Those GTA remakes sure are, uh, interesting

I try to keep review-type articles on this site positive. I don't always succeed and I'm afraid this might be one of those times.

For context, I'll note that I've worked on large scale software projects with unreasonable timelines. I spent a year trying to patch-up the almost completely broken system that resulted. I was there when some MBA decided it wasn't worth investing more time on. The users had to deal with the mess they received. I know exactly how this goes. A rushed game development project isn't any different than a rushed development project for the unexciting business systems I usually work on.

I'm talking about the games that I think are technically called "Grand Theft Auto [x]: The Definitive Edition". I am referring to them as "GTA remakes" to avoid wearing out my keyboard. You'll have to deal with the lack of name fidelity if that bothers you.

I pre-ordered the GTA remake collection despite some reservations. There were rumors it was going to be a little bit buggy. I waited a full year to play it under the assumption that most modern games aren't actually finished until about a year after you buy them. There was indeed a massive patch waiting for me.

I probably would have said Vice City was my favorite game of all time prior to Breath of the Wild. I don't keep a game ranking and it would change often anyway based on my mood that day. Whatever the case, Vice City would still be very high on such a list. Look, I once convinced a VP I worked for that I completed a business training class called "Motivate, Demonstrate, then Motivate Again". It got me out of taking some other class he thought everyone should take. It was totally worth the deception.

I first played Vice City on PlayStation 2 and later went through the PC and upscaled version for PlayStation 4. Of the three, the PC version is what I would have called the "definitive" version. It was the original game with smoother graphics and multiple control options. I don't think it needed to be improved upon from there.

So why did I buy these remakes then? It wasn't for GTA III. I didn't get into the original that much. It is of course one of the most consequential games ever. I think it's a "you had to be there" situation for me... or more that I wasn't there. I played GTA III after playing Vice City and GTA V. When I tried GTA III it felt very confined and linear compared to the others. It comes across as three smaller games since the map is so divided. If I played it in 2001 I would have been amazed by it. I didn't and here we are.

I bought this collection with the intention of finally finishing GTA San Andreas. I understand why this is considered by many to be the best of the PlayStation 2 era series. I had a lot of fun with it until getting to missions that required traversing the massive map and trekking back to the start after failing. I heard that was maybe fixed in the remake. That was the selling point of this collection.

I started with Vice City though. Mostly out of curiosity. I figured I could get through the main story in a few nights and move on. Along the way I'd learn the new control scheme and be ready to tackle San Andreas.

That did not go as planned. Instead I went on a journey to explore the weirdness in this remake. I naively expected that this would more or less work like the original game but with fancier graphics. In reality, it's much more like playing a bootleg version of the game.

The original game was a buggy mess too.

Weird boat rendering in Vice City

It was also created in 2002 based on a game engine and running on a console that were each barely turning 1. It's a miracle it turned out as great as it did.

The original San Andreas had issues as well.

Person stuck in the sand

There was also the infamous traffic AI. Here are many drivers that can't figure out how to avoid a pile-up.

Traffic jam

It's strange how bugs can either make a game horrible or incredible. The things that can be exploited in the original Vice City don't break the game and often make it more fun. The same goes for the previously mentioned Breath of the Wild. They aren't bugs that appear out of nowhere, taking you out of the environment. You have to search for them, you have to do them intentionally. They can be used to access locked areas early, defeat missions in comical ways, or finish the game much faster than the developers intended.

Most buggy games aren't like that though. If you're trying to play the game normally and it totally glitches out it's a bad experience. Even things that don't break the game, but are oddly out of place, can ruin a game. The Vice City remake is right on the edge here. I can't call it a bad game, but there are just enough oddities to make it something less than good. Certainly something inferior to the game it was trying to improve upon.

I'll be exploring these oddities in the Vice City remake in roughly the order encountered. I'll also review some things it improved on and others things that didn't change but maybe should have. After that it's on to San Andreas.

Vice City oddities

The most obvious immediate weirdness I saw was in this stretch of road on the second island.

Car stuck in the street

There are some sort of invisible potholes I guess?

Car stuck in the street, also flaming

This guy is trapped in a motorcycle purgatory. I think he could technically get off the bike if he wanted to.

Motorcycle stuck in the street

Here's one last example. I could have taken 100 screenshots like this so it's time to move on.

Another car stuck in the street

This general problem happened in the original game but not constantly. Over an entire playthrough you might see it once. In the remake it's a constant nuisance.

I attribute it to the entire environment being spongy. That's the best way I can describe it. It's like everything is coated in this squishy exterior that is easy to sink into.

Squishy floor

Since we're already flying a helicopter around here's another fun one, sometimes they just explode. When I landed this one it didn't show the usual signs of damage like smoking. A couple seconds after disembarking it done blew up.

