All Grand Theft Auto Games, Ranked
Few video game series are as legendary as Grand Theft Auto, which made its name thanks to developer Rockstar Games. It’s been around since 1997, spanning many generations of consoles and taking place from versions from the 1960s to the 2020s. It’s a controversial series that has made headlines for its violence and adult themes, but it has led to even more sales, increasing attractiveness and popularity.
Beyond its controversies, the Grand Theft Auto series is made up of fantastic games – some of which have completely revolutionized the medium as a whole. Many modern successes owe a lot to the Grand Theft Auto series, proving how important these games are even 20 years later. To celebrate the series, Rockstar is releasing an enhanced collection of trilogies for modern platforms in November, preserving the legacy of many of the franchise’s best games.
In the meantime, you might want to revisit Grand Theft Auto games – or maybe you just want something to hold you back until GTA 6. Anyway, here is our definitive ranking of the main entries in the series, from the original game to the giant. GTA V.
Grand Theft Auto (PlayStation, PC)
When it comes to older GTA games – those presented from a top-down perspective – it’s hard to compare them to the huge 3D open-world entries. Nevertheless, the original Grand Theft Auto was ahead of its time in some ways, paving the way for what would become one of the most successful series of all time. In the original, many mechanics of modern installments were presented, such as the open world, the wanted level system, and the ability to complete missions. It also featured three of the series’ most famous locations, including Liberty City, San Andreas, and Vice City. At the time, Grand Theft Auto felt more like an arcade game than anything, with a focus on points and a “lives” system in place. Still, this game is important and while it doesn’t hold up as well today, it has led to some of the best games of all time.
In many ways, Grand Theft Auto 2 is an improved version of its predecessor, offering more of the same. For this reason, it doesn’t stand out among the best in the series, but it’s still a fun, albeit outdated, experience. It still featured the arcade-style approach, in which players had to earn points to reach the next mission. However, the highlight of GTA 2 was its near future cadre, which was made up of several districts. There was also more of a more immersive world with pedestrians who would behave differently depending on the situation. Aside from a few improvements here and there, GTA 2 is a relic from the past that is difficult to trace 20 years later.
The Stories games are a bit underrated, each serving as prequels that expand the backstory and gameplay of the other entries in the series. Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories is a prequel to Grand Theft Auto III, featuring many familiar characters and locations. In fact, Liberty City is pretty much the same in this game as it is in GTA III, although it has a few differences, such as the implementation of Little Italy, which would later become a construction site in 2001. Liberty City Stories is definitely a game that you will enjoy more if you have played GTA III but remains pleasant in itself. It was the first game in the series to launch on PSP in 2005 before releasing on PS2 the following year.
The cool thing about Grand Theft Auto: Stories of Vice City is that it takes place two years before the events of City of vice but in fact borrows several ideas from San Andreas. In this one, you can build your empire by employing gang members and expanding it as you play. This, along with an all-new hand-to-hand grapple system, gave it more depth, although this is a prequel. Again, Stories of vice-city has references to City of vice, with various familiar characters, locations and missions. At the time, this game was mechanically one of the best in the series, and if you liked City of vice, then you would probably like Stories of vice-city.
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is unique in that it reverts to the top-down formula, launched after the series established itself in the 3D open world category. This bold move allowed Rockstar to implement some of the ideas from recent entries in this game while keeping things fresh and nostalgic. Chinatown Wars sends players back to Liberty City, this time focusing on the Triad Gang, who you may remember from GTA III. The touchscreen controls are the most unique to this game, allowing the player to navigate menus and weapon wheels without pressing a button, at least on the Nintendo DS and mobile versions. It’s a much underrated gem that’s overshadowed by its 3D counterparts, but that doesn’t make it any less desirable. Chinatown Wars still has the humor, action, and polish of the best GTA games, only on a smaller screen.
