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We ranked all 12 Grand Theft Auto games so you don't have to

We ranked all 12 Grand Theft Auto games so you don't have to

Where does your favourite GTA land on the list?

When you take a step back and look across the Rockstar Games catalogue, Grand Theft Auto appears a lot. It’s easy to overlook just how many titles have been released in the franchise given some of them have been exclusive to certain platforms.

As we’re all aboard the hype train for GTA VI, we’ve been looking back over all of the Grand Theft Auto titles and weighing them against each other in a good old-fashioned ranked list. Where does your favourite entry appear? What are your personal top three? Let’s start the debate here.

The hype train is still rolling for GTA VI and there's no slowing it down

Grand Theft Auto 2 - 1999

Released hot on the heels of the original game and capitalising on the popularity of a burgeoning genre, Grand Theft Auto 2 did improve a little on the first game, but it takes a lower spot on the list because it’s the most forgettable. Still using a top-down view and built on pixel graphics, the blueprint of the franchise was further fleshed out. Set within a ‘retrofuturisitc’ city called ‘Anywhere City’ it was the biggest miss in the franchise history with very mixed reviews.

Grand Theft Auto: London - 1999

While this appeared as the third instalment in the GTA franchise, it stands out as the first, and only, time a game takes place in a real-life location. It was originally released as an expansion for the first game, but later featured as a full release on PlayStation and came as part of the Grand Theft Auto: Director’s Cut. Though the series had always been funny, this was a chance to lean into that humour. It was, unfortunately, a very short game, which marks it down a touch.

GTA London
GTA London

GTA: Liberty City Stories - 2005

Originally launched as a PSP exclusive title (it later came to PlayStation 2 and mobile devices) GTA: Liberty City Stories featured Toni Cipriani, a character found within GTA 3, who found himself in a power struggle within the mafia. The game was enjoyable and brought the recent move to 3D over to the handheld Sony console, though it did have to make some adjustments and wouldn’t feature flying vehicles due to the low power of the PSP. It was a brilliant accompaniment to the third mainline GTA game.

GTA: Vice City Stories - 2006

Following in the footsteps of GTA: Liberty City Stories, this iteration took us to Vice City to build a criminal empire - there was actually an empire building system built into this one as a side project to the main story. Due to the popularity of Vice City as a setting, this became the second best-selling PSP game of all-time. Much like the previous PSP title, GTA: Vice City Stories featured an ad-hoc multiplayer mode for up to six people, which was a unique aspect of the series for the time.

Vice City Stories
Vice City Stories

GTA: Chinatown Wars - 2009

It took a couple of years but GTA came back to handheld consoles, this time to the Nintendo DS, though GTA: Chinatown Wars did follow onto PSP after a few months. As this was designed with the DS in mind, players could interact with the touch screen as if it were a mobile phone. There was a shift back to the top-down view, bolstered by cel-shaded graphics, likely due to the lack of power in the Nintendo handheld, but this quickly became a favourite in the series. The story took us over to the Triads, with a protagonist in Huang Lee, rather than the usual mafia this time around.

GTA 3 - 2001

Okay, here we go. This is where the list gets really exciting because we’re moving into the 3D shift for the series. When Grand Theft Auto jumped from that retro top-down style to what we know today. GTA 3 was a monumental switch and while it’s recognisable, it was still different in some important ways. For example, the protagonist, Claude, was completely silent; the map of Liberty City (based on New York) was broken down into three sections, though still featured open-world shenanigans. This iteration was also the start of a life of controversy, because while you could still kill and maim in the first few games, taking it to a 3D space made it all too real for some, and GTA would find itself broiled in controversy.