Exploded helicopter

The propeller was a safe distance from the building. I've made that landing mistake before. It just felt like exploding.

I thought there was a hidden package that was now unreachable, it turns out the glass pane has no collision detection.

Beam through glass

I didn't try to get all the hidden packages this time. The flaky helicopters made it not worth the hassle. I grabbed just enough for body armor and a few weapons. Then I tried the story missions. Early on I noticed taxi cabs randomly driving on the golf course.

Taxi on golf course

After conquering the mansion, I spotted this garage door that looks like something out of a bad Zillow listing.

Garage door

I have a section later on about things that were improved in the remake. This next screenshot was originally for that section. In the Shakedown mission it's much easier to see which windows you have left to break. From this screenshot it's obvious I have many left to go.

Shakedown mission

Except something crazy happened. After taking the screenshot the mission completed. Like poof, it was done.

Shakedown mission completed

I'm just noticing now that the clock also advanced and the windows were fully restored. I assume speedrunners must know something about this. It seems like there is some kind of mission skip exploit here.

I can't recall how far along I was before I noticed that boats near the golf course can't fit under the bridges. Trying to squeeze under leads to some clipping.

Boat clipping on bridge

The NPC boaters know they can't fit and run aground instead.

NPC boater avoiding the bridge

This next one was really annoying. The car dealer mission, which isn't really a mission, is one of my favorites. Hunting around for different car models is a typical fetch quest but it's still fun to me at least.

One of the cars you need to collect is the Stretch. This is usually found in front of the mansion. Usually.

No limo

I reloaded a few times, wandered around for a bit, and so on. It just wouldn't appear where it was supposed to.

Still no limo

I gave up and went back to the story missions. On one random trip to save it finally appeared. I stashed it in the garage then saved just in case I somehow wrecked it on the way to the dealer.

Saving a limo

Of course after defeating Sonny the game decided to mock me.

The game taunting me

Over at the airport there is often a car parade. I don't recall this happening in the original unless the nearby rampage is triggered.

Car parade at the airport

Rendering problems when flying quickly are expected. Hmm.. should they be? On the PlayStation 2 it's inevitable. It seems by now we shouldn't see these jelly buildings regularly.

City rendering

One last thing, that I didn't screenshot, happened during the last fight with Sonny. I didn't understand it until trying the San Andreas remake. My usual approach for fighting Sonny is safe and cowardly. Instead of facing him head-on I rush for the side stairs, head down, and blindside him. The flamethrower is especially effective here. His bodyguards can't figure out how to get around the columns and in a few seconds everyone is crispy. Sonny usually can hit you since he's offset into the entryway. With the flamethrower, you finish him off long before he can do much damage. In the remake that's still partially the case. I hit L2 to target the flamethrower and ran it for a long timeā€¦ like a really long time. The bodyguards went down right away but Sonny seemed fireproof. Eventually he got me down to a sliver of life so I fled to recharge. There's armor in the basement or so I recalled. Instead of a usual scene transition, the game jumped to the ending sequence. It was weird.

In an early San Andreas mission, sorry but I'm blanking one the name, I ran into a similar thing. The goal of the mission was killing some dude who you're after for reasons. Same deal, I unloaded about 200 rounds into them and they were fine. Once I released the L2 button they fell over. So clearly wearing out a damage gauge isn't the trick. You have to understand how the buggy event system works.

So that's it for oddities in Vice City. I'm sure there are a dozen more. I played through it rather quickly and likely missed a lot.

Vice City improvements

There are some things this remake improved upon.

In the original game there were a variety of ways to reach the second island early. My favorite is stealing a bus then using it to create a bridge to the pier.

Early second island in the original

This method isn't perfect. Tommy doesn't jump well and it's easy to accidentally miss the pier and drown. It's funny how no one can swim in this city surrounded by water.

In the remake, Tommy jumps a little further so you can grab any two cars from the nearby garage.

Making a car bridge

In the original game you'd never made it across a bridge like this. In the remake this is totally doable.

The car bridge

The first time I tried this trick I wasn't smart enough to earn enough money to buy the cheapest house on the second island. So the previous two pictures are from my second attempt, this one is from my first. Just noting that to reinforce how easy and repeatable this is now.

Sailing to second island early

The boat races are much easier in the remake. This stunt challenge always takes me a couple tries in the original, you're allowed zero mistakes. It was no effort this time.

Boat race

Same for this smuggling mission, which follows a very similar course.

Smuggling mission

Most importantly, the mission with the least logical premise is 10x easier. I'm talking about The Driver. I won this on my first try.

Driver mission

Those were some welcome improvements. Next are a few things that really needed to be improved but weren't.

