It should have been so easy, or so one would have thought. Three epic open world masterclasses that took the gaming industry by storm back in the early noughties, finally arriving on Switch and giving us all an absolute smorgasbord of hilarious criminal hijinks to dig into. Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy - The Definitive Edition on Nintendo's portable console should be a marriage made in heaven. However, 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.
The games here themselves need no introduction. Grand Theft Auto 3, Vice City and San Andreas released in 2001, 2002 and 2004 respectively, delivering spectacular open worlds that are absolutely oozing with edgy atmosphere, amazing soundtracks, memorable characters and hilarious slapstick action. They're meticulously crafted slices of satircal Americana in which to run amok. That stuff is all still here, but it's been massively compromised by a port that beggars belief, especially considering that the most recent of these games released 17 years ago.
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.
We kicked off our time with this "definitive" trilogy by diving into Grand Theft Auto 3 and even in the very opening moments, as soon as the game gets underway, the problems are obvious. We had to pause and turn the brightness level to max then reduce the contrast to zero just to make the picture look acceptable first of all, before jumping into a vehicle and taking off across good old Liberty City. Except this wasn't Liberty City how we remembered it, and certainly nowhere near the Liberty City we'd expect from a revamp.
This port — of a game from 2001 — suffers from constant and serious pop-in, with buildings and bushes and passers-by magically appearing all around you as you manoeuvre through its city streets. Worse than this, however, are the other vehicles which tend to materialise right in front of you, giving you virtually no time to avoid them, a problem that directly affects the traversal of the open world here, and one that drains almost all of the fun out of driving — something you tend to do quite a lot of in GTA.
This issue persists throughout all three games, too. It's exacerbated to no end by a frame rate that stutters along whenever you pick up any kind of decent speed or fancy pulling off some tricks, and drastically affects the base level of enjoyment you can have in these sandboxes. No longer were we cruising along, switching to our favourite radio station and enjoying the (truncated) soundtrack on offer, instead cursing at our screen and wondering how on earth anyone could let this treasured trilogy launch in such a state.
It's an odd feeling. We've spent so much time with these games that we just expect to enjoy them but, unless you've got some seriously low expectations, that's pretty much impossible to do here. In combat — and again this is across all three games — the stuttering frame rate persists, making for some woefully inept scraps. Gunfights are a mess for the most part, vehicular showdowns suck, and they're all further hindered by controls that just don't feel good. There's gyro support and HD Rumble included, which is something, we guess, but it doesn't help as shooting just feels basic, clumsy and sticky, animations are janky and the blurred Vaseline visuals make deciphering where your shots are landing an absolute chore.
The new visuals are certainly an acquired taste (one we haven't acquired) but they can look fine at times. Vice City especially has had a nice upgrade in this respect, but it only goes as far as the city streets, ambient lighting and buildings themselves. Characters are another story entirely and, as we're sure you've seen online already, there's a lot of very odd-looking folk roaming the streets of these games nowadays. In terms of main protagonists, Tommy Vercetti probably comes off the best with regards to the makeover, but poor old CJ really does look extremely odd at points, like a rubber figure with bendy arms and a huge bulge protruding from his back when he's crouched down.
In handheld mode some of the visual problems — the extraordinarily low resolution, glitches, texture issues and so on — can be seen in a more forgiving light and you'll maybe even occasionally (and almost entirely through the power of nostalgia) find yourself feeling that old familiar GTA magic. However, in docked mode, all of the shortcomings are laid bare here, there's nowhere to hide. The resolution is well below 720p, it's been smeared with some sort of after effect that makes things even worse, the default picture settings are awful and the stuttering and jankiness is plain to see. It all just looks really, really bad on a TV, and we've never once thought that about Grand Theft Auto before.
We really thought — or perhaps just hoped — this would be an easy-peasy, slap a ten on it and let's all go to the bar sort of review. There aren't many sure things in this business, but it was hard to see how they could mess this up, especially given Rockstar Games' deep pockets and the vast resources presumably available. Yet Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy - The Definitive Edition, as it has turned up on Switch, is a mess. The further into these games you get, the more the action ramps up, the more painful all of these shortcomings begin to get. It's no wonder Rockstar failed to show this one before release. It's also no wonder you can't record clips of it whilst playing, because under no circumstances is it anywhere near good enough.
There are three amazing games here, three stone cold classics that we love and have played through more times than we can remember, hence the reason this one's got any score at all below. However, we strongly advise picking this up on any other platform if possible or, at the very least, waiting until it receives — hopefully — a ton of patches to bring it to the level of 'acceptable'. What a disappointment.
Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy - The Definitive Edition on Switch delivers three of gaming's true greats in a shockingly rough package that manages to suck pretty much all of the fun out of Rockstar's stellar crime epics. This is a poor port, a shoddy, stuttery, low resolution mess full of bugs, glitches, audio problems and more besides. If can grab this one on any other platform, we'd advise you do so or, at the very least, hold off until it's been patched and hopefully improved in the future. As things stand, this is a very, very long way from 'definitive' — this isn't the way we want to remember these games.