Rockstar’s super popular Grand Theft Auto franchise is in a weird place in 2021. It’s a game series that remains huge, despite going years without a big, new release. Its online iteration is more popular than ever, yet if you look around Reddit and Twitter you’d assume it has no fans.
And then on top of all that, Rockstar released a somewhat nice looking but totally broken collection of remastered GTA classics and decided to fight modders throughout the year too.
And still, no GTA 6, even as it randomly trends online over and over. So yeah, it was a weird year.
2021 started out well enough, with a fun video of Gerald “Slink” Johnson and Shawn Fonteno reenacting their roles as Lamar and Franklin in a real-life recreation of the infamous roast scene from GTA V. GTA roleplaying also blew up again on Twitch, starring some non-GTA characters, too. And in February, some crafty and smart modders reverse-engineered Vice City and GTA III’s source code, opening up the potential to port these classics to more platforms.
Meanwhile, another tech-savvy fan even went and fixed the awful loading times on the PC version of GTA Online and Rockstar paid them $US10k for doing so.
However, things quickly went south and a string of bad news for GTA fans and players began.
First, Rockstar and Take-Two issued a DMCA takedown against the folks behind the GTAIII and Vice City source code project. Some of the devs stood their ground against Take-Two and all of this led to a still ongoing lawsuit.
Then, Take-Two began using legal threats and DMCA takedowns to remove old GTA III, Vice City, and San Andreas mods from around the internet. This angered modders, some of whom found nearly decade-old mods removed due to the legal takedowns. Other creators shut down and removed old GTA mods out of fear of legal retaliation by the publisher. (Take-Two is still doing this, by the way. Just last month the publisher reportedly removed GTA IV mods, including a save file, from a popular GTA community site.)
All of this fuelled further speculation that Rockstar was planning to release remastered versions of the classic GTA Trilogy. In August, Kotaku confirmed with sources that all the rumours were true and Rockstar was planning to release remastered ports of GTA III, Vice City, and San Andreas across all major consoles include Switch.
Later in the year, as hype built around these remasters, Rockstar and Take-Two once again angered the community by yanking the original editions of the classic trilogy from digital storefronts.
Meanwhile, over in the land of jetbikes and long loading times that is GTA Online, the game received its first of two large, free updates. The first came in July. This Summer update was entirely focused on street racing and used fast cars to commit various crimes and street races. If that sounds a lot like Fast and Furious, well… that’s because the update was basically Rockstar’s adaptation of those films. (Well, the early ones at least.) It was a great update, widely enjoyed by the community, and felt like Rockstar actually listening to its playerbase who have longed wanted more car culture content in GTA Online. Oh, also the update added a nearly-unkillable Terminator knock-off. Like I said before, weird year.
Around this same time, Take-Two was trying to convince investors that Rockstar Games had a very diverse slate of games that included GTA V…uh... GTA Online, and…hmmm... GTA V, again…OH! and Red Dead Redemption II. The reality is that Rockstar Games has spent nearly the last decade ignoring most of its popular franchises and failing to create new games that don’t start with Grand or Red.
As September rolled around, it seemed like GTA 6 was randomly trending more and more in 2021 than in the past. This was due to a few factors, including bogus rumours getting reported by sites and growing demand from GTA fans who wanted to hear something about the next entry in the series. Things got so bad in 2021 that someone crashed a live TV show just to yell about GTA 6. As I write this in the middle of December, it seems extremely unlikely that 2021 will be the year Rockstar Games finally confirms and announces Grand Theft Auto 6. There’s always next year, right?
Adding to the growing frustration among GTA fans was the news that the release of the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S ports of GTA V and GTA Online was delayed. Originally, these ports were planned to come out in November. But during a big PlayStation event hosted by Sony, Rockstar released a new trailer that failed to impress fans and announced a four-month delay. It didn’t help that in the run-up to the event, there were growing (and baseless) rumours of GTA 6 being revealed or even a trailer for the still-at-the-time gossiped remastered classic trilogy.
None of this happened and instead, a nearly decade-old game got delayed in 2021.
In October, GTA Online received a smaller Halloween update that added deadly cars and NPC slashers to the online city of Los Santos. It also added some deadly clowns, too. And if you looked up into the skies during the spooky month of October, GTA Online was infested with UFOs. While not as cool as the Tuners update, it was a fun way to celebrate the best holiday, Halloween.
Finally, after a lot of leaks, Rockstar confirmed on October 22 that GTA Remasters were real and would be out on November 11. The new ports would feature newly created textures and models and would also use GTA V-like controls. It all sounded so good…
Of course, if you have visited Kotaku or any other video game website in the last few weeks, you know how the remastered collection turned out. Not great.
While it looked alright some of the time, it suffered from numerous bugs, including rain that was painful to look at and terrible looking models, and other unwanted visual tweaks. It was a complete trainwreck. Hell, folks datamining the remakes even found leftover bits of the infamous Hot Coffee content in GTA San Andreas. Yikes!
The reaction to GTA The Trilogy: Definitive Edition was so bad and so sustained that Rockstar eventually issued a rare apology on November 19. Not only that, the publisher announced plans to bring back the classic versions of GTA III, Vice City, and San Andres to PC players via its Rockstar Games store. And owners of the remastered collection would get the returning classics for free.
Read More: The Year In Gaming Apologies
Since the release of the remastered collection, modders have attempted to fix and improve the games. However, many modders and GTA tinkerers have decided to sit this one out, citing how Take-Two Interactive treated them throughout 2021. *Insert the “It’s Ironic Palpatine” GIF here.*
Rockstar and Grove Street Games, the devs behind the remastered ports, have also released a few updates to the collection since the disastrous launch. These updates have actually fixed quite a lot and made the games more playable. But the devs still have a lot of work ahead of them if they wish to truly fix these remasters. It seems clear now that these things needed more time in the oven.
But Rockstar was able to end the year on a positive note with the release of GTA Online’s latest update. This new update, The Contract, stars Dr. Dre and is set about a decade after the events of GTA V. Not only did this update add some awesome new tracks to the GTA Online radiowaves, but it also included some missions that felt like they could have been ripped out of an unreleased singleplayer GTA game.
It’s a shame GTA Online is still, all these years later, a sort of broken mess that takes forever to load. But when you can play the new update, it’s one of the best Rockstar has made. It even provided lore nerds like myself with some new information about Michael De Santa’s post-GTA V status. Neat! Plus, it now means that Dr. Dre is an actual character in the GTA Online universe.
Sadly on December 16, right as GTA Online on PS4, Xbox One, and PC was getting a brand new update, the original versions of the game on Xbox 360 and PS3 were shut down by Rockstar Games. The company had announced its plans to close the servers down on these ageing versions of the game earlier in the year, but it was still sad to watch the final moments of the game across Twitch that day. RIP.
And with that, the year is almost over. Sure, GTA 6 obsessed fans didn’t get what they wanted and the remastered trilogy was a disaster that is still not fixed. But a few good GTA Online updates helped ensure 2021 wasn’t a totally terrible year for the GTA community.
Let’s hope 2022 brings better news, better games, and fewer lawsuits.