If there is one thing that being a gamer has taught me, it is to keep my expectations low before actually playing a new game.
There is a good reason for this that I can summarize as follows: Game development is back-breaking, crunch-intensive labor and no matter how hard one might try, things can and will go south with the slightest mistake; be it in coding, implementation of a physics engine, the interaction between in-game elements (for example, doors in games are notoriously hard to make realistic-looking due to various reasons) or even spelling mistakes or formatting problems in menu items. That’s why it is always a good idea to keep your expectations at the lowest possible level to fend off any possible disappointment.
Nevertheless, everyone has a soft spot, or a game for that matter, that they are infinitely biased toward. And the game that I have been biased toward for 17 years and counting is the masterpiece Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which is the best-selling game on the best-selling console of all time, the PlayStation 2.
My life is basically split between my real life in Turkey and the great (fictional) state of San Andreas. I have it on my phone, on my tablet, on every single one of my gaming consoles, on my desktop, on my Windows laptop and on my MacBook. I hope you see what I’m getting at.
Please take a moment to think about how someone that loves a game this much was disappointed after experiencing the buggy, nearly unplayable and utter mess that Rockstar Games just released. What’s even worse, GTA: San Andreas is arguably the better of the bunch, as GTA 3 and GTA: Vice City that the new trilogy gives us are even less impressive.
Let’s take a look at the ongoing saga that is sure to haunt Rockstar Games and the actual game developer that Rockstar hired to remaster the original masterpieces.
No, I’m not talking about the Los Santos gang we know and love. I’m talking about the game developer that is behind this disastrous remaster.
It turns out that the studio that previously made the infamous, much more inferior mobile ports of the original trilogy, War Drum Studios, has changed its name to “Grove Street Games” as if it was trying to clear its reputation and appeal to GTA fans and Rockstar executives alike.
The mobile remasters of the three games are very problematic in both the iOS and Android versions; they are buggy and one of the worst problems that they have is that draw distances are horrible. When you are driving your car around Vice City, or Los Santos or Liberty City for that matter, cars just materialize out of the blue on your right, left and front as mobile ports were apparently developed to be able to run on the least powerful device on the market.
Nevertheless, the duty to make the “definitive” versions of the three games was once again bestowed upon Grove Street Games (GSG) – despite their previous failure in mobile ports and the consequent backlash – by Rockstar. But instead of just making a proper “definitive edition” that truly lives up to its name, for reasons unbeknownst to us, GSG has decided to rush the games and gave Rockstar a half-baked trilogy to sell for an exorbitant price point when its current condition is taken into consideration, of course.
Sure, the graphical overhaul and the new and more realistic lighting effects look stunning generally.
But the devil's in the details. I'll explain further.
If this trilogy was a proper one, the $60 price would be fair considering that you get three games for the price of one.
But the real problem lies in the evils of the modern times that we are going through: Developers rely too much on their chances to be able to issue updates to their games after releasing them.
In the good old days, every game needed to be final and as perfect as they could be due to the mere fact that 56K internet was not technically capable of delivering hundreds of megabytes of data in humanly waiting times, and that nobody would keep their PCs turned on for days straight to be able to download a patch for the game they just bought the CD of (remember the times that games were released on CDs, anyone?).
And of course, old consoles only had an experimental relationship with the internet. The point I’m trying to make is, the convenience of broadband internet that we have access to these days and the perks that come with it have largely rendered game developers a bit too confident to release their games.
The “we will release an update if things go south” kind of thought should be a last resort rather than an excuse to shove a half-baked and unfinished piece of buggy software down people’s throats.
If I spend my hard-earned money on a game, I should be able to play it as soon as possible – after it downloads. Or, in a much rarer kind of occurrence these days, after I put its disc into my console if I decided to go through the hassle to buy its physical release.
We have come to accept the existence of “first-day updates” and that’s kind of disturbing, to say the least. What happened to testing a game properly with all the financial power that you guys at billion-dollar game studios have?
Looks like those gaming titans have just outsourced the testing phase to their customers who pay them actual money to buy their products.
That kind of slavery, the one that you even pay someone to make you work, was unknown to mankind until the post-truth and politically correct era that we, as all of humanity, have to deal with.
The politically correct aspects of the time that we’re going through just kill artistic freedoms (remember the “Haitian-friendly” version of GTA Vice City?) while its post-truth qualities just make facts unnecessary and perception management what matters.
If Rockstar somehow managed to handle PR a little better and not let things go out of hand so badly due to the utterly disastrous state that the games are in right now, and made the games just a little better, just good enough to at least be able to trick some of its fans, a portion of them that are not-so-tech-savvy, it could well boast about what kind of a masterpiece that they just released.
But the slightly better version of the trilogy they would have released wouldn’t still have been “definitive” in any sense of the world, but they could get away with it.
Nevertheless, they now have a total train wreck on their hands. Is it the fault of Rockstar because of a solid probability that they forced Grove Street Games to rush the release or the laziness and incompetence of the latter? Time will tell.
If GSG can release a handful of meaningful updates that can patch the countless bugs and problems that plague all those games that used to be great masterpieces (considering that Rockstar has even removed the superior original versions from digital marketplaces) then we can say that it was Rockstar’s fault to force the GSG to rush the release.
