Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition (Switch) Review
I was excited when I first learned that the original Grand Theft Auto games were coming to the Nintendo Switch. After 20 years, they were coming to a Nintendo system and a portable one that promised a range of improvements to the game to help bring them into the modern era. Well, we got the Grand Theft Auto Trilogy on a Nintendo system, and you can play it wherever you want – and there are some improvements – but almost everything else went wrong with these remasters, and they’re made even worse on the Switch.
When Rockstar announced this remaster, it did so at the expense of the versions of the game already released. Now, because the Switch didn’t have any previous GTA ports already, we’re not at a loss there. But because Rockstar Games and Grove Street Games chose to throw the baby out with the bathwater and throw away nearly two decades years of mods and improvements to the original games and remake the games in an entirely new engine, we’ve got a lot of issues. The two novel-length patch notes and the countless memes we’ve had since these were released will attest to that.
Grand Theft Auto 3, Vice City and San Andreas are all watershed moments in gaming history. We should be celebrating that, and as a bonus, we can play them on a Nintendo console. Instead, they’re presented in what is possibly the worst way possible. How can such old games run so poorly? (That’s a rhetorical question, it’s the new engine).
It’s taken me so long to write this review because where do you start? Do you start on the framerate? It’s low and may be expected on the Switch, but it hitches and stutters even when changing the radio station. Buildings render in front of you as you’re driving along, cars too as well. The game runs so poorly that the faster you go, the framerate can’t even keep up with your inputs, and your car starts to wobble, and you end up in a ditch, off a bridge, or worse – wasted and back without your weapons. This all happens with the game looking like someone smeared vaseline into your eyes.
I almost talked myself into believing that this low resolution could be some sick nod to how the games looked back in the day. But when you see the games running on PC or an Xbox Series X, and while those ports aren’t perfect, at least the engine change lets some things shine. You can’t shine through this.
There have been two patches for these three games, and while they have fixed a lot, they’re things that should have never shipped in the first place. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Liberty City surrounded by buildings, in Vice City rolling down the strip or out in the wilderness in San Andreas. The games just don’t run well, and I don’t think it’ll ever be possible for them to do so here.
Then there are the “improvements”. The entire Trilogy got a makeover with basically every character model redone – and while some people hate it – I could live with it if everything else with the game was fine. The game’s “GTA V style” controls come down to adding a crosshair to the game’s gun combat. Sadly this doesn’t come anywhere near making the game “modern” enough to appeal to anyone who isn’t thirty years old. The older guard might be able to put up with that, but everyone else will still just find it frustrating.
The Nintendo Switch version doesn’t have any graphical options like the other consoles aside from turning Bloom off. There are two exclusive features to the Switch: touch screen menus and motion controls. Which uh, yeah alright touch screen menu controls – wahoo. The motion controls, which you think help the new “GTA V controls”, are instead just poorly implemented and even harder to wield. You could spend a lot of time tweaking them, and in the end, you’re still going to turn it off.
The stories of these games are still fun to play through, especially Vice City and San Andreas. GTA 3 has aged the worse with a now simple map and less exciting things to see and do. Vice City’s locale can’t be beaten, but San Andreas, With its lite-RPG elements like stamina, weight, and all the side missions, means there’s a reason to push through the problems if you’re willing.
On paper, this Trilogy remasters sounds like a done deal. All the points are there to let a new generation of players enjoy these games – warts and all. However, what we really have is an insult to the legacy of these games, to fans of the series and the word Remastered. These ports should be avoided unless you’re a diehard fan. Because these games always had a level of jank that you could put up with, and those fun games are still here if you fight through the pain. But for anyone else, trust that GTA 3, Vice City and San Andreas were terrific games and play their legacy in everything else they inspired instead. I don’t think there are any amount of patches that can help the Switch version of this Trilogy.
+ Despite this crummy port job, the games are super still fun - somewhere in there
+ After several patches, the games are only just playable
+ Terrific soundtracks (what's left of them)
- The framerate, low resolution, glitches, bugs, pop-in, hitches and jank
- Removal of specific music tracks still suck, but no replacements is a miss
- Redone models won't be for everyone
- Motion controls are useless