The GTA Trilogy remaster’s goofy art style is good, actually

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Rockstar has given us a first look at the upcoming Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Collection, and it showcases the enormous amount of work that has gone into improving the games’ visuals. You’re never quite sure with a remaster whether you’ll be getting an up-ressed version of an old game or a completely overhauled product, but so far, it looks like Rockstar and developer Grove Street Games are treating these classics with the reverence they deserve.

Rich Stanton, News Editor: What blew me away was the simple trick of transitioning from the ‘old’ scenes into the new, which really emphasised how much brighter and cleaner those environments look. Like many people, I imagine, I haven’t played these games in well over a decade so my memories of them are always ‘better’ than how the things actually looked at the time, and seeing this was like Rockstar had reached into my brain, fetched out the nostalgia goggles, and somehow made it into a game. I honestly wasn’t that excited about the GTA Trilogy, but all of a sudden I just can’t wait to get back to the gorgeous, pastel-soaked Vice City, stick some Duran Duran on, and burn rubber.

Nat Clayton, News Writer: It’s a really weird aesthetic! GTA 3 through San Andreas came out at a time where you couldn’t really pull off the grounded, gritty look of 4 and 5, and so get around it by heightening their look and tone. This remaster attempts to retroactively declare that a deliberate stylistic choice, and what you end up with is this uncannily shiny lo-fi look. The kind of thing you’d see on a ’90s mag or some sort of spoofed game showing up in the background of CSI.

That said, my experience with the early GTAs is playing them in the cramped bedroom of my brother’s best mate, putting up with his mean-spirited jokes because your parents wouldn’t buy you 18-rated games. Can a remaster capture that energy? Would it even want to?

An aerial view of GTA Vice City.

(Image credit: Rockstar North)

Evan Lahti, Global EIC: As someone who read a lot of those ’90s mags Nat, I find it nostalgic and fun. It’s an aesthetic that centers more on how these games actually looked, rather than how we think we remember them. The look preserves the literal shape of the games and their characters, how absurd and hammy these performances are, the PlayStation 2’s jagged models.

It was unrealistic to expect these remasters to reverse-inherit the fidelity and style of modern GTAs—that would be asking Rockstar to make three massive games roughly from scratch.

Phil Savage, UK Editor-in-Chief: My first reaction was “Huh!”, followed closely by “Err?” and finally settling on “Hmm?!”. In short, I don’t know where I land on this, and probably won’t until I’m playing it. The environments and lighting look great, and would clash heavily with the early, low-poly character models of the original. Rockstar had to do something, and, as Evan rightly points out, achieving the look of the modern games was never going to happen.

Perhaps part of my reaction is down to the fact that I still like the look of those old GTAs. As a PC player, they’re not some relic of the ancient past—inaccessible unless I rescue a dusty old console from the attic. They’re there, in my Steam account, ready to be played whenever I like. History is inescapable on PC: it’s as easy for me to replay Deus Ex or Doom II or Planescape as it is to play something new like Far Cry 6. Untethered from the expectation of new and better looking, I’ve got no problem with the aesthetic of certain eras.

The reason I don’t replay the old GTAs is because the control schemes are clunky, and the controller support is bad. These Definitive Editions could have modernised all that and left the look as was, and I’d have been perfectly happy. They never would—that’s not how you do a remaster—but it’s why I’m left unsure about the new style.

A panoramic view of GTA San Andreas.

(Image credit: Rockstar North)

Robin Valentine, Print Editor: I think I like it? It’s definitely a bold choice, and that alone is appealing – I’m really pretty sick of by-the-numbers remasters that often create a messy look by combining bland, high-res textures with environments and animations too old to gel with them. Reimagining the old look into a new form that fits together harmoniously is a cool move, and I think it also maintains a nice separation between this era of GTA and the more modern installments. If anything I think they could have gone further—things like the spiky anime hair gesture towards an even more exaggerated style that they haven’t quite committed to.

Steven Messner, Senior Editor: It honestly reminds me of something you’d see in Dreams, that PS4 game engine by Media Molecule. There’s something about the character models—especially the protagonist from GTA 3—that gives me this “carved out of clay” vibe I can’t wrap my head around. But I also think I like it a lot too, it’s just so different? 

Chris Livingston, Features Producer: I’m glad they didn’t try to cram a bunch of extremely realistic models or effects in there. That’s always weird, like when a Pixar film has super cartoony characters with bizarrely realistic hair. Like, why? Why make that one aspect look real among the rest of it? It’s jarring. It looks like Rockstar has done a good job of both preserving and updating the classics without anything looking really out of place. But on the other hand, considering it’s not a massive upgrade or transformation, I sort of think the originals are fine as-is, too. I think if I ever want to replay them, the original versions will be just fine with me.

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