When the original Grand Theft Auto was released in 1997, it didn’t exactly light the world on fire. It wasn’t until 2001’s Grand Theft Auto III that the franchise became the mega-hit it is today. From that point on, Rockstar changed the game. They revolutionized what it meant to be an open-world video game.
With each subsequent release, the series has gotten bigger. Does that mean it has gotten better as well? Today, we’re going to discuss that as we rank every Grand Theft Auto release from worst to best, except for GTA Online. Sorry, this is my list and I make the rules.
Grand Theft Auto: London 1961
An expansion is supposed to expand on the original release. London 1961 doesn’t do that despite being an expansion for the original Grand Theft Auto title.
I believe that the original games are worth a quick romp on the weekend just to experience them. London 1961 is better left alone, however.
Grand Theft Auto: London 1969
Seriously. Grand Theft Auto: London 1969, which came out first, is a better expansion than London 1961. It’s pretty gosh darn similar too.
Grand Theft Auto
The original that started it all. This is where I reveal that I’m a sucker for these top-down 2D titles. I have a non-ironic love for Grand Theft Auto Advance. GTA 1, however, is very clearly the first entry in the series. It introduces the ideas and concepts the franchise becomes known for.
It’s fun to spend a little trip down memory lane briefly. Just make sure you keep that visit brief. Some things are better left in the past and the original Grand Theft Auto is no exception.
Grand Theft Auto 2
If you liked the original, then you’ll love the sequel!
Grand Theft Auto 2 was more of the same with some additions and improvements. The ability to save your game (how revolutionary!), as well as a more immersive and varied environment helped the sequel stand out.
Having said that, it’s still best left as a brief trip down memory lane.
Grand Theft Auto Advance
I was dead serious. I have a non-ironic love for Grand Theft Auto Advance. It’s a love-grounded in realism, after all.
GTA Advance does literally all that it can, but it’s limited by the technical limitations of the hardware.
It serves as a prequel to Grand Theft Auto III. Unlike the original top-down entries, it provides a story worthy of your attention. That’s ultimately what gives it the edge in this list.
Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories
The PlayStation Portable proves that it was able to deliver a legitimate, open-world 3D Grand Theft Auto experience. Serving as a prequel, Liberty City Stories delivered more Grand Theft Auto. That’s always a good thing, but the PS2 era of the franchise was starting to show its age.
Rockstar did bring in some improvements and updates the series has seen while also getting rid of the controversial RPG features and elements from San Andreas. Despite being a worthy Grand Theft Auto title, it doesn’t compare to the console releases
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories
You can copy and paste most of what I said about Liberty City Stories here. I’m giving Vice City Stories the edge because Liberty City is my least favorite location for Grand Theft Auto.
We do go get to learn about the story of Victor Vance, who died in the introduction of the original Vice City. There’s plenty of cross-over too in terms of characters introduced and encountered.
I want to note too that the Stories entries aren’t bad games. Something has to be at the bottom of this list!
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
The first Nintendo Grand Theft Auto is a guilty pleasure of mine. I know I’m in the minority and I’m okay with it. The second, Chinatown Wars, is a legitimate gem.
The hybrid 2D/3D world is an absolute joy to explore. It delivers an authentic Grand Theft Auto experience that rivals other entries in the franchise. I will always take Chinatown Wars over the “Stories” entries. The new gameplay mechanics, particularly drug dealing, add in a neat layer of strategy as well.
It’s a shame we haven’t seen any type of follow-up to Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars or even a remaster. It would be very welcome on the Nintendo Switch.
Grand Theft Auto Iii
The potential of the Grand Theft Auto franchise could now be realized. Grand Theft Auto III revolutionized gaming. I remember hearing from friends about the game, being told you could do anything you wanted. Low and behold, they were right!
We’d take turns playing until someone died, performing any action our teenage minds could conjure.
GTA III was more than just an open-world paradise. The world of Liberty City was rich and filled with a cast of intriguing characters and an evolving story. Our actions had a purpose. We were motivated. We were blown away.
