Every Grand Theft Auto Game, Ranked

When you talk about video games to anyone who doesn’t play them, they’ll likely think of Grand Theft Auto. It’s not hard to see why: the series has dominated the video game industry since the first GTA game launched in 1997. Each game’s launch becomes an event that transcends the video game industry and is talked about in mainstream media.

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The points of discussion are mixed due to the series’ controversy. Regardless of what you think, these titles are some of the greatest and best-crafted open-world titles ever. But like any other video game franchise, not all titles are created equally. Each entry is compared to its predecessors and, after time, the entries that succeed it.

Updated December 20, 2023 by Dominic Allen: With the next Grand Theft Auto right on the horizon, it’s a good time to update this list to current standards. The Definitive Editions are added as they’re worthy of their entry, and a massive overhaul to put in only third-person perspectives, unlike the plenty of first-person in the original.

Expansions will count as their own entry and not be tied to the core game.

16 Grand Theft Auto: London 1961

A screenshot showing gameplay in Grand Theft Auto: London 1961

Release Year

Platforms

1999

PC

The second of the GTA London expansion packs is the worst entry, simply for doing little to add to what GTA: London 1969 had already brought to the table. The game engine, map, and sprites are identical to its predecessor. It is apparent that the release was created to tide over gamers waiting for a true sequel to the first GTA game.

It is clear why it was a freeware title, as it would have been insulting to pay for a near-carbon copy of GTA: London 1969. Despite the great satire, GTA London: 1961 was a stale entry to the GTA series, and even Rockstar Games seem to acknowledge this, given that they barely ever reference the game at all.

15 Grand Theft Auto: London 1969

A screenshot showing gameplay in Grand Theft Auto: London 1969

Release Year

Platforms

1999

PC, PlayStation

A GTA game in London has been clamored after ever since the GTA series went blockbuster in the early noughties. Much like with GTA London: 1961, many gamers don’t realize that Rockstar has visited this location on more than one occasion, with their first trip taking place in 1969. Nice!

It was fun to ride about in the Austin Powers car and big red buses, but what let this entry down was that it did little to geographically represent the real-life London, which is odd, given that this is the only entry to take place in an actual city. Maybe Rockstar will revisit this location at some point in the future, and given how far they’ve come in creating game worlds that feel lived in, they’ll probably nail it on the third try.

14 Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories

The First Big GTA On A Handheld

A screenshot showing gamplay in Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories

Release Year

Platforms

2005

PSP, PlayStation 2, iOS, Android

Liberty City Stories started life as a PSP title and was eventually ported over to the PS2. The game expanded upon the backstory of the Leone family and explored Tony Cipriani’s character in more detail. All you know of him from GTA3 is that he is fiercely loyal to Don Leone and his own momma, but GTA: Liberty City Stories lets you play through his origins.

Rockstar Games even made an effort to give Liberty City a sense of continuity. Based in 1998, three years before the events of GTA3, it includes locations and buildings that no longer existed at the time of that game. With its solid story and characters, Liberty City Stories is worth checking out for series fans, but not necessarily a must-play entry.

13 Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories

A screenshot showing gameplay in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories

Release Year

Platforms

2006

PSP, PlayStation 2

Much in the same vein as Liberty City Stories, Vice City Stories brings life to a character you knew little about from GTA: Vice City and revamps the world in which the game is set. The protagonist this time is Vic Lance. A former Corporal in the US Army, the game sees his rise from an upstanding member of the Armed Forces to a drug trafficker and a major player in the Vice City crime scene.

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Vice City Stories also adds new features to the empire-building system. With properties you own prone to attacks from rival gangs, it makes them seem more like actual fronts for your shady enterprise, as opposed to places you collect cash and the odd mission from. Much like Liberty City Stories, this is great for series fans to explore more of this character.

12 Grand Theft Auto Advance

First Original GTA Title On A Nintendo System

A screenshot showing gameplay in Grand Theft Auto Advance and getting a kill

Release Year

Platforms

2004

GBA

This Game Boy Advance game was announced with a lot of promise. Initially, it was to be a port of GTA3, but due to technical limitations, GTA: Advance ended up being a top-down prequel to that game and not a great one at that. Given the low specs of the Game Boy Advance, Rockstar Games did well to make the aesthetics of GTA: Advance as true to the original GTA games as possible.