Arguably the most important game in the series, Grand Theft Auto III revolutionized the 3D open world formula, providing gamers with a gigantic living and breathing sandbox in which to play. It was certainly not the first to offer an open world, but in 2001, GTA III popularized this style of play. Even to this day, there is so much that makes GTA III a legendary experience, from its wonderfully written characters and satisfying missions to the sheer number of things to do in Liberty City. Admittedly, much of this game feels outdated by today’s standards, like its lack of camera controls with the right stick and its visuals. But still we owe a lot to GTA III, not only for its influence on the series, but for its impact on video games as a whole.
Just one year after the launch of GTA III, Rockstar released Grand Theft Auto Vice City, a game set in a fictional version of 1980s Miami. While not a numbered installment, this game was great when it launched, doubling down on many features of its predecessor. There was a bigger, more colorful world, a larger selection of weapons, and a better protagonist who actually speaks (sorry Claude). That’s right, the lead role of Tommy Vercetti was praised at the time, had a lot more personality and was frankly easier to get along with. Music in City of vice was phenomenal, as were the characters, the variety of missions, and the sheer spectacle of the world itself.
Grand Theft Auto IV is one of the most interesting entries in the long series. Released for the PS3 and Xbox 360 in 2008, this game received a lot of hype around its release, and it has largely lived up to expectations. This game had it all: enhanced combat, which included a cover system similar to Weaponry of war; incredible visuals (for the time); a city that felt absolutely inhabited; and modern touches such as the implementation of a cell phone that could be used to organize sessions with friends in the game. Speaking of which, the friends system was new, allowing you to participate in activities with the characters of the story.
The main character, Niko Bellic, is arguably one of the most interesting in the whole series, with a deep story that made him feel more fleshed out. Beyond the base game is the robust online mode which allows players to explore the city freely and participate in competitive battles such as races, deathmatch and other modes. At the time, it was absolutely revolutionary, as it was the most impressive online mode in the series. Despite this, GTA IV is often forgotten, and in some cases, he feels like the black sheep of the series. This despite his phenomenal exam scores. However, GTA IV is one of the best in the series and still worth playing in 2021.
The last game in the PS2 trilogy is Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, an entry that is still appreciated to this day. In fact, he’s some of the best in the series, in part thanks to his fantastic RPG mechanics, gang warfare, writing, music, and portrayals of San Francisco and Los Angeles. The most famous, San Andreas has many references to the 1991 film Boyz n the Hood, as the two share characters and elements of the story. Ultimately, this game is the culmination of the fantastic elements introduced in the previous two entries. In this one, you could control your character’s shape by training or eating, you could get the kind of haircut you wanted, and with an impressive variety of clothing options, customization was always at the forefront. . The deep mechanics and cinematic approach to gameplay make it one of the best games in the series, even 16 years later.
Without a doubt, Grand Theft Auto V is the most robust and successful game in the series. As many Grand Theft Auto games have broken new ground, the numbered fifth installment is iconic, ultimately becoming one of the best-selling games of all time (at around 150 million units sold). There are a lot of things that make this game so special, like its absolutely huge open world, exquisite gameplay and characters. Speaking of characters, this was the first game that featured three playable protagonists, Franklin, Michael, and Trevor, each with their own unique personalities and motivations. This has given the series a fresh take on it while also implementing clever story segments related to gameplay as well. The most notable part of the main campaign is the heist system, which allows you to team up with your allies to rob a bank.
However, the lasting effect of GTA V has to do with its multiplayer mode, Grand Theft Auto Online. Most of the game’s continued success can be attributed to the online mode, providing players with an almost endless amount of things to do with (or against friends). It really gives players a huge sandbox full of events, money to be made and an evolving city that keeps you motivated to keep checking in. GTA Online lets you live your best life, with the ability to buy properties, cars, jets, vehicles, and just about anything else. Heists are also available in this mode, expanding the basic basics of the main campaign but allowing multiple players to enjoy them at once. Online mode will likely shape how the series is handled in the future, moving away from the single-player approach, with more emphasis on multiplayer.