There is no other franchise like “Grand Theft Auto.” Exploding from humble beginnings as an overlooked Playstation and PC title to become the largest franchise in video game history, the open-world crime series is a force to be reckoned with. What makes “GTA” so unique, even in today’s industry, is how each game is so different. Each features a completely different cast of characters and scenarios in different environments that are ripped straight from real life — with a satirical edge to them.
Each “GTA” title has pushed the boundaries of what is allowed in video games and what people should expect. Newer titles have pushed the industry forward in storytelling, character development and world-building. But which game is ultimately the best, and where do they rank among each other? Let’s fine out.
1. ‘Grand Theft Auto V’
Who would think after the disappointing “Grand Theft Auto IV,” that Rockstar Games had it in them to create something as fun, engaging and moving as “GTA V.” With a colorful cast of characters — including some of the best written characters in video gaming — the latest entry in the series is the best. The package comes filled to the brim with so much content that even the most astute gamer won’t manage to enjoy it all by the launch of “GTA Online” this week.
2. ‘Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas’
When Rockstar Games finally pulled the cover off “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas,” including its ridiculously large map, no one ever thought it could be done on the Playstation 2. It was too ambitious, too dangerous and too bloody big. But Rockstar did it and “San Andreas” was the best game in the series, until the release of “GTA V” less than two weeks ago.
Even nine years after its release, “San Andreas” continues to do things that other open world games haven’t caught up to. RPG elements, including maintaining CJ’s health, were brilliant additions surprisingly removed from “GTA IV.” The massive map and variety of secrets Easter eggs is breathtaking, even today.
Plus, kudos to Rockstar Games for centering a massive game on a minority character, and avoiding stereotype controversies, for the most part. “San Andreas” may have been known for the “Hot Coffee” scandal initially, but it has become one of the most amazing open world titles of all time.
3. “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City”
“Grand Theft Auto III” may have been the game that brought the series into the realm of 3D, but it was suave “Vice City” that really really refined the formula.
“Vice City” captures that unique feeling of the 80s, complete with the “Miami Vice” style and the wonderful radio stations, which are still better than any other “GTA” title. Tommy Vercetti isn’t the most interesting character, but the atmosphere and the refined gameplay really push “Vice City” to the next level.
4. “Grand Theft Auto IV”
“Grand Theft Auto IV” had all of the hype in the world behind it when it released in 2009. Coming off the heels of “GTA: San Andreas,” there was no way Rockstar Games could falter. But they somehow did.
“GTA IV” isn’t a bad game by any measure. It’s extremely well made, with an obviously ridiculous amount of love behind it. But it commits one of the cardinal sins of gaming — it’s boring. The activities pale in comparison to any of those in “San Andreas,” and the more serious tone the game takes is a stark contrast to the over-the-top satire of previous entries.
Still, it features the most well-written and deepest character in the series, Niko. Despite some obvious contradictions of his character, due solely to the gameplay structure, Niko is the first protagonist players can really get behind.
5. “GTA 2”
“GTA 2” is like the red-headed stepchild of the “Grand Theft Auto” series. Its pseudo-futuristic setting and completely over-the-top characters and gangs makes for an interesting, but divisive game.
It also has the misfortune of being the title released right before “Grand Theft Auto III,” which really blew up the series’ popularity. Still, “GTA 2,” is an extremely entertaining game that refines on the formula of the original title in the series. Its graphics were quite impressive for the time and the setting does have its charms.
6. “Grand Theft Auto III”
“Grand Theft Auto III” is the reason the “GTA” series is so popular — and controversial. This was the game that kickstarted the second wave of video game violence complaints due to its complete open nature and “realistic” graphics, for its time.
Never had a game given the player, in a three-dimensional world, the ability to go anywhere and do anything with the confines of the game. It was an amazing experience that also lead to certain issues, such as picking up a prostitute, having sex with her and then beating her with a golf club to get your money back. Gamers called it emergent gameplay. Others called it a murder simulation.
But the game hasn’t aged well. All of its features have been refined and bettered by subsequent releases and “GTA IV,” despite its flaws, did better justice to Liberty City. Still, “GTA III” was the game that blew the franchise open.
7. “Grand Theft Auto”
Rockstar Games is best known for the “Grand Theft Auto” franchise, which debuted on the PC and Playstation. The top-down crime game was overlooked when it was released initially. Praised for its tight gameplay and variety, it was still somewhat unrefined.
Still, this is the game that created the franchise that would go on to be the biggest seller in video game history.