Today Rockstar finally showed footage of the Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy remasters and they look surprisingly good, but also very different from the original games. This has raised concerns about erasing the series’ past, and also called to mind the fragmented state of game preservation.
Today’s trailer proved that Rockstar wasn’t just touching up the old graphics, but substantially overhauling them. GTA: The Trilogy appears to have improved textures, more vibrant colours, better lighting, higher resolutions, better character models, and a new weather system.
“Not opposed to the art upgrades here. Excited, even,” freelance critic and games reporter Jeremy Peel wrote on Twitter. “But they’re different enough that I think you need to have the originals available somewhere. They can’t just vanish.”
Remasters and remakes can be great, but they are rarely if ever perfect replacements for the originals. The rare exception is when the newer version lets you seamlessly swap back and forth to the old one.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s happened. GTA: The Trilogy, containing GTA III, Vice City, and San Andreas, doesn’t go on sale until November 11. Already, however, the original versions of the PS2-era GTA games have disappeared. The same day Rockstar made the trilogy official after months of reports and leaks, it also delisted the games from console and PC digital storefronts.
Rockstar hasn’t said when or even if the original versions of the games would come back at some point; one might imagine after initial sales for the remasters die down, or in some weird future where Take-Two releases its own Game Pass-like subscription service. As far as we know right now, the games are gone for good from modern platforms. Rockstar didn’t respond to a request for comment when asked about its plans.
Other companies have handled recent remasters differently. In May, EA released Mass Effect Legendary Edition, an updated version of the trilogy that debuted back in 2007. It significantly altered the visual style, and made fundamental changes to certain mechanics from the original game. Fortunately if, like me, you didn’t appreciate Eden Prime’s new lens flares or the loss of unlimited ammo, the original version of the games remain available to purchase on Steam and elsewhere.
Publisher Take-Two, meanwhile, went a bit further than just binning the old versions of GTA. Over the last few months, its lawyers have been on a fan project killing spree, hitting numerous mods with DMCA takedowns and sueing those attempting to reverse engineer GTA III to make it playable on other platforms. Lots of games remain trapped on obsolete platforms, but few as popular and widely released as the GTA series have seen such committed attempts to make them harder to access later. Such is the price we pay for letting corporations run the world.
It’s not just history that’s lost, or craft, though they surely are. The GTA remasters are different enough from their predecessors that there’s a perfectly reasonable argument to be made by those who might prefer the muddier Y2K aesthetics of the originals. And what was the point of digital distribution and the internet if not to offer people more choices at the cost of almost nothing?
I’m looking forward to cruising around Vice City for the first time in years on the OLED Nintendo Switch. But for the sake of art, history, and my own dumb nostalgia, it would have been nice to keep the option to revisit the old version as well.