The GTA Definitive Edition release is an unmitigated disaster
After suing all mods into oblivion, and removing the original versions of their games from all digital retailers, Rockstar and Take Two had cleared the way to release GTA Trilogy: the definitive edition, without any possible competition. Now that the trilogy is out, fans understand why: the remake is a disaster, technically as well as from a release flow perspective.
GTA Trilogy: 0.9 Metacritic Score from users
On Metacritic, the GTA Trilogy Definitive Edition stands at a (never seen before?) 0.9 Metacritic score from users. Which metacritic underlines as: “Overwhelming dislike” from 1500 users and counting.
One reviewer states:
The facts that rockstar released something so poor and cheaply made is an embarrassment.
Of course, it’s not the first time that a game gets review-bombed by users on metacritic, and the story behind the “definitive edition” release (see: “suing fans” above) is probably as much to blame for the poor reviews, as the quality of the remake itself. But professional critics are not treating the remaster kindly either, with a current Metascore of 64 (“mixed or average”).
GTA Trilogy Definitive Edition: the good and the bad
So, beyond the fact that Rockstar handled this release extremely poorly (we’ll get back to that in the next section), what do reviewers have to say about the actual game?
In the pros, some quality of life changes compared to the original games are being mentioned: The weapon wheel and the ingame map feature in particular are mentioned by lots of reviewers as being great additions, as well as “the ability to instantly restart missions after being killed, busted, or otherwise failing”. Although the games are 20 year old by now, and should be reviewed with that context in mind, most reviewers acknowledge that the games remain fun to play in the remasters.
But the praise pretty much stops there. So far, even the most positive professional reviewers mention “mixed” feelings. And all reviewers agree: this version of the trilogy does not deserve the pompous title of “definitive edition”. As GGManLives states on his youtube Channel: “The only thing definitive about this edition is that it definitively made me want my money back”.
The many issues of these remastered versions are widely known by now: the rain effect makes parts of the game almost unplayable. Some character redesigns and 3D models look terrible. Some art “choices” (possibly related to the 3D engine change) are questionable. In particular, the game has removed the fog which contributed largely to the atmosphere of the original games. Also, the textures in the game manage to look more “generic” than the originals.
— Janky (@JankyNedelko) November 11, 2021
It also takes a lot of guts to call it a “definitive edition” when some important content is actually missing. Probably due to licensing issues, a lot of the iconic music from the original games is simply not there. The list goes on, and on.
Screenrant have what I would call a “balanced” review, but trust me, it’s not pretty.
On Nintendo Switch, the situation is even worse, with NintendoLife giving it 4 points out of 10, and stating:
“as it turns out, Rockstar must have been almost fully divorced from reality to let this port release in the state in which we’ve reviewed it.[…]This is a trilogy that should run beautifully on Switch, there can be no excuses. What we’ve got instead is an outright weird graphical makeover, blurry Vaseline-smeared visuals, janky controls, a constantly struggling frame rate, myriad bugs and glitches, missing music, low quality audio, bizarrely long loading times, freezes, and more besides. This is a trio of Grand Theft Auto games running and, in some regards, looking worse than we’ve ever seen them, and we just don’t get it.”
GTA Definitive Edition: What happened?
We’ve mentioned a bit above that Rockstar/Take-Two did “clear the way” for the landing of this edition. Most notably, they went against a lot of fans through lawsuits to get rid of mods of the original game, in particular reverse-engineered versions that allowed the original games to run on multiple platforms including the Nintendo Switch.
It doesn’t stop here: LibertyCity mods site reports that Take-Two have DMCA’ed some of their mods, including what was simply a save file “with 65% of the story completed. It’s not even a mod”.
Following elimination of the dangerous threats that their fans represent, Take-Two pushed further and decided they would remove the original games from retailers. Making it practically impossible to experience GTA on anything else than the remastered trilogy. Maybe someone in their marketing department figured it would be the only way anybody would actually buy the “definitive” edition.
Those things were already fishy, but most mainstream media didn’t seem to consider this a big issue at the time, maybe just another example of a David vs Capitalist Goliath. Red flags started coming to them when Rockstar didn’t send “review versions” of the games. The remaster hit the shelves before reviewers could get their hands on it. Uh oh…
And it turns out, surprise, surprise, that these remasters are bad. But wait, there’s more!
Rockstar had to pull the game from their PC store, after realizing it had shipped with unintentional files. Namely, some of the songs that had been removed for licensing reasons, but also some scripting files for the games missions. Although not the actual source code of the games, this is a significant chunk of what makes the logic of the games, and could possibly be used by modders in the future.
Speaking of modders, many have stated that they are not interested to work on GTA anymore, given the animosity Take-Two/Rockstar have given them.
The original games of the trilogy, along with the many mods that contributed massively to their continued success over the past twenty years, remain the best way to play the GTA trilogy, in particular compared to the poorly-received “definitive edition”. Sadly, acquiring these original games and mods is now harder than ever, “thanks” to Rockstar’s legal efforts against their fans.
It feels to me that the GTA Definitive Edition release will remain in history as a prime example of how not to make and release a remastered game. It looks and feels like no effort was put into what appears to be a cash grab. To me, this puts even more the spotlight on brilliant remasters such as the recently released “Mass Effect Legendary Edition” which has received praises from gamers and critics alike, and recognize the effort/love that some companies actually put into a remaster.