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition's issues are restricted to visuals and performance, so, the good news is, that the games themselves play well enough.

And if you can look past the visual snafus and minor bugs, The Definitive Edition has a great deal to offer from a pure gameplay standpoint. The controls, lifted from GTA V, are intuitive and sensibly laid out, while the addition of a radial menu for selecting weapons and radio stations is a welcome upgrade. Auto saves and checkpoints also go a long way towards alleviating old frustrations, meaning that instead of having to load up a save, then drive back to a mission upon failure, you can jump back into a mission almost instantaneously. It’s easy to forget how much of a pain retrying missions in the old GTA games used to be, so from an accessibility standpoint we’ve never had it so good.

Indeed, for anyone without a nostalgic connection to the original games, Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition offers a window into the formative years of the most iconic, culture-shifting video game series, with a wealth of modern trappings and few, if any, of the old-fashioned annoyances. As a bundle of three games that came to define the shape of open-worlds, The Definitive Edition offers a unique chance to delve into gaming history with all of the modern accoutrements you could possibly want. And yet, taking into account the broad influence of GTA III, Vice City, and San Andreas, you can’t help but feel that, as a collection, all three titles have been given short shrift in some form or other. Of the games included here, Vice City gets away with the fewest scuffs, and on its own, GTA III is actually a decent enough - if unremarkable - remaster, despite its hideous rain effects.


Time hasn't been all that kind to the Grove Street gang.

But with some abhorrent character models and an environment that’s been unusually sanitised, it's San Andreas that loses out the most in its jump from the PS2 and Xbox era, not least in its suite of radio stations, with 20 tunes whittled from its soundtrack. Introducing increased depth with a variety of RPG elements, San Andreas included the ability to affect your weight through eating and exercise, engage in relationships, and enhance your proficiency in almost all abilities through the act of doing them. As such, it remains this collection's most expansive and immersive sandbox, but it's Vice City that strikes the right balance, and emerges as The Definitive Edition's highlight. As a whole, however, Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition can't be seen as anything but an abject disappointment, its art style marred by plasticky textures and its soundtrack missing some key songs – as a tribute to such enormously influential games, it simply doesn't do them the justice they deserve. Developer Grove Street Games’ seemingly rushed effort in restoring an iconic series is conspicuously slapdash - one worthy of a six-star wanted level and a spell in game development sing-sing.

Grand Theft Auto III - The Definitive Edition

A messy remaster of three genre-defining open worlds, Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition fails in giving GTA III, Vice City, and San Andreas the treatment they deserve, but beneath the slightly shabby veneer, those same great games remain.

Form widget
60%
Audio
80%

Despite the loss of several iconic tracks from Vice City and San Andreas radio stations, what's left is still fantastic, and thankfully, most of the soundtrack remains intact. Special mention should also go to how good the voice acting remains, setting the gold standard.

Visuals
50%

Twenty years on, GTA is looking its age, and developer Grove Street Games' attempt at an update sadly falls short. We're all for preserving the art style of the originals, but the sloppiness with which some characters have been altered, alongside a litany of technical niggles, drag this down into the doldrums.

Playability
80%

Modernised controls and other quality of life improvements ensure that the GTA trilogy feels suitably contemporary. Even the slapdash visual overhaul can't conceal the excellent games that still exist at the heart of this collection, enhanced with neat additions like a radial menu, improved gunplay, auto saves, and so on.

Delivery
40%

Put simply, 'The Definitive Edition' is a misnomer. With missing music, dodgy visuals, and a handful of performance issues, it's a collection that fails to justify its premium price tag, and its billing as 'Definitive'. These are games that deserve much better.

Achievements
70%

Missable secret achievements will annoy some, while the rest are unsurprisingly geared towards 100% completion. There's little here that's unpredictable or interesting, but being able to play three GTA classics with achievements at all, is more than welcome.

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