Vice City missed opportunities

The RC plane in the Bombs Away mission was even harder to control in the remake than the original. That takes effort because it was practically impossible before. Hey, even great games can have some bad parts.

Luckily it can be solved in the same way. Chasing down the boats once they are moving is tough. Luckily your targets completely ignore a plane running them over or pushing them into water.

Bombs Away mission

Once there are no potential drivers left, it's simple enough to crash the three planes into the boats. Bombing accuracy is not an issue when you're inches above the boat.

The vehicle rampage on the second island just off the large shipping boat, you know the one. It's the one where if you're lucky 2-3 vehicles will spawn. They didn't fix that.

Rampage

The NPC AI still can't figure out how doors work.

NPC can't find the door

The skimmer controls are still beyond awful. I think I'd have better luck flying the real thing.

Skimmer

This next one is something new to the remake. When it's raining your vehicle really drives like something on a very wet road. I noticed it off and on throughout the game and it wasn't a big deal until the Publicity Tour mission. If it rains during that mission you should just reload.

Driving in the rain

Those are the big things. I could nitpick on some small things but that's not my thing.

Let's move on to San Andreas.

San Andreas playthrough

I never finished San Andreas. I started it and gave up shortly after being banished from the first area.

Where I left off

I did a lot of things wrong. It was my own fault for trying to finish the game without reading any FAQs. In the first part of the game I conquered all the territories and found all the hidden spray paint tags (which helps considerably with the former). That takes, I dunno, 60 hours? I didn't count but that seems about right. All that work was useless. I was burnt out maybe 1/3 into the story. Then I encountered a mission that required driving halfway across the map and restarting from scratch when I failed. I was done.

This time around I wasn't going to make the same mistake. I'd plow through the first section as quickly as possible and get through the entire main story before tackling side quests.

Lemme start with a big first impression...

Going all the way back to the intro, I think this collection was a rushed project. I doubt that's even up for debate. When I started the San Andreas remake I think I figured it out. I'm convinced this started as a San Andreas remake project only. Then someone who doesn't have to do any real work decided to tack on the other two. Their logic would have gone like "the engine is already ported so how hard can it be?"

Here's why I think this:

The counterpoints to this idea:

Alright, let's get to the missions. I'm not going to cover all of them, or most of them, or even many of them. I'm really just talking about a very small number of them.

In my first playthrough, the mandatory house robbery mission was an immediate fail. This time, it was super easy.

Stealth mission

I understand the "follow the train" mission is notorious for its difficulty. This is definitely not the case in the remake. It almost seems impossible to lose at it now.

Follow the train

The mandatory races are like 10x easier too. I can't recall if I solved this on the first try before but I definitely did now.

First race

I think this next mission took three tries, maybe four, it was another instant victory in the remake.

Shooting from car

The difficulty all around was drastically reduced. I suppose that's a net bad. I think San Andreas needed some balancing, for lack of a better term, in a few missions. Instead they are all now cakewalks.

Like the race against Claude. It was totally unfair but eventually winnable in the original version. In the remake you could win it while heavily intoxicated.

Second race

Don't drink and drive of course. Unless it's in a video game.

Sigh, it's time for this...

Supply Lines - 1

I've been playing video games since before some readers were born, 1982 to be exact. So I'm a little too young for the very, very early days. My first system was the Intellivision, which is early enough. I've played some games with awful controls. I mean, really awful controls. In the first half of the 1980s developers were still figuring this stuff out. Then again, I also unironically own a Jaguar and 15 years later some were still figuring it out. Over what is now 40 years I can unequivocally say the controls in the Supply Lines mission are the worst in any game I've ever played.

Supply Lines - 2

I did not finish Supply Lines on the original. On the remake the controls are still atrocious but the plane is nearly indestructible and the fuel supply is nearly unlimited. This means you can slowly, and painfully, plod through the mission. It takes a while, but it's possible.

Supply Lines - 3

The awful plane controls appear again in a mandatory training mission that lasts roughly 10 years.

Airplane training

Skipping ahead, a lot, after a couple weeks I finished all the main missions. Most of them were easy unless they involved flying. Since I didn't get far the first time around I don't know how they compare. Based on the Vice City playthough, I'm going with them being 50% easier than in 2004. It's extremely unlikely my reflexes improved over time. The only explanation is that these remakes are very nerfed.

I made it back to the starting point and was ready to move on, until...

Need more territory

Right, these again. I don't mind the territory battles. Vice City Stories had a similar system. It's not my favorite part of the game. It's OK.

Like Vice City Stories these are easily winnable if you take the high ground.

Acquiring more territory

Seriously, the AI can't figure out how to aim up. Everyone runs around all confused instead.

Time passes and eventually Carl avenges his mother's death.

