With the recent leak of insider information regarding the upcoming Grand Theft Auto VI, hype for the Rockstar-developed series is at an all-time high. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the franchise revolutionized gaming. From popularizing dense open-world environments to giving players freedom of choice, GTA set forth some of today’s most popular video game tropes. Today, we’re going to take a look at the series’ history and determine what is the best Grand Theft Auto game.
Grand Theft Auto: Advance (2004)
Perhaps the Gameboy Advance simply wasn’t the right platform to host a Grand Theft Auto game. The franchise’s trademark “freedom of choice” elements are severely hindered by the GBA’s capabilities. The only value this game has is in the fact that it is a prequel to the classic Grand Theft Auto III and therebycontains some fascinating lore that only diehard fans would likely be interested in.
Grand Theft Auto (1997)
Sure, this is the game that started it all, but that doesn’t necessarily make it good. Its 2D animation, tiny map, and unnecessary difficulty make it the most forgettable game in the main series. It’s not even a skeleton of what the franchise would become.
Grand Theft Auto: London, 1969 (1999)
Like the original Grand Theft Auto, London will likely only appeal to fans who are interested in examining the roots of gaming’s most iconic series. It is the only GTA game to take place in the ‘60s and feature a real-world city. Other than these fun facts, however, there really isn’t much fun to be found here.
Grand Theft Auto II (1999)
Grand Theft Auto II is essentially just a slightly better version of the original. However, aside from the zany humor has been upped a bit, there aren’t many distinct differences between the two games. This is the only game in the series to take place in Anywhere City, a retro-futuristic metropolis that bears similarities with the cyberpunk settings of films of Akira and Blade Runner.
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (2009)
The only GTA game playable on the Nintendo DS, Chinatown Wars was one last hurrah for the “top-down” era of the series. Believe it or not, it’s a decent game. It introduces a drug dealing feature that was not present in the games that preceded it. It is fun strategizing your deals (i.e. driving across the city to sell at a higher price).
Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories (2005)
Originally released for the PSP, Liberty City Stories brought the 3D Grand Theft Auto experience to a handheld console. It was certainly a huge step up from Advance, and overall, it’s a solid game: just nowhere near the best. Being a handheld game, it was extremely bare-boned, especially when compared to the monster that was San Andreas, released only a year prior.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories (2006)
Another PSP entry, some will argue that Vice City Stories is even better than Vice City. And though we disagree, we can see why the game is so revered. It adds a plethora of San Andreas-inspired features to the Vice City experience, including gang wars and empire-building mechanics, as well as the—believe it or not—ability to swim.
Grand Theft Auto III (2001)
Grand Theft Auto III is undoubtedly the most influential game on this list, even if not the best. At the time of its release, critics and gamers alike were shocked at the freedoms it afforded the player. It single-handedly popularized the 3D open-world genre; for years following its release, any other sandbox game was labeled a “GTA clone.”
Rockstar would vastly improve the GTA III formula with each game that followed. But the game was a necessary stepping stone to get where we are today.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002)
Equal parts Scarface and Miami Vice, Vice City takes the player into the drug-filled underworld of the ‘80s. Gameplay-wise, not much has changed since Grand Theft Auto III. What makes Vice City distinct is its neon aesthetic, dark humor, and stellar soundtrack, containing the most-loved hits of the ‘80s.
Grand Theft Auto IV (2008)
Taking the player back to Liberty City (the setting of Grand Theft Auto III), IV puts the player in the shoes of Niko Bellic, an Eastern European war veteran. Aside from revamping the traditional GTA combat system, IV took a more serious tone, painting the picture of a broken man who is trying to escape a life of crime, rather than embrace it.
It features Rockstar’s first attempt at an online mode, which would be perfected by the next entry on this list.
Grand Theft Auto V (2013)
Grand Theft Auto V is the culmination of everything that makes the series great. With an immense map and an infinite number of things to do, it’s no wonder that the game has kept players enthralled for nearly 10 years. Of everything it has to offer, however, its online mode is undoubtedly its coolest feature. We can only imagine what VI has in store for us with regard to online play.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004)
A controversial choice, yes, but San Andreas is the most iconic GTA game. It took the open-world formula to heights no one even thought possible. Including a map of three unique cities (with plenty of rural land in between), an abundance of mini-games, and the first GTA protagonist to show signs of humanity, San Andreas is the pinnacle of the franchise.