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I’m not going to lie to you: I’ll be there on day one when the Grand Theft Auto Trilogy Definitive Edition is released later this year.
You don’t need me to tell you that GTA III, Vice City and San Andreas are seminal works in the open-world third-person genre, and with promises of enhanced visuals, I’m sure they’ll look sharper and run smoother than ever before (PC mods aside).
However, even though I’m excited to revisit these games with 4K visuals, it’s impossible for me to ignore that this will be something like the fifth time I’ve bought them (after PS2, Xbox, Xbox One and PS4), while other classic GTA games continue to be overlooked by Rockstar.
I still fondly remember buying a copy of the Official PlayStation Magazine, the January 1998 issue, which came with a pre-release demo of the first Grand Theft Auto.
The disc had Pandemonium on the cover, with GTA relegated to an “and also” spot, but history would expose that as a bit of a faux pas. For almost everyone who played it, that was the GTA demo disc.
It wasn’t visually impressive, not even by the standards of the time, but it was so entertaining and so delightfully offensive that I was sold. It was the first time I’d ever played a demo that was so brilliant it made 15-year-old me ask my dad to drive me to the shops that same day to part with my hard-earned pocket money for the full thing.
Many others felt the same, clearly – I fully believe that that demo disc played an enormous part in Grand Theft Auto becoming a huge success right from the first game. I adored that game and also loved the PC version, because players modded their own cars, continuing to keep it fresh.
I may have loved its spin-off Grand Theft Auto: London 1969 even more, even though it was a much shorter game, because of the numerous UK-related jokes. Despite Rockstar’s proud Scottish heritage, the London game was the only time the series took on the UK (even though it was developed in Canada).
Those two games are crying out for a modern re-release. I appreciate that despite their relative simplicity these wouldn’t be straightforward ports that could be brought over with a snap of the finger, otherwise it would have happened by now. There may even be some issues regarding who owns those original titles.
But what I wouldn’t give for Rockstar to spend some proper time with them and redraw all those sprites in high definition to give players a sharper, smoother version of those games that spawned the monster series millions love today.
Let’s not forget GTA 2, either. It did some really cool things with its gang system, where your actions in each area had an impact on how rival gangs reacted to your presence.
GTA 2 is a grossly underrated game, because when people think of old-school Grand Theft Auto they either think of the first or the third game depending on their vintage. I still regularly play it on my Dreamcast and I’d love to see it get the HD treatment too.
It isn’t just those original 2D games that have gone sorely underrepresented in modern days. Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories were each originally released on the PSP before being ported to the PS2, and they were both great.
They were each set in the same open worlds as GTA III and Vice City respectively, so many people considered them throwaway spin-offs whose main gimmick was that they were GTA on handheld. But they were so much more than that.
They were bonafide, self-respecting Grand Theft Auto adventures in their own right, and just because they were set in different surroundings it doesn’t mean the missions weren’t still entertaining.
Put it this way – one of the missions in Vice City Stories has you trying to save actual Phil Collins from being assassinated, then you get to see him performing In The Air Tonight in concert as a reward. That’s glorious.
It’s criminal that the only console versions of these games were on the PlayStation 2, and that nearly 15 years later they still haven’t seen a re-release on modern platforms.
I appreciate there’s maybe less of an audience for them, and I get that Rockstar would have to renegotiate some licencing agreements for the music, as it’s no doubt doing with the trilogy it’s planning to release. And yes, Phil Collins will no doubt want some money too.
I’ll need to refer back to my notes to make sure, though, but I’m reasonably certain that the last time I checked Rockstar wasn’t exactly strapped for cash, and I’m sure an afternoon or evening of GTA Online revenue might cover those expenses. Give big Phil his payout and do the right thing.
Then, of course, there was the excellent GTA: Chinatown Wars on the Nintendo DS, a shock exclusive at a time when the phrase “Nintendo and Grand Theft Auto” would have had you laughed out of word association parlour games up and down the country.
Chinatown Wars was a fantastic return to top-down GTA and was eventually given PSP and mobile ports but it didn’t make it to consoles either, which is a huge shame.
Close your eyes and imagine a second compilation, released next year, which includes GTA, GTA London, GTA 2, Liberty City Stories, Vice City Stories and Chinatown Wars. Now open your eyes and read what I just wrote (because your eyes were closed). How great would that be?
Or even just give us the two Stories games as paid expansions for the Definitive Edition. Those would clearly take work but I’d happily fork over £20 for each of those without even thinking about it for the chance to play them in HD for the first time.
Ultimately, as I said before, I’m more than happy with what’s being released. It goes without saying that GTA III, Vice City and San Andreas are the highest points in the series’ history, and anyone claiming the games discussed in this article are better than them are maybe thinking with nostalgia rather than logic.
The reality, though, is that lower-tier GTA games are still brilliant games, and the fact they aren’t really acknowledged these days just makes me want to play them in HD even more.
I don’t want to have to dig out my PS2 or go down dodgy emulation roads any time I want to play Vice City Stories again. Phil Collins deserves to be protected in the highest definition possible.