However, in the end, it just did not have the same level of polish. Where the selection of radio tracks helped make the previous games, GTA: Advance featured a lackluster selection of music, and its driving felt poor when compared to the first two GTA games. Ultimately, GTA: Advance is a game that started with so much promise and disappointed so many.

11 Grand Theft Auto

Where It All Began

A screenshot showing gameplay in Grand Theft Auto with a car pile up

Release Year

Platforms

1997

PC, PlayStation, Game Boy Color

GTA is a great game. Really, it is. It was a blast when it first came out, causing carnage in its three cities. However, like any series with numerous iterations, the first will always be less advanced than its successors. While the first GTA game is noteworthy for its innovation, it has not stood the test of time.

It is odd to think of how different this game could have been. When being developed by DMA Design, the original title was Race ‘n’ Chase. When first conceptualized, Race ‘n’ Chase allowed the player to choose to be a cop or robber, and they would, well, chase and race. After several developments, the focus shifted more towards creating as much carnage as you can. Could you imagine getting excited for the next Race ‘n’ Chase instead of Grand Theft Auto?

10 Grand Theft Auto 2

The Sound And The Fury

A screenshot showing gameplay in Grand Theft Auto 2 in a dark part of the city

Release Year

Platforms

1999

PC, PlayStation, Dreamcast, Game Boy Color

The 1999 sequel to GTA was a significant improvement over its predecessor. Probably its best implementation was its system for managing your status with rival gangs, and the only other game in the series to have this system was GTA: San Andreas. However, given GTA2 was released in 1999, this was ground-breaking stuff.

Outside of this system, the game didn’t do much else – but it didn’t need to, given that the formula for GTA was already great. Its setting was also pretty spectacular. Set in an anonymous, dystopian city named Anywhere, USA, it was a stark departure from the comparatively bland cities of GTA1.

9 Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition

A Disaster Of A Remaster

A screenshot showing Tommy Vercetti and the gang inside The Malibu Club in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City - The Definitive Edition

Release Year

Platforms

2021

PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Switch, PC, iOS, Android

The original 3D GTA trilogy on PS2 and Xbox needed a remaster not solely due to the graphics and controls but also the sheer frustration of its dated checkpoint system. The Definitive Editions thankfully update the latter, but that’s the only real positive here. Its graphics are ugly and look worse in some regards to the originals.

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Even with the current version, there are still a lot of bugs that hamper the experience. Plus, the soundtrack isn’t the same, which is a big issue here, particularly with Vice City. Taking place in the 80s, the Michael Jackson songs present really help you immerse yourself in the game world, and with that gone, you do lose some of that 80s feel. You’re honestly better off playing the original versions or the PC ports if you can get them to run.

8 Grand Theft Auto 4: The Lost And Damned

It’s Time To Raise Some Hell

A screenshot showing motorcycle gameplay in Grand Theft Auto: The Lost and Damned

Release Year

Platforms

2009

Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC

GTA 4: The Lost and Damned is the first and only GTA game to take on motorcycle gang culture, and it’s a wild ride. It was the first GTA title to really nail the motorcycle riding mechanics, which never felt entirely smooth in the previous games and especially poor in GTA4.

Additionally, most developers don’t put nearly as much effort into their expansion packs as Rockstar games did with The Lost and Damned, which is a solid effort. With quality voice acting, writing, and gameplay across the board, The Lost and Damned is exceptional as a standalone title.

7 Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad Of Gay Tony

It’s Time To Party

Luis group dancing at Maisonette 9 in Grand Theft Auto 4: The Ballad of Gay Tony.

Release Year

Platforms

2009

Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC

This expansion is better primarily due to the main character being more likable. Mechanically, however, it didn’t do much to differentiate itself from GTA4, with the exception that you can visit nightclubs and dance. That’s pretty cool, and it does feel better than the nightclubs in GTA 5 Online.

This game is thematically closer to GTA: Vice City than any other entry in the series. Unlike The Lost and Damned, which is built around the politics of a motorcycle gang (and feels gritty as a result), Ballard of Gay Tony takes a glitzier and more light-hearted look at GTA 4’s Liberty City. It is a refreshing change of pace to the hard-hitting stories of GTA4 and The Lost and Damned. Plus, the ending is great and wraps up the entire GTA 4 story nicely.