Grand Theft Auto - 1997

It might seem odd stepping back to the very first game at this point, but hear me out. While GTA 3 might be the better game, from a gameplay perspective, the original Grand Theft Auto was groundbreaking. Aside from titles like Carmaggedon, games were still seen as for kids, and games with an edge certainly didn’t appear often on consoles. This landing on PlayStation was huge for the industry and, surprisingly, it still holds up well today, mostly due to the graphics. Sure, it’s very simple, but it still packed in a tonne of charm, humour, and outlandish mission design. It’s in this spot due to its legacy, also.

GTA IV - 2008

GTA IV is still a brilliant game, let’s get that out of the way. It was another monumental release because so many of the game’s systems were improved from the previous generation. However, at the time, and still today, GTA IV isn’t seen as one of the very best for a few reasons, chiefly, it was very repetitive. Plus, for some, the shift in tone was off-putting. Suddenly the series wasn’t as funny as it used to be and it became more serious. Having said that, GTA IV aged well and many of its original detractors found joy after revisiting it. It should also be mentioned that one of the best GTA stories was the DLC, The Ballad of Gay Tony, which featured some of the best narrative design from the studio.


GTA Online - 2013

Now we’re getting into the thick of it. GTA Online, classed by Rockstar Games and many others as a standalone title, so it’s on here. Now, while we can say that GTA Online definitely has some great features and is the only way to experience GTA with friends, it is showing its age now. Having said that, Rockstar Games has done a brilliant job in keeping story content flowing while boosting the game with new cars, features, and ways to play together. For many, it’s more accessible than the mainline games because you can drop in and just start messing around, plus the addition of things like heists keeps people coming back to make money and blow it on ludicrous cars. For years, all players wanted was GTA but with buddies, and that’s what we got. It’s weird, funny, preposterous, and quintessentially GTA.

GTA: Vice City - 2002

Vice City is a brilliant place to be. Not only is the city itself colourful, sleazy fun, but everything that comes with driving through the city is sublime. The radio stations, the city signage, the fashions, even the mobsters lived with tongue in cheek and a cheeky wink. For humour, GTA: Vice City can’t be beaten, for the crimes, it was inspired by 1980s cop dramas, as well as films like Scarface. It was a pop culture clash of the best proportions. This was also the first game where the surroundings truly became another character in the game, as so much research was done in and around Miami to truly capture that Florida living. Some of the material feels out of date now, but there’s just no denying the level of fun that this iteration brought to millions.

Vice City
Vice City

GTA V - 2013

Let it be known, we put GTA V in second place, but by the skin of its teeth. With all the critical acclaim and millions of fans clamouring to play, GTA V is financially, and perhaps culturally, the ‘best’ GTA game to date. It’s the second best-selling video game of all time with over 195 million units sold, making over $8.5 billion. GTA V became a beast in the industry that will only be overshadowed by its follow-up, GTA VI. Bringing together three protagonists, telling huge stories that went through action-packed set pieces, subtle, emotional narrative twists, and outlandish tone, this game has captured the hearts and minds of many, across 11 years and three console generations. It’s astonishing to see how far the franchise has come and this is likely, for now, the pinnacle of the series.

GTA: San Andreas - 2004

But. But, GTA: San Andreas just holds too many memories, too many well-loved moments, and too many points of controversy that hold the franchise up to the light. It was a game that walked the fine line between drama and comedy like so few games ever have, bridging gaps between the impoverished and the rich, speaking on the class war of America, and touching on the crack epidemic, while still being able to laugh at the ludicrous missions given to Carl ‘CJ’ Johnson. In hindsight, we can critically look at the representation of race and gender and voice our objections.

Taken as a product of its time, and at face value, GTA: San Andreas stands out for so many aspects, some mentioned, and others not. The spoofed world of L.A. was a dream to navigate, with new ways to play with weapons and vehicles, and a more interesting narrative direction. It was an adventure, role-playing gaming as we’d rarely seen and it’s held high in the fondness of many.

San Andreas
San Andreas
Featured Image Credit: Rockstar Games

Topics: Grand Theft Auto, GTA 5, GTA 6, GTA Online, Rockstar Games, Retro Gaming