Are GTA Trilogy: Definitive Edition’s Remastered Graphics Too Cartoonish?

The first trailer for Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition reveals the remasters' new visuals, but not everyone thinks that they're an improvement.

Grand Theft Auto Trilogy Remaster
Photo: Rockstar Games

Rockstar has finally released the first full trailer for Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition (the official remasters of the GTA trilogy), and while it looks absolutely incredible in most respects, the remasters’ updated visuals have quickly triggered a debate over whether these remastered games are abandoning realism for a more cartoonish style.

Context is incredibly important in this particular conversation, so if you haven’t watched the new trailer for Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition, be sure to do so now.

That trailer makes it pretty obvious that the upcoming GTA remasters vastly improve the original games’ visuals from a purely technical perspective (which we’ll talk about more in a bit), but, as you also probably noticed, those generally improved visuals also arguably change the art style of the original games. It’s a little difficult to really feel the full effect of the differences during those relatively quick comparison shots seen in the trailer, so here are a few additional comparison screens that highlight just how different the remasters looks compared to the original games:

GTA 3 Remaster and GTA 3 Flamethrower
GTA Vice City Remaster and GTA Vice City Tommy
GTA San Andreas Remaster and GTA San Andreas CJ and Ryder

Again, the graphics are clearly “improved,” but as you can see, many of the ways the original games’ visuals have been upgraded have resulted in the remasters looking slightly more cartoonish overall. The much brighter colors are the most obvious example of this new style, but even the character models and environments just pop in a way that makes them feel a bit more exaggerated than their comparatively grittier counterparts.

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The debate at the moment centers on not just the quality of the remasters’ visuals but whether or not these new graphics fundamentally alter the design, tone, and creative intent of the original games in a negative way.

It’s a tricky topic. It’s impossible to deny that there is a difference between the two styles, and I think there’s a reasonable argument to be had regarding the idea that these new graphics alter the art direction of the original games a bit too much. If you were a fan of the…let’s temporarily call it more “realistic” style of the original GTA games, then this change will probably feel a little bit jarring.

At the very least, there are some aspects of the remastered visuals that just feel a bit off. That’s especially true of the character designs, which almost feel like they were churned out by the upscaling process rather than crafted to closely match their new surroundings. While that’s probably not the case (and some of the characters certainly look better than others), I can completely understand why someone would say that the new graphics change the looks of the original games as well as aspects of their spirit.

That being said, I don’t think this is a complete betrayal of the design direction of the original games. Yes, there is a clear difference between the two that could be described as “realistic” vs. “cartoonish,” but there’s certainly an argument to be made that the slightly more realistic and gritty style of the original games was as much of a byproduct of the visual limitations of the PS2 as they were a core component of their intended art direction.

In fact, between the comic book art style of the promotional material for the original GTA games and those titles’ more outlandish elements, you could easily argue that those games were always meant to be more cartoonish than the slightly more grounded visuals would have suggested. GTA 4 definitively emphasized more realistic design across the board, but the GTA trilogy was filled with over-the-top characters, scenarios, and plotlines. In fact, I’d argue that the absurdity of those games is part of the reason why they stand apart from their also brilliant successors.

Besides, while the remastered visuals aren’t perfect, they’re certainly striking in their own way. The new environments, improved car models, and enhanced effects are especially nice and really make me excited to lose myself in these worlds again. Some of the best video game remasters find a way to allow you to experience a comfortable favorite in a slightly new way, and, based on what we know now, it certainly seems like these remasters are in a position to offer just that.

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While I wish that the older versions of the GTA games weren’t currently scheduled to be removed from digital storefronts so that these two styles could both be preserved in some way, it’s certainly going to be fascinating to see where fans ultimately land on this debate when Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition releases on November 11.