CJ, Tommy and Claude - the storied Grand Theft Auto criminal characters of our early gaming experiences return to all major consoles enhanced to appease our contemporary visual expectations.
On the 20th Anniversary of world-famous crime-simulator Grand Theft Auto III: Liberty City came an announcement of a different class entirely: Grand Theft Auto 3, Vice City and San Andreas, known as the Trilogy, are being remastered and are set to release to Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo (yes, you can play GTA games on a transportable handset) consoles digitally come November the 11th and physically on December the 7th. Now built in the celebrated Unreal Engine by Rockstar and Grove Street Games, The Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy Definitive Edition is likely to rekindle many an old memory for those born in the 80’s and early 90’s – it’s like Fortnite being remastered two decades from now when its players are in their mid-to-late thirties. Remastering games of this calibre is a slippery slope; you can’t rid the game of its fundamental parts and feel, but you do need to give it a makeover using elements of generation nine technology.
Out with the old?
In good part are the classic old-school polygon graphics the factor that made the initial GTA games so fun to re-visit, their simplicity is endearing – it is after all the style of the time that we knew and loved. Nevertheless, it would be neat to see this design rendered in a quality acceptable by today’s standards whilst retaining that trademark GTA feel – this is precisely what Grove Street Games have ostensibly achieved. Though the bag is mixed as it always would be, many fans do not need ray-tracing or absurd water mechanics, they just want to be able to see the game polished and playable.
Where do gameplay features differ?
The archaic button system is case in point here; after many years of using modern controls, playing the original GTA games can prove an arduous task. All three games in The GTA Trilogy will take on a modern controller system reflecting games of the modern era, like GTA V, meaning all areas of gameplay; driving; fighting; cycling, and shooting should all meet the mark. The systems now underpinning these actions negate the pitfalls of a technologically dependent generation; Rockstar have implemented a Satnav into the mix – a feature we took for granted in recent years – how well would you navigate the streets of Los Santos without way-markers? On top of that, we are also gifted a GTA V-style weapon wheel along with a similar radio flick-through set-up. Gunplay back in the day was a totally different kettle of fish; the industry status quo has adapted since – Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy look to embrace that paradigm shift, drive-by shooting included. Rockstar have also been sewing into gameplay many housekeeping updates too, the ability to restart failed missions immediately being a salient example. These changes are described as ‘quality of life’ upgrades and ensure that our nostalgia is not in any dampened or dwindled by outdated gameplay mechanics.
Do graphics undergo changes too?
Isn’t this a remaster? A tweaked motion system is fantastic, yeah – but where are the graphical updates? They are there, don’t you worry! Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy encompasses sundry visual updates; greatly revamped lighting systems including darker shadows, improved textures, and better overall clarity/ Coexisting with a brushed-up graphical fidelity, characters have too had a makeover, they are still cartoonish and animated but now have life-like responsiveness and facial expressions to them thus making cut-scenes all the more convincing. Vehicles and the road they drive on are far sharper, dynamic weather effects look fantastic and a longer draw distance (length of a view) ‘provides a new level of depth’ to the various cityscapes and suburbia. The GTA Trilogy is said to run in 4k with up to (emphasis on up to) 60 frames per second, not quite the paragon of graphical performances but more than enough to facilitate an amusing blast from the past in a way not confined by sometimes cringe-worthy visuals. Don’t get me wrong, these GTA games were in the vanguard of their time, though we have crossed the threshold of an evert horizon we cannot turn back from; look at Ghost of Tsushima, Far Cry 6 and Life is Strange: True Colours - there really is no going all the way back once you’ve experienced graphics of this calibre.
The myriad alterations made to graphical and physical gameplay elements achieve precisely what they set out to do: bring great games albeit outdated closer to contemporary technology, extending their lifespan deservedly for a few extra years. Now let me ask you this: have you played either GTA III, Vice City or San Andreas in recent years? The answer for most will be no, we’ve had many newer games to become addicted to. For memories sake, let’s quickly dive spoiler-free into just what each game entails should you have forgotten or not played them in the first place.
Grand Theft Auto 3
The first game of the trilogy, Grand Theft Auto III, begins in Liberty City, a city modelled on 2001 New York, a place that dramatically changed a month before the game was set to release. GTA 3 follows Claude as he becomes embroiled in the criminal underbelly of the city and details the many trials, tribulations and cerebral decisions needed to make it in such a world. The game is still touted as one of the greatest titles yet made – much of its formula is likely still used twenty years later in the development of GTA VI.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
A year later in October 2002 we got the chance to take a trip to Miami in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. A neon city full of, well, vices, the game revolves around biker gangs and drug lords alike and is again considered up there with all-time gaming big hitters. We become Tommy Vercetti as he completes a fifteen-stretch and tries to embrace American liberty and become re-adjusted to the life of a free man. Plot twist: Tommy concludes there is little way to turn bar the crime world – the story ensues.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
This time two years later arrives the last entry of The Trilogy: Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. A game that is still referenced often in popular media, particularly around character Big Smoke, this is the entry that immediately pops to mind when thinking of the classic GTA titles. San Andreas tells the story of Carl ‘CJ’ Johnson as he comes to terms with the murder of his mother, he returns to his roots in the state of San Andreas, a recipe based on San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles. The Grove Street Families have been denuded of their influence, instead now overrun by organised crime syndicates known as C.R.A.S.H and the Ballas – CJ’s mission is to restore Grove Street to the feared status it once had. But he must encounter deceit, treachery, lechery, drugs, violence and all else involved in gang-life and warfare before he can do so.
Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy - The Definitive Edition makes leaps and bounds in its remastering capabilities, the trailer featured above will tell you as much. While The Trilogy is not the hyper-realistic urban landscape we may have been used to in the late 2010’s and early 2020’s, it is a brilliant way to reminisce on the echoes of many of our teenage years and early gaming (explicit) experiences in technology we are accustomed to. Taking a walk down memory lane can’t come quickly enough: November 11th for Digital copies, December 7th for Physical. See you in Vice City baby!
Images sourced from Rockstar.