The last couple of years have been a mixed bag when it comes to bringing back classic games. The likes of Resident Evil 2 and Crash Bandicoot have been remade from the ground up and released to critical acclaim… but then titles such as Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning and Mass Effect: Legendary Edition have been lacklustre at best, with minimal effort put into what basically amounted to a repackaging.
It’s in light of games like Mass Effect: Legendary Edition – which is one of the most disappointing titles of 2021 for me personally – that I look upon the clumsily-named upcoming title Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition. With the game seemingly quite close to release but nary a teaser video nor screenshot in sight, I can’t help but feel that it will be, at best, better described as a repackaging or a re-release… one with a hefty new price tag slapped on.
When Warcraft III was “remastered” last year, the original version of the game was pulled from sale. Fans could no longer play the original Warcraft III, and that became a massive problem when the “remaster” ended up being absolutely atrocious. Promised features were missing, the game was riddled with bugs, and overall fans considered it an awful experience. With no way to return to the original version of the game, many fans were left stuck.
The reason I bring up Warcraft III: Reforged as an example of a “remaster” gone wrong is because Grand Theft Auto developers Rockstar have chosen to do the exact same thing with The Definitive Edition’s three constituent games. All three have been de-listed – industry slang meaning they’ve been removed from sale digitally – on all of the platforms where they had been available. As attention shifts to the remaster, Rockstar doesn’t want anyone to be able to purchase the original version of these games.
Why? That’s the obvious question. “Money” is part of the answer; Rockstar doesn’t want the renewed attention on these three games pushing people to just pick up the original versions of one or more of the titles instead of paying a reported $70 (£60-65 in the UK) for the new version. But if the remaster is anywhere close to being as good as it should be, that shouldn’t even be a concern!
In short, Rockstar’s decision to pull Grand Theft Auto III, Vice City, and San Andreas from sale is the biggest and most clear indicator so far that they don’t have confidence in their own product. They’re already anticipating that the “remaster” is going to be savaged for making no changes or minimal changes to these three older games, so in order to force players to buy it and artificially inflate sales they’ve chosen to pull the original versions from sale – just like Blizzard did with Warcraft III. Despite Mass Effect: Legendary Edition’s many issues, EA and BioWare didn’t have the audacity to pull the original versions of the Mass Effect trilogy from sale.
I have happy memories of Grand Theft Auto. Scoring the original game in 1997 or ’98 – hot on the heels of press complaints about its violent nature and knowing it would irritate my parents – was a fun adventure and scored me bragging rights with my friends at the time! Someone I knew even got in a ton of trouble for buying the game before he turned 18! The three games from the early/mid 2000s that will be part of this remaster are also games I remember with fondness from that era. I picked up a set which included Grand Theft Auto III and Vice City for the original Xbox, then got San Andreas when it was released a couple of years later.
On the Xbox, it was possible to listen to custom soundtracks while cruising around Vice City or Los Santos. The Xbox allowed players to rip CDs to its internal hard drive, which could then be accessed in certain games – and the Grand Theft Auto titles were among them. When I lived with friends during that period, kicking back to play some Grand Theft Auto was a frequent evening and weekend pastime – and though I have no doubt I’m over-romanticising those memories (because damnit Rob, you always hogged the control pad and it drove me mad!) I still have very positive memories of these three titles as social games and as escapist entertainment with friends.
I’m sceptical that Rockstar – a company which has spent much of the past decade milking one successful game and not creating anything new – has Grand Theft Auto’s best intentions at heart with this remaster. The price tag is already generating a fair amount of sticker shock, and rightly so, but I doubt the remaster’s issues will end there.
Where are the screenshots, teasers, trailers, and gameplay videos that we should expect to see for a game that’s supposedly weeks away from release? Having seen nothing at all except one piece of box art, I feel certain that Rockstar is hiding the game for a reason. And that reason is probably simple: The Definitive Edition will be better described as a re-release or repackaging than a “remaster.”
The Definitive Edition – lacklustre or not – has been created for one reason, and one reason only: to get fans to shut up about the absent Grand Theft Auto 6 for a while. It’s a cheap and easy way for Rockstar to throw fans a bone while continuing to ignore the one thing that’s been requested over and over for almost eight years. Rockstar is unwilling to let go of Grand Theft Auto V and its lucrative online mode, but with fans increasingly agitated by the company’s antics – such as re-releasing the game yet again on the new PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X – they evidently felt that they had to be seen to offer something.
Remastering Grand Theft Auto III, Vice City, and San Andreas was clearly seen as a way to do that without having to shift any development resources away from Grand Theft Auto V and its online mode. The wheels will come off that juggernaut sooner rather than later, though, as the backlash to the announcement of the game’s re-release on the latest generation of consoles showed. I hope Rockstar has been working on something more than The Definitive Edition for when that moment comes – because it’s coming soon.
I might’ve been tempted to go back and replay these three games, but it seems like The Definitive Edition won’t be the best option for doing so, especially not at the price that has been discussed in recent days. But fundamentally, what the Grand Theft Auto series needs is not a re-release of three older titles that are still perfectly playable in their own right, but a proper sequel. Rockstar hopes that The Definitive Edition will buy them some time. Maybe they’re right – but only if it’s any good, and nothing I’ve seen or heard so far has convinced me that it will be.
Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition will be released before the end of 2021 for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X. The Grand Theft Auto series is the copyright of Rockstar and Take-Two Interactive. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.