But if updates fail to solve problems, then this will be another failed product by the small yet a little too ambitious company that does business with Rockstar.
I have had the chance to only try GTA: San Andreas – The Definitive Edition so far thanks to the almighty Xbox Game Pass – the true savior of gamers living in countries with volatile currencies that struggle more and more against the dollar.
As I didn’t want to make such a huge investment as soon as the trilogy was released due to my low expectations and suspicions that it would be bad, Game Pass has really come in handy.
And it turns out that I made the right decision by not buying it, seeing the slew of problems that all three games in the trilogy are facing right now. I can confidently say that GTA 3 and Vice City suffer from the same number if not more bugs as GTA San Andreas in the new trilogy.
After a disastrous process that saw Rockstar’s parent company Take2 suing and ruining the lives of modders who shred blood, sweat and pixels to make GTA games much better (much better than the half-baked remasters made by the GSG, as well) in exchange for appreciation from fans and not financial gain, and original versions of the games removed from digital storefronts, nothing could go any worse right? Rockstar begs to differ.
First of all, the games are straight up unfinished. Some textures don’t load correctly, and a bridge in the countryside is sometimes invisible but still can be somehow driven on.
The faces of characters are just incredibly poorly done, especially our main protagonist Carl Johnson’s first lover in the game, Denise. Just look at this mess.
She was a relatively realistic woman in the original version but the remaster has made her a knock-off Sims character.
And please take a moment to appreciate Ryder’s horribly modeled right arm here. I thought it was a Photoshopped meme, but I saw it in action with my own eyes and it is unfortunately real.
Another frustrating issue is the new rain effect. It is so harsh and so hard that you would think it was raining milk in Los Santos and not water.
The rain effect is also completely broken, as it just shoots through bridges down to the ground and gets totally stuck when you hop on an aircraft while it’s raining.
And maybe the worst is the removal of San Andreas’s signature fog. Back in 2004, when consoles were not as technically capable as today, Rockstar just placed fogs between cities, namely Los Santos, San Fierro and Las Venturas, and between the countryside named “Badlands” and the majestic Mount Chiliad to give you a sense of intercity travel and immersion, and to not have to force consoles to create more pixels. Now that the fog has been removed, the game’s otherwise huge map looks incredibly tiny. This is a map that includes three metropolitan cities, several little towns, a mountain, the Area 69 – a naughty reference to real-life Area 51 in Nevada where the United States military allegedly does research on extraterrestrial life forms, three airports, two airstrips and countless other places that we’re talking about. The removal of the fog totally kills immersion on this end.
To give the devil its due, the improved draw distance really does look nice and adds to realism when you are driving. Being able to see the heights of Los Santos Tower, which is the GTA universe equivalent of real-life United States Bank Tower in Los Angeles, when you’re driving into downtown from Ganton just feels fantastic.
Nevertheless, this improved draw distance should have been handled better as it also helps kill immersion from time to time, especially when you are on top of a building or in a plane. Again, fog could prove very useful here too.
When it comes to gameplay, it’s a mixed recipe, to be honest. Driving feels just fine in San Andreas, but GTA 3 and Vice City suffer from very janky driving mechanics. On a side note, in San Andreas, the lowrider-hopping mission with Cesar Vialpando's "eses" somehow felt a little janky too, or so I've perceived it to be.
On-foot combat is slightly improved but aiming difficulties from the original games persist.
But the worst of all is the never-ending frame drops.
Unreal Engine, which the new trilogy is based on, is notorious for frame rate drops when it’s not implemented properly and the games developed with it are not optimized well. All three games dip well below 30 frames per second (FPS) from time to time, especially on the Nintendo Switch version, which also suffers from horrible draw distances like its iOS and Android counterparts, but in other more powerful consoles, the frame rate usually hovers around 40-50. The trilogy definitely does not do a good job with its 60 FPS frame rate cap (which is hilarious to put on nearly a 20-year-old but little polished games to be run on powerful modern hardware, to begin with), one which shouldn’t be a problem on modern console hardware such as the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S. With that said, stutters are also common, and FPS dips are unfortunately all over the place.
Another devastating aspect of this new trilogy is the lack of much of the signature GTA music that goes so well with the original games that we all know and love. No “Billie Jean” in Vice City? Come on now!
No “Express Yourself” from N.W.A and arguably the worst of all, no “Killing in the Name” by Rage Against the Machine? Utterly unacceptable!
And the cherry on top is: The PC version of this new trilogy has been removed from Rockstar Games Launcher and people who paid cannot get a refund and cannot even play the games they have just bought.
What’s even funnier is the reason for the removal. Turns out that the “Hot Coffee” saga, which was the hottest topic back in 2004, has come to haunt Rockstar once again.
The company has released an apology, saying that “unintentional” files (the not-safe-for-work parts of the game omitted to avoid an “Adults Only” rating) were discovered in game files, and they had to withdraw them.
Another report also says that the games included several songs that Rockstar no longer has a license to, and that was another reason for the removal.
We are all tired, Rockstar. Too tired. Give your fans who made you what you are today what they deserve after all those years.
Turns out Big Smoke was right.
“Like it says in the book; we are blessed, and cursed.”