So why is it still so low on this list? The game has aged as well as a glass of milk. I had hoped that the recent remaster for the game would allow me to re-live memories of Grand Theft Auto past. Sadly, it didn’t go that way.
Grand Theft Auto Iv
After a couple of pit-stops across the country (we’ll get to them later), we returned to Liberty City. This time, she looked better than ever. Grand Theft Auto IV had it all. A wide variety of characters to interact with, an intriguing protagonist, and a world with limitless potential.
Especially if you wanted to go bowling with your brother.
Grand Theft Auto had made it to the HD generation. Rockstar worked wonders to bring the title to life on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Online play added a new way to experience the franchise we all knew and loved. Yet, something felt lacking.
The two previous entries, Vice City and San Andreas, were oozing with character and personality. Whereas III and IV are grounded in as much reality as you could be, the serious and mature tones and themes grated at times. Especially when your cousin refused to stop calling you. It was an absolute blast exploring Liberty City and all its wonder, but I wanted more. Something was missing.
Grand Theft Auto Iv: The Lost and Damned
The first DLC expansion for GTA IV, The Lost and Damned, is more Grand Theft Auto IV. That’s a good thing in my book. While shorter in terms of content, quality of life improvements helps elevate this above GTA IV proper.
It feels like Rockstar addressed the major complaints and shortcomings with the original release. The Lost and Damned is a beyond worthy successor to Grand Theft Auto IV and deserves a seat at the table with the game’s elite entries.
Grand Theft Auto Iv: The Ballad of Gay Tony
A worthy finale for Grand Theft Auto IV, The Ballad of Gay Tony calls back to titles like San Andreas and Vice City. Spectacle and wonder compliment the grounded reality of Liberty City, even if that grounded reality holds it back.
The Ballad of Gay Tony calls back to the days of yesterday when I was a teenager and blown away by what was possible in this franchise. It feels like Rockstar decided to ditch the gritty, true-life, street-tough image of Grand Theft Auto IV. Instead, we’re given a hybrid of style and spectacle with substance and content.
If it wasn’t for the quality of Vice City and San Andreas, this would be in the top two easily. It’s that good.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Vice City is that something missing. The follow-up to Grand Theft Auto III had style spilling out of the screen. It knew how to nail the 80s vibe. It knew how to combine setting, characters, and narrative. It knew how to improve on its predecessors. It knew how to blow us away.
Rockstar Games managed to do the impossible: improve on a revolutionary, once-in-a-lifetime game. What may be most remarkable of all, though, is the fact that nothing is overshadowed. It would have been easy for Vice City itself to loom large over the rest of the game. It compliments everything else so perfectly well.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
San Andreas manages to balance the line between 90s style with a serious and era-defining setting.
Taking place in the fictional state of San Andreas, the game draws inspiration from events in the late 80s and early 90s Los Angeles. It deals with a story of gang warfare, police corruption, and the crack epidemic.
It also involves just following the damn train.
Where Vice City nailed the 80s aesthetic, San Andreas captures the look and feel of the 90s. That marriage of a mature and involving story with insane style and set pieces is the name of the game here. It pushes the PlayStation 2 to its absolute limits. It’s bigger, better, and one of the best games in Grand Theft Auto history.
Grand Theft Auto V
We’re about to go on nine years since the release of Grand Theft Auto V. The return to the state of San Andreas was kept within the limits of greater Los Santos, but the city has never been bigger.
GTA V is a wonder. It’s a sprawling, alive, and inviting world. There’s a limitless amount of potential to be found throughout. The story deals more in absurdity, satire, and insanity, but it’s better off for it. There are still mature themes throughout, but Grand Theft Auto V isn’t exactly a game that takes itself seriously.
The heists and multiple playable characters are the marquee feature and deliver in every way. It’s hard to figure out where GTA can go from here; maybe that’s why Rockstar is content to let the franchise live on in Grand Theft Auto Online. It’s probably the oodles of money GTA Online is making them, but I digress.
Grand Theft Auto V is the undisputed peak of the series. It has earned its crown and may take a minor miracle to dethrone it.