Almost done

This was a mission where the functional checkpoint system helped. I only failed once, from rushing out the building too quickly and getting gunned down along the way. The checkpoint saved me about an hour of do-over.

The very, very last part of the last mission was the most fun I had in San Andreas.

Final chase

I'm not joking here, this is the kind of wacky mission I always enjoy. No one involved would actually survive in real life. It's totally gonzo and I laughed several times. We need more missions like this.

Ending

How can you not laugh at this? It's awesome, seriously.

After finishing the main story I wanted to try some optional quests. But first...

Under attack

Right, this nuisance will be around until I knock-off all the rival gangs.

You know what, let's just use cheat codes now. I resisted during the main story. It doesn't matter now. I bet these territory missions are easier with unlimited rockets.

Cheating time

This went great for a while.

One territory left

There was this one territory where I couldn't trigger a gang war.

Last territory

I tried over here, nothing.

No gang members

Let's try the rooftop of the motel and see if any rivals appear.

Still no gang members

After running in circles for a while I found some Ballas, but couldn't trigger a gang war. Maybe because the enemies were right on the edge of the territory?

Trying to trigger an attack

Same thing here. Eventually, after what felt like 200 tries this general area worked.

Still trying to trigger an attack

Then it was off to the optional missions, like the casino heist.

Bank heist

Alright, I'm good with San Andreas now.

I get why so many consider this the best of the PlayStation 2 games. I assume it's still cool with all of you if I prefer Vice City.

What about weird bugs in the remake? Yeah, there are some of those. Let's check them out.

San Andreas oddities

This may occur on the other games, I either didn't notice or it didn't happen often. People getting wedged into cars seemed like a common problem in the San Andreas remake.

Stuck in the hood

Sometimes, for no apparent reason, NPCs would be in riot mode. In this case blocking an entrance in the process.

NPC riot

Like Vice City, it was common to sink into the spongy exterior surrounding everything.

Stuck in a fence

Sometimes you'd randomly fall between breaks in the round. Luckily you can jump out of these.

Stuck in the ground

I don't think this boat is seaworthy.

This boat doesn't look safe

An easy way to escape police on-foot is to jump into the water. The police don't know they can't swim and will follow you right in.

Police forgot they can't swim

Sometimes objects would just not have collision detection.

Collision detection

Hey, it's a floating corpse. Also, "floating corpse" is probably the name of a death metal band.

Floating body

Sometimes the game would go into "oops, all cops" mode. Where the only vehicles that would spawn anywhere were police vehicles.

oops all cops - 1

In a cruel twist of fate, this first happened traveling to the same mission that I quit on last time. I just wanted to grab a car and drive halfway across the map to the start location. Instead I kept walking until police cars stopped spawning, which never happened.

oops all cops - 2

It wasn't limited to one type of police vehicle either.

oops all cops - 3

Once making it out of the city area the problem persisted, but now it was the large police trucks.

oops all cops - 4

I kind of thought the further I traveled the more likely the game would reset what it was spawning, but nope.

oops all cops - 5

It's ludicrous, there are police cars are everywhere a normal car should be.

oops all cops - 6

Let's do a quick selfie with one of them.

oops all cops - 7

Ten game hours later and it's still only spawning police vehicles.

oops all cops - 8

Now for a "literally not one single person tested this" bug. Or if they did, wow. At some point in the game Carl can purchase a car dealership. It's optional which is good because it's almost totally unreachable.

Floating CV - map

Of course the dealership itself is not in the middle of a river. The CV marker is though, and so is the icon to purchase it. I originally tried getting to it by boat but it's actually in the sky.

Floating CV - helicopter

I tried parachuting into it a couple times but couldn't hit it.

Floating CV - parachute

Later in the game I unlocked the jetpack. Then it was easy to purchase the dealership.

Floating CV - jetpack

Except I was on a different part of the map and the graphics for the dealership weren't loaded. So it looks like I bought a giant block of pudding.

Property bought

Just look at that beautiful building I own.

Whew. So after finishing Vice City and San Andreas am I ready to try GTA III again?

GTA III remake

No. No I'm not. I gave it a solid try again. If you're extremely well-versed in GTA III you'll recognize that this location isn't super early in the game. This happened in the second section of the game when I got stuck in a dead-end because of the flaky GPS.

The other big question - are the remakes better than the original? "Better" is a tough one, this is my subjective preference and not a quantitative comparison.

GTA III - I didn't play it enough, they seem pretty close though. I'll call it even.

Vice City - Despite one horrible mission being easier, I'll go with the original game. There are just too many distracting bugs in the remake.

San Andreas - The checkpoint saves really made a big difference so I'll vote for the remake. I'm sure that is a controversial opinion to someone.

So that's it. I will never play this collection again. I will probably play Vice City again in a year or two but in an earlier form.



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