A remaster of the iconic early 2000's 'Grand Theft Auto' games for modern hardware? With quality of life improvements across the board? This is an open net for any developer, let alone one at the level of Rockstar.
The trend of remastering old games for current generation games has become very popular for developers as it falls into one of two camps: they're either a quick and easy way to cash in on the fanbases love of the original game, or a chance to re-introduce the game to a new generation with some added bells and whistles.
Rockstar tried to meet both camps in the middle and the result is decidedly mixed.
The most substantial change to the games is the updated graphical style and gameplay improvements, with the addition of in-game checkpoints and weapons and radio wheels serving as worthy additions to the existing games and making the package as a whole feel like a 2021 video game.
Rockstar's gambit with this trilogy was to totally overhaul the graphics, which is a fairly noble attempt to justify this being called a remake instead of a port, but in attempting to cater to 2021 sensibilities the games lose a lot of their identity that made them such icons of the early 2000s.
'Grand Theft Auto 3' is the game in the trilogy that has received perhaps the most radical overhaul, with the original game having a spirit and atmosphere akin to a Martin Scorsese or David Fincher film, and the new graphical style sands away Liberty City's edge and soul in the process.
The addition of checkpoints in missions are a genuine quality of life improvement, but these additions come at the cost of the game losing its identity.
3 has always had a reputation as a tough game, and Rockstar's decision to include the same quirks the 2001 version had (rigid controls, timed missions, the voice acting being recorded in a phone booth) and on that note, it's a fairly faithful remake.
However, the graphical changes have eroded a crucial part of the game.
The rain effects, in a word, are laughable, and considering how it rains often in Liberty City what is at first is a graphical quirk becomes ruinous to the atmosphere the game is attempting to cultivate.
In attempting to bring 'Grand Theft Auto 3' to the 2020s, it inadvertently gave the game the same graphical quality as this Coca-Cola ad from 2005.
If there was ever a video game where the atmosphere and graphical style was key to a game, it's 'Vice City', and it's here the new graphics have the most detrimental effect.
That identity that Rockstar cultivated and nailed in 2002 has been sandblasted away in 2021 for the sake of change.
All the games in the package were released on iOs and Android in the early 2010s, and frankly, the game feels more like a mobile port of the PS2 games than a full-fat remake with all the bells and whistles 2021 has to offer.
For years, PC modders have added photo-realistic lighting to games, and Rockstar's solution is to make one of the most visually distinctive games of all time the same as 'Fortnite', and charge consumers €60 for the privilege.
A version of 'Vice City' without the 'Miami Vice' atmosphere and style is like having a 'Mass Effect' game without the rich dialogue or a 'Dark Souls' game without the brutal difficulty.
'San Andreas' is perhaps the most-anticipated remake of the package, and the gameplay improvements are an improvement over the original 2004 game.
'San Andreas' is the most beloved entry in the series by far, and is one of the most beloved games in the history of the medium, and this left Rockstar in a dilemma.
Do they radically overhaul the game from the ground up, or add just enough to justify calling the game a remake instead of a port?
The answer again is to try to meet this design decision in the middle, leaving neither camp nor the player fully satisfied.
The benefit of mid-mission checkpoints are a blessing for that damn train mission, and being able to cycle through a weapons wheel mid-gunfight makes a welcome reprieve from CJ fiddling in his pockets to find an AK-47.
Most of the songs you remember and love are still there, and the remake possesses the same, intangible quality the original games have; the sensation of finishing up a mission but you don't want to leave your car because your favourite song just came on the radio.
In those small moments, the games really are as good as you remember.
This raises an interesting conundrum; are the games good because they play on the nostalgia factor of players, or does it build upon what was already great with 2021 sensibilities?
Those iconic 'Grand Theft Auto' moments such as getting your hands on a jetpack for the first time, laughing at the outrageous radio ads, the thrill of finding a garage to respray your car to avoid the police, those moments stem from games created nearly 20 years ago.
Rockstar set the industry standard for organic, unscripted gameplay and if there's one thing the remake does perfectly, it captures the chaotic, improvised madness the series is known for.
Does the remake stand up on its own two feet? Not really.
By that virtue, it is evident the game is cashing in on players nostalgia.
If you've never played the original games, you may be wondering what the fuss was about, and for returning players, the changes are detrimental to their original experience.
As stated in the opening paragraph, this remake was an open net for Rockstar; an easy way to tap into fan support and remind the gaming public at large why their 2000's 'Grand Theft Auto' games are so iconic.
By that token, it hits the woodwork.
The most frustrating outcome of this experience is that the game will be a success regardless of review scores or fan feedback, and that sets a dangerous precedent for the industry at large.
Rockstar is currently in production on their 3rd re-release of 'Grand Theft Auto 5' and content for their cash cow Online mode is still trickling in at the expense of the single-player experience that made the games so great to begin with.
There was potential for true greatness here, similar to the 'Mafia' remakes in 2020, but Rockstar took the quick and easy option, banking on fans nostalgia and love for the originals to ensure the game will be a hit no matter what.
For that reason, Rockstar need to reassess their identity; are they the subversive, edgy hellraisers of the game industry that crave column inches and horrify mothers, or have they become part of the bloated elite, comfortable cashing in on fan nostalgia?
Based on this experience, they are firmly in the latter camp.