6 Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

A screenshot showing shooting gameplay in Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

Released
March 17, 2009

Developer(s)
Rockstar Leeds , Rockstar North

GTA: Chinatown Wars is a marked improvement over GTA: Advance for the systems it implemented that differentiated it from the rest of the series. Chinatown Wars features a drug-running mini-game that offers a real sense of risk and reward. You can peddle drugs to users in different areas of the city by understanding the market demands of that specific area.

The excitement comes from carrying $20,000 of drugs and trying to evade capture by the police. Getting caught, obviously, means you will lose it all, forcing you to weigh up your odds and options. It also offered a different approach to evading the police, whereby you destroy pursuing police cars rather than out-run or get a paint-job. It added a greater level of excitement to the chase than what was previously seen.

5 Grand Theft Auto 4

Liberty City Like You’ve Never Seen Before

A screenshot showing chase gameplay in Grand Theft Auto 4

GTA 4 is the least popular of the 3D main installments. It has a style that is divisive, with some loving its dour tone and some hating it, feeling it was too far a departure from the GTA games from the PS2. Rockstar Games pushed the level of detail in GTA4 to places where the other games could not go with the new hardware available.

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This reimagining of Liberty City felt more like a true-to-life representation of New York, as opposed to GTA 3, which was a mish-mash of New York, Chicago, and Portland. Irrespective of how you feel about the tone of GTA4, it is impossible to ignore how effectively the American Dream story is told here. Many Rockstar titles afterward tried to do the same style of story, and none did it better than GTA4.

4 Grand Theft Auto 3

The Start Of A Revolution

A screenshot showing gameplay in Grand Theft Auto 3

Grand Theft Auto 3

Released
October 23, 2001

GTA3 is one of those truly groundbreaking titles like Doom, Resident Evil, or Street Fighter 2. Even at release, it just had this wow factor because you had never seen anything like it before. Looking back on it, and given how far GTA games have come, it feels primitive.

However, just like the first GTA, this was one of the most innovative games ever and gave birth to modern open-world games as you know it. While GTA games now feature fully-voiced protagonists, GTA 3’s main character was entirely silent, receiving orders and acknowledging comments with a simple nod. He was the ultimate blank canvas for you to project and vicariously live out your most depraved desires.

3 Grand Theft Auto 5

Still One Of The Best Open-World Games To Date

A screenshot showing Michael in the middle of a car chase in Grand Theft Auto 5

GTA 5 is the video game equivalent to a fifty-hour blockbuster movie. Fitting, considering the game is set in Los Santos, a fictional version of Los Angeles. In the game, you’ll do all sorts of bombastic and over-the-top antics, like breaking into top-secret government test centers and storming through the streets of a rural American town in bullet-proof gear as a walking tank fighting against literal tanks.

GTA 5 took a new direction for the series, offering three different protagonists that you can shift between on the fly, each with their own story. All of them are likable and have their own role. Plus, each character has their own side activities and missions to do, and the ones in GTA5 are possibly the best yet.

2 Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

An Awesome 80s Throwback

A screenshot showing driving gameplay in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

Released
October 29, 2002

After what Rockstar Games did with GTA 3, it was hard to see how much they could do to improve the series. Especially considering that GTA: Vice City was released just one year later. Despite this, Vice City really pushes the envelope. It was the first of the series to provide you with empire-building, giving you a tangible sense that this was not just a virtual playground for speeding around in cars and shooting guns but a real city.

It also introduced the first fully-voiced GTA protagonist, Tommy Vercetti, who has gone on to be a fan favorite, known for his class, style, and wit. Vice City also has a strong sense of place, being inspired by Scarface and Miami Vice. It also features one of the greatest soundtracks in a GTA game, full of iconic classics from the 80s.

1 Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

Massive On A Scale That Wasn’t Seen Before

A screenshot showing bicycle chase gameplay in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

GTA: San Andreas contains one of the biggest adventures Rockstar Games has ever produced. You start as a gang-banger, looking to piece together the gang and life you left behind. Fifteen hours in, you end up owning a casino and stealing a jetpack from a top-secret military installation, and it goes on from there.

The scope of both its world design and narrative is outstanding, given that this was a 2004 PS2 game, and no other title on that platform came close to matching it. The protagonist, Carl Johnson, is just so likable too. That despite all his successes and triumphs, he never gets arrogant or cocky, unlike those who he grew up with. Ultimately, GTA: San Andreas takes you on a wild adventure across its diverse and bizarre state and one that has yet to be topped.

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