Later this week, fancy remastered versions of Grand Theft Auto III, Vice City, and San Andreas hit all the major platforms, including Nintendo Switch. They will be released as part of a new collection called GTA: The Trilogy – Definitive Edition. Rockstar’s marketing makes it sound like Definitive Edition is the first time it’s ever remastered a GTA game. But longtime fans will recall that about eight years ago Rockstar made a first attempt at re-releasing San Andreas, and the results proved largely terrible.
Rockstar’s 2013 mobile version of San Andreas claimed to have “newly remastered graphics,” but what it really had was a shitload of problems. The mobile redux was followed by console versions, and most fans consider these to be giant trainwrecks, filled with countless bugs, broken features, and visual glitches. (Fans often refer to these ports as “remasters” even though Rockstar only used that word once in a Newswire blog from 2013.) And because this crappy new version was developed by Grove Street Games, the same studio behind the upcoming Definitive Edition, some fans are fearful for the prospects of Rockstar’s latest batch of classic GTA revamps.
So, what’s so bad about these “enhanced” and “remastered” GTA: San Andreas ports? Well, a lot. If I listed off every problem players have documented in these supposedly enhanced ports of the classic open-world game, this article could easily surpass 50,000 words. But a lot of the problems fall into two key categories: broken features that worked fine in the PS2 / Xbox originals, and changes made to the way the game looks that made sense for a mobile port, but seem out of place on consoles.
For a lot of fans, that second item points to the biggest issue with the older San Andreas ports: The developers used a mobile port as the foundation for supposedly enhanced console re-releases. This isn’t just speculation from fans. Buried within the code of the Xbox 360, PS3, and other 2013 ports of San Andreas are assets and files directly from the mobile game. In the 360 version, a cheat code actually lets you re-enable the onscreen touch-control icons. There’s no denying where these ports came from, and while I’m not against mobile games, it wasn’t a great idea to use a downgraded and scaled-back port of San Andreas as the basis for subsequent versions on more powerful hardware.
Let’s start with visuals. Many details, such as trees, bushes, and weather effects, are completely absent from the 2013 ports. Lighting is also different, ditching pre-baked and hand-tweaked shadows for overbright, higher-res textures that ruin the vibe of some areas, especially stores and homes. These changes give the game an empty, cheap look. Everything is too bright, clean, and bare. On a phone screen this isn’t too big of a deal, but on a full-size HDTV it all stands out like a sore thumb.
It should be noted, Rockstar’s original San Andreas 2013 announcement explained that the port would contain “remastered graphics” and “enhanced character and car models.” To be fair, it wasn’t lying. These ports include some minor enhancements, like nice-looking reflections on cars and less clipping on clothing. But the myriad other new problems, like how character models look shiny and wet, make it hard to appreciate these admittedly nice enhancements.
Other annoying visual problems include broken character models, with some NPCs having closed eyes or badly deformed facial features. Radar and map textures are also prone to loading slowly, making it hard to navigate around the world while you wait for your radar to fully render a readable image. The cutscenes camera on Xbox 360 is zoomed out too far, meaning you can see things that Rockstar never intended, like characters freezing in place or T-posing. (The PS3 version thankfully resolved this and several other issues that never got fixed on 360.)
Alas, the problems didn’t stop at visuals. For example, songs on the radio will often rewind or just stop and start for no reason. (A lot of songs were cut from these ports, too.) Some cutscenes are no longer skippable, and features like swimming and riding bikes are screwed up, removing nuances and limiting players to a single speed. Some of these issues actually make the game nearly impossible to complete.
A terrible example of this can be found in the PS3 version. Early on in GTA: San Andreas, a progress-critical mission has you head to the beach to complete a dancing mini-game. The problem? The PS3 version’s dancing mini-game isn’t properly coded. In the PS2 original, you hit button prompts as they scroll through a circle at the bottom of the screen. It was a simple but fun rhythm game. In the port, that’s all broken. The timing is wrong. The only way to beat this mission is to actually hit the button prompts well after they pass through the circle. It’s likely a lot of players didn’t realise this and spent far too much time trying to finish what was originally a fairly easy tutorial mission.
Other missions crash the game if you take specific routes, forcing you to map out different, safe paths to reach your objective. Other missions freeze up unless you mash a button at just the right time during a loading screen or menu.
GTA super fan and YouTuber Vadim M has created some great, in-depth videos covering all these various issues, bugs, and problems found in 2013’s San Andreas ports. While I don’t always agree with his attitude in these videos, like how he calls the devs lazy, I readily agree that these ports are bad, and make it hard to enjoy San Andreas.
Perhaps worst of all, Rockstar actually removed the original PS2 and Xbox versions of GTA: San Andreas from the digital PlayStation and Xbox stores, replacing them with these awful ports. So not only are these ports bad, but for many players, they might be the only easy and legal way to play the classic San Andreas without exhuming an old PS2 or PC copy. A similar situation could play out with the upcoming remastered collection, as Rockstar has also decided to yank the original versions of those games from places like Steam ahead of the Definitive Edition’s release later this week. The more things change…
On November 11, Rockstar will release GTA Trilogy – Definitive Edition. It’s been made by the same studio that produced the disappointing San Andreas ports, so you can see why fans have shown some concern amid the hype around these remakes. However, Grove Street Games has also worked on ports of other games that were solid and well-received. Some fans believe that the San Andreas ports were done quickly and cheaply, possibly in response to music licenses expiring. This time, hopefully Rockstar has given GSG’s devs the time, resources, money, and support they need to create great remasters of some of the most popular games ever made.
Even if the new remasters don’t live up to all the hype and expectations, I’d be shocked if the remastered GTA: San Andreas port we are about to get is any worse than the sorry game folks have been suffering through these past eight years or so. That’s something, right?