Where do we even begin with the GTA Trilogy? Recreating Rockstar’s trio of seminal sandboxes for contemporary consoles should have been a slamdunk, but it’s ended up with more criticism than Tommy Vercetti’s Hawaiian-inspired shirts. This is a compilation that succeeds solely on the strength of its core content, with developer Grove Street Games getting little else right outside of that.

Featuring PlayStation 2 classics GTA 3, GTA Vice City, and GTA San Andreas, let’s start with the positives: the open worlders have been modernised in a number of key areas, with vastly improved camera controls, targeting, and the addition of checkpoints. This means you’ll no longer need to return to a mission giver when your car unexpectedly explodes on the ride home.

Further conveniences are added in the form of a GPS system, similar to what you find in modern sandbox games, alongside weapon and radio wheels that make switching a cinch. It’s all been inspired by the familiar setup in GTA 5, and while gunplay still feels ancient, take the trip back to the early 2000s and you’ll feel the difference.

Of course, part of the condemnation levelled at this bundle stems from business decisions outside of the product itself: Rockstar unceremoniously removed the PS2 versions of the same games from the PS Store, meaning the only way to enjoy the originals is by taking a trip to eBay. Moreover, parent company Take-Two has been sending legal threats to modders, who’ve been working on their own dime to improve these titles.

It’s the kind of context that you’d expect a GTA game to parody, which is the greatest irony here. But the background is important, because as a collection of remasters the GTA Trilogy undoubtedly disappoints. Running on PS5 hardware, all three games suffer severe performance issues, and in GTA 3’s case we’re talking drops as low as 25 frames-per-second in a mode targeting 60 frames-per-second.

GTA San Andreas holds up the best of the three, although purists could argue that its art style has been stripped of any character. Los Santos, the backdrop for the opening exchanges starring gangster group the Grove Street Family, had a hazy look on the PS2, designed to capture the overbearing humidity of the seaside city. It’s more detailed here, no question, but a lot has been lost in translation.

The character models are another point of contention. While we weren’t expecting a full-scale remaster like Mafia: Definitive Edition, the developer has attempted to clean up the original polygonal art, and it just looks bizarre. Some stars, like CJ in GTA San Andreas and even Tommy Vercetti in GTA Vice City, make the transition fine – others, like the supporting cast in GTA 3, border on nightmarish.

To be fair, seeing San Andreas and even Vice City in a higher resolution exposes lots of details that went missing in the originals, although gags being murdered by the developer’s use of AI upscaling on textures is unforgivable. We understand it’s a thankless task blowing up antique assets from 480p to 2160p, but someone needed to at least proofread them before they were added to the game.

It’s frustrating because the core trio of titles are still thoroughly enjoyable. GTA 3 has aged the worst, as you’d expect, with its simplistic selection of missions around the dark and dreary Liberty City lacking the creativity that would come in later instalments. As a throwback to a simpler age of sandbox games, though, this is an iconic outing; a landmark game.

GTA Vice City, originally released just a year after GTA 3, has the taste of an expansion pack – but it’s carried by its 80s aesthetic, which does actually translate well here. Grove Street Games has mucked up the contrast, which is unfortunate, but the city’s searing neon colours and larger-than-life personalities still leap off the screen. And even without Michael Jackson, the soundtrack is a thriller.

Of course, it’s GTA San Andreas that’s arguably Rockstar North’s finest work, and while many of its systems have been iterated on in the 17 or so years since it first released, we’d argue that it still stands shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the best sandbox games of today. The sheer creativity of the mission design, from a radio-controlled war between two San Fierro nerds to a heist that requires you to woo a croupier in order to obtain a keycard, is unbounded.

Frustrations emerge in all three games: even with the new checkpoint system, you’re going to bunt your head against progress losses often, as enemies one-shot you from behind walls or your vehicles inexplicably explode. There are new bugs in these remasters – we’ve lost control of our character when restarting missions a dozen times now – but many have also been carried forward from the original code.

And yet there’s nothing quite like GTA, even the classics, when it comes together. Rockstar creates staggeringly lifelike worlds, and there are systems in these games that aren’t even present in the biggest of blockbusters from today, like Cyberpunk 2077. That alone makes all three worlds feel immersive and alive, in spite of their age.

But there’s no question this compilation should have been better, and it succeeds on the strength of Rockstar’s original work rather than Grove Street Games’ conversion. Even with the higher resolution assets, all three games should be running flawlessly on a PS5 – there’s no excuse. And it needed better art direction, because a lot of the soul of the cities and characters has been stripped away.

Conclusion

All three mainline GTA games from the PS2 era are seminal pieces, and they still hold up to modern scrutiny – the outstanding GTA San Andreas especially. But as remasters these are weak: they chug on modern hardware and are undone by questionable artistic decisions. Rockstar built its reputation on attention to detail, and while all three of these games still come highly recommended, this disappointing compilation will go down as a stain on the label’s record.