I can’t believe it’s been more than 20 years since Grand Theft Auto III was released. I’m old enough to remember playing the original 2D top-down game on my first PC, but it was GTA 3 on the PlayStation 2 that shifted the series into top gear.
The game featured a 3D view of the action and a refreshing freedom that ushered in a new era of open-world games. It would be hard to overstate its influence, but two decades is a long time in gaming, and its age shows. To bring this classic up to date and produce a remaster worthy of the Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy—The Definitive Edition label would take patience, care, and skill. Sadly, Rockstar handed the task off to Grove Street Games, and it seems they weren’t given the time or resources to do it justice.
Back on the mean streets of Liberty City (loosely based on New York), I feel instantly at home in cargo pants and leather jacket as I boost a Banshee and go to work for the Leone family. You play as the silent Claude in GTA 3, the intro to a trilogy that includes Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and San Andreas. Pushing beyond the first flush of nostalgic joy as I burn rubber and flick through the radio stations, I’m struck by how crude everything is—the humor, of course, but also the mission design, the threadbare setups, and the remastered art.
You can trace a growing sophistication as you go from the prototype GTA 3 through the ’80s- action-movie neon fever dream of Vice City, complete with licensed music hits from the likes of Blondie and voice acting by Ray Liotta, on to the engaging story, gang warfare, character development, and depth of San Andreas. The series got bigger and better with every step, and the all-conquering GTA V owes a major debt to its predecessors. So it’s sad to see them so carelessly handled.
There are bugs aplenty straight out of the gate in all three titles. Too many to mention, but highlights include more than one crash into the PS5 menu, falling through the map, riding a motorbike while embedded sideways in the street, NPCs running in endless circles, a cloud of charred dead guys floating permanently in midair after a helicopter explosion, and a multicolored CJ riding a bicycle that defies the laws of physics. I played on PS5, but apparently there are even bigger issues with the PC and Switch versions. Truth be told, these GTA games were always kinda buggy, but you forgave the odd physics glitch or exploding car because the scale of the open world was so impressive at the time. But this is no longer true, and besides, many of these bugs are new.