The GTA Trilogy remaster or “Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – Definitive Edition” dropped this week, promising a new way to enjoy three classic open world adventures from yesterdecade. For new players, this would be a wild trip into a time when ‘open world’ was a discrete but simple genre, rather than a cross-genre design ideology that has seeped its way into dozens of franchises.
But for returning players, these won’t be the games that they remembered. And as far as Rockstar Games is concerned there is no going back. By deleting the original versions of the three games that make up the collection – Grand Theft Auto III, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City – from all digital storefronts, Rockstar has effectively scrubbed its own history.
And that’s a real problem. For while the GTA Trilogy remaster adds many welcome improvements and features, it is repeatedly undermined by questionable aesthetic choices. The response to these choices have been mixed, and while aesthetics are a matter of subjective taste there’s no denying that even when many technical missteps are overlooked, it’s far from the “definitive” edition.
Many of the choices that could be arguably rated as objectively good improvements have unforeseen consequences. A more dynamic lighting system gives everything a more realistically lit appearance, but it has also made corners of the world too dark. Playing around with brightness and contrast settings helped but some players are reporting the need to adjust their TV settings to get a clearer experience.
Retexturing the game has led to some mixed results. While many of the streets, buildings and objects look more detailed, closer in fidelity to recent Rockstar releases, some textures are poorly upscaled or not aligned properly with the game world and its retro-simple geometry. So while we have a sharper, crisper Liberty City, San Andreas and Vice City, there are places where it’s a Euclidean nightmare.
Environmental glitches such as flickering textures, invisible bridges, poorly implemented rain effects, invisible and impassable barriers are all over the games. Even typography hasn’t been spared by upscaling which likely had minimal human involvement, rendering words like “enchiladas” from their original textures to “enchilaoas,” because a low-res D is indistinguishable from an O.
None of these issues will be dealbreakers for people who just want to start playing an old favorite. But there’s no denying that the GTA Trilogy remaster feels rushed, somewhere between what some might call a cash grab and an unfinished release, a work-in-progress. And yet I doubt that developer Grove Street Games, the studio in charge of the remaster wanted to ship it in this state.
And that’s fine! Corporations do what they want in shipping product or whatever, that’s capitalism, baby. But taking down popular mods, suing hobbyist developers and delisting the original games wasn’t really necessary. These decisions simply alienate consumers who might want to opt into ancient history, retro jank and all by making them inaccessible to anyone reluctant to you know, pirate the games.
And I really do mean, “not necessary.” Although some players were divided on the updates to combat and overall lighting direction in Mass Effect: Legendary Edition was pretty well received, EA and Bioware have kept the original Xbox 360, PS3 and PC releases available on digital stores. Ditto for Saints Row: The Third, which continues to be available despite the existence of a mostly excellent remaster.
All of this highlights the importance of game preservation, a cultural endeavor whose obstacles are imposed by corporations that dislike products being available without any clear financial benefit to be had. I personally don’t have much interest in re-experiencing old games, but it’s important to recognize that remasters are simply a publisher’s new version, and not replacements for the originals.
Moreso when what the GTA Trilogy remaster has failed to accomplish what a remaster should, which is to make the essence of a classic an experience that can be enjoyed by modern audiences. Instead, between glitches, bugs and inconsistent texture work, we have the equivalent of a monkey Jesus painting, or the Mr. Bean version of the Mona Lisa.
What Take-Two and Rockstar are basically communicating to fans and consumers is that Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – Definitive Edition should be the only version of these games you should enjoy, and every single change, the good ones and the bad, are to be accepted. Which would be fine, if this weren’t right now, the worst version of for what many had previously considered to be a classic series.