With the announcement of Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy (and hopefully a sixth mainline instalment on the horizon), we thought it would be the perfect time to look back at Rockstar’s behemoth crime saga of video games that defined entire generations and set the bar very high for all open-world games to come. While the GTA trilogy is known to receive critical acclaim, there are some that are simply better than others. From worst to best, we’ll be ranking all the major GTA games across five generations.
A quick note before we begin, the Grand Theft Auto series has several spin-offs that have gone to mobile, Game Boy Advance, and more platforms. However, we’ll only be focusing on the most well-known mainline entries for this list to keep it focused. Unfortunately, this won’t include GTA Advance or Chinatown Wars.
9. Grand Theft Auto (1997)
Developed by DMA Design, the first Grand Theft Auto title was released for PC, PlayStation and Game Boy Color. Featuring a top-down perspective due to hardware limitations at the time, the blueprints were already there for what the series would eventually become. Telling a serious crime story set in an open world that offered players plenty of ways to tackle missions. It didn’t have the greatest reception at launch but it did kick off the GTA franchise with a small bang.
8. Grand Theft Auto 2
DMA Design would develop a sequel a couple of years later in Grand Theft Auto 2. Many critics agreed at the time that it was a marginal improvement over the first game, but was still bogged down by clunky controls and a top-down perspective that was beginning to show its age. Telling yet another crime story involving syndicates and betrayal, GTA 2 gave players more freedom to play how they please, but it would take a major overhaul to really shoot the series into stardom…
7. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories
Released exclusively for the PSP before finding its way to consoles, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories was a spin-off involving Lance Vance’s brother, Vic Vance. It served as a prequel to Vice City and saw several familiar (albeit younger) faces return. Vice City Stories received good to great reviews at launch, but many critics felt like it didn’t offer anything new or exciting, having a “been there, done that” feeling while also not having as compelling of a story as its predecessor.
6. Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories
Rockstar Games once again leaned into the portable spin-offs with Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories, being set in GTA III‘s iconic location of Liberty City. It also served as a prequel to the third game and set all the major characters on their path to doom or success in the future. Liberty City Stories performed better with critics than Vice City Stories, and was another major commercial success for them, but it also fell into some similar issues of having an underwhelming story when compared to its mainline counterparts.
5. Grand Theft Auto III
Now we’re getting into the legendary tiers of the Grand Theft Auto franchise, starting with the one that began GTA’s road to glory: Grand Theft Auto III. The third game in the series dramatically overhauled its identity, offering players a third-person perspective this time that capitalized on the improved PlayStation 2 hardware at the time. Needless to say, GTA III set a very high bar for all open-world games to come, pioneering many staple features and mechanics that are present in almost every open-world game today. It also told a more well-written and dramatic crime story at heart, with a sleuth of interesting characters populating the impressive 3D world of Liberty City. GTA III‘s impact is still felt far and wide in the gaming industry today, though Rockstar would only one-up themselves in future instalments.
4. Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V‘s placement on this list might be a bit controversial as it’s not only one of the highest-rated GTA games of all time, but also the best-selling AAA video game in history. This is thanks in large part to Rockstar’s extremely popular GTA Online that came with the game, but as an experience, it was certainly a masterclass in storytelling and game design. Taking players back to Los Santos, GTA V told its story from the perspective of three protagonists: Lincoln, Michael and Trevor. Returning to San Andreas in modern-day was a wise decision since it created a familiar contemporary sandbox to dive into more easily. However, while it remains a cultural landmark in gaming, there were better days in its history… somehow.
3. Grand Theft Auto IV
Rockstar just can’t get enough of Liberty City, so they transported players back to the New York-inspired location for Grand Theft Auto IV. While not as technically sound or bankable as GTA V, GTA IV told a much more personal story with a protagonist and side characters fans absolutely adored. Thanks to phenomenal writing, spot-on attention to detail, and a classic story of making it in America (by any means necessary), GTA IV was a great leap for the series and one that is still looked back on with fondness today.
2. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
These next two titles are so high up on the video game hall of fame, you could easily exchange their positioning. However, the runner-up belongs to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Where do I even begin? Vice City took place in the Miami-inspired setting in the 80s, and relished in its time period. This included streets being paved with neon signs, clubs playing the hottest hits from the era, and sleek vintage sports cars lining the streets. It also featured a rock-solid voice cast that included Ray Liotta, William Fichtner, Burt Reynolds and many more Hollywood stars. Games like Vice City are so monumentally good, that they rarely happen today in a single generation – but this is Rockstar, and you know what’s coming.
1. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
There’s not much to say about Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas that hasn’t already been said. It earns its badge as one of the greatest video games of all time, and it’s hard to argue against that. Set in the early 90s era of a West Coast-inspired setting, San Andreas delivered not just one, but three major cities to explore, each modelled after real-world San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. You’ll also venture across desserts, badlands, and forests in between. San Andreas nailed its open-world design down to the finest detail, and it’s an achievement that’s not easily topped even today. It also has the most gripping story in the series with a cast of superbly written characters that are each iconic in their own right. San Andreas is Rockstar’s magnum opus and for many, hasn’t been dethroned since as one of the reigning kings of the open world.