The Calm Before the Storm
Rockstar Games released L.A. Noire in 2018 for Nintendo Switch but, since then, the studio has been pretty neglectful of the stereotypically family-friendly hybrid console, despite its undeniable commercial success with young adults. It came as a pleasant surprise to many when Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition was announced for all major platforms, making it the first time these critically-acclaimed games (GTA III, GTA: Vice City, & GTA: San Andreas) would be available not only on a handheld device, but also on a Nintendo system.
Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition was developed by Grove Street Games, a studio primarily known for porting over the Grand Theft Auto trilogy to mobile devices in celebration of each game’s respective 10th anniversary. The Definitive Edition enhances these older ports by rendering them within Unreal Engine 4, bringing along with it better lighting, shadows and reflections, reworked textures, and AI upscaling. Plenty of quality of life changes have been made as well, including but not limited to; a new control scheme and gameplay features to make them more reminiscent of GTA V, gyro aiming and the ability to use the touch screen to navigate the camera and menus (exclusive to the Nintendo Switch version). It also includes the much needed ability to instantly restart a mission upon failure.
Grand Theft Auto III was the start of something special when it first launched in 2001 for PlayStation 2, as it brought the franchise into the 3D open-world of cars, violence, sex, and drugs – all elements of the series that fans have come to know and love. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City released one year later, with Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas following in 2004. Since then, these games have been touted as some of the greatest of all time. The notion that these beloved titles would be getting a remaster felt almost too good to be true, and unfortunately, it mostly was.
What Went Wrong?
Some features that were present in the original release of the games are strangely absent from The Definitive Edition. Run-Around LS was a two player co-op mode in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas but, while that seems like it would be the perfect fit for the Nintendo Switch, it’s nowhere to be found. There are plenty of other minor omissions too, including the disappearance of fog and haze due to a newly increased draw distance. While this was intended as a graphical improvement, it ends up making the games feel a lot less atmospheric.
On top of this, The Definitive Edition is disappointingly riddled with gameplay bugs, framerate issues, and “upgraded” character models that oftentimes look worse than the originals, which fundamentally turn the otherwise quality storytelling and gameplay experience into an utterly frustrating mess. While some of these bugs are excusable due to their presence in the originals, with the developers wanting to properly preserve its history, there are many instances of fresh new glitches and texture issues that are impossible to ignore. Ironically, the word “definitive” is certainly misleading in this case.
According to a technical analysis by Digital Foundry, GTA III on Nintendo Switch runs at a mere 648p resolution docked and 480p in handheld mode, with the framerate capped at 30fps. While this normally wouldn’t be a dealbreaker, as Switch owners are accustomed to this performance on some of the more graphically demanding ports like DOOM Eternal, the instability of the framerate on all three of the games in the GTA trilogy is very apparent. This makes for a painfully jittery experience during practically the entire playthrough.
We can only speculate as to why and how things ended up this way. Referring over to Grove Street Games’ LinkedIn profile page, the company has 21 employees, which is a relatively small number of people heading up development of three massive open-world remastered ports. Combining that with the fact that the studio mostly has experience with mobile ports, and that the project was only in development for a little over 2 years, right in the middle of a pandemic, we can get a pretty good idea as to where things went wrong. It’s also possible that Rockstar Games wanted The Definitive Edition available to consumers in time for the holiday season, causing the games to be released in a clearly unfinished state.
Not All Hope is Lost
As for the gameplay itself, It’s important to remember that these games are almost 20 years old, making it only natural that certain aspects will feel outdated. The AI of the NPCs is quite flawed and, while sometimes it can provide for comedic Skate 3-esque enjoyment, it can also cause some minor annoyance during missions. Overall though, the entire trilogy has aged quite gracefully, especially with the new GTA V inspired controls. Simply put, driving around the city in stolen vehicles, shooting opposing gang members, and participating in the violence of the illegal drug trade is just as fun as it used to be.
Each entry in the trilogy greatly improves upon the previous, with Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas being the clear top dog when it comes to an interesting story, unique characters, entertaining missions, and its impressive map size. That isn’t to say that GTA III and GTA: Vice City don’t hold up well too, but the three games should definitely be played in their original order of release. Each game further perfects the series’ formula by adding new mechanics and gameplay touch ups that make the open-world feel that much more engaging.
Following fan backlash, Rockstar Games has apologized for the current state of the release, promising future updates to fix many of the problems that have been reported. The first update, Version 1.02, has already launched for all platforms, which fixes a plethora of game-breaking bugs, glitches, and localization issues. While there is still a lot of work to be done, this is definitely a big step in the right direction, though it remains to be seen if aspects such as framerate will be improved upon. Here’s a piece of what Rockstar had to say:
– Rockstar Games
“We have ongoing plans to address the technical issues and to improve each game going forward. With each planned update, the games will reach the level of quality that they deserve to be.”
Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition is currently sitting at a 0.7/10 user score on Metacritic, making it the 9th worst reviewed Nintendo Switch game on the site. It’s pretty understandable as to why both hardcore fans and newcomers of the GTA series would be upset with this latest release, but let’s just hope that Rockstar Games continues to fulfil their promise, creating a redemption arc that the remasters of these legacy titles deserve.
A copy of Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition was provided to My Nintendo News by Nintendo UK for the purpose of this feature.