The Grand Theft Auto series is one of the most successful and prominent series in video games. Allowing massive sandbox cities to be explored by car, motorcycle, boat, or helicopter, the violent series has made its way into many gamers' hearts over the years.
With talk of Grand Theft Auto VI in the works, and Grand Theft Auto V still receiving periodic updates, it's time to take a look back at the series and reflect on some of its greatest triumphs and humiliating failures.
Not that there has really ever been a bad Grand Theft Auto game, but in the scope of the series some definitely outperform others. Hits and misses are typical for any franchise that has so many installments and Grand Theft Auto is definitely not an exception.
The entries were judged by numerous criteria, from weapons and vehicles, to narrative and mission structure. Although many gamers are apt to disagree with the ranking seen bellow, there is one very important thing to remember in the course of reading this list: everyone has their own emotional attachments to games. This is especially the case as the series is played by literally anyone who can pick up a controller, so lets try and have some fun.
Unbuckle your seatbelt, throw that minigun in the trunk, and get ready to white knuckle the steering wheel, this is Every Grand Theft Auto Game Ranked From Worst To Best.
15 Grand Theft Auto: Advance
What is there to say about Grand Theft Auto on the Gameboy Advance besides “woof”? Putting aside the Gameboy Advance's limiting hardware, the game runs like an epileptic’s worse nightmare, with choppy animations almost driving it to the point of being unplayable.
The sound is on par with chainsaws being driven through glass containers full of gravel, and due to the GBA’s lack of a joystick, shooting is an awkward task limited to the four cardinal directions, unless players are able to aim in the tight window while their character turns.
Although Grand Theft Auto on the GBA may just be a byproduct of the limited hardware it was designed for, there must have been ways to make this game better. Grand Theft Auto III was released in 2001, GTA Advance came out in 2004.
Only fools would expect the game to be able to match up to the Playstation 2’s offering, but the game could have been designed to actually work on the hardware it was designed for, as opposed to giving GBA owners buyer’s remorse, and possibly nightmares.
14 Grand Theft Auto IV
Giving birth to one of the most annoying supporting characters ever created, Grand Theft Auto IV was a pretty big disappointment. Sure, the writing was pretty spot on and the morally ambiguous nature of the characters and their relationships to each other and the world around them was interesting enough. However, when it comes down to it, it really wasn’t that great of a game.
With clunky shooting, a bland color palate, and a cellphone that provides a direct line for the most annoying Russian stereotype to ask you to go bowling, Grand Theft Auto IV just wasn’t good.
Instead of propelling the series forward and living up to the standards of its superior forbearer, it made the scores of Grand Theft Auto faithful question their allegiances. Couple the inferior design with a cast of supporting characters that just want to play darts and get drunk, and Grand Theft Auto IV easily ends up being established as one of the worst entries in the series.
13 Grand Theft Auto
The original that started it all-- in retrospect, it’s astounding to see how far the franchise has come from its clunky overhead origins. It’s a conundrum to place originals on these types of lists; being the first, they usually had inferior mechanics, design, and graphics due to the hardware at the time, as compared to the insanely advanced offerings on today’s consoles and PCs.
When visited current day, even with it being responsible for spawning one of the most successful video game series ever made, the original Grand Theft Auto doesn't hold up.
The camera is nausea inducing as it constantly zooms in and out like a 170’s horror movie close up, the vehicles move too quickly to be handled with any level of accuracy, and the combat is a clunky mess that usually awards gamers a “wasted” screen far more often than it should. Even fans of the series may not have recollection rosy enough to remember the original fondly.
12 Grand Theft Auto 2
A slight improvement over the original, Grand Theft Auto 2 is ailed by many of the same problems that its precursor suffers from. The overhead camera doesn’t offer the same paroxysms as the original, smoothly transitioning between zoom intensities without making gamers feel like they’re on a bucking boat.
More vehicle and weapon choices this time around mean a bit more variety, but not that it really matters. Combat is still a cumbersome mess that requires sheer luck to hit the broadside of a Banshee and the vehicles propel gamers at supersonic speed into the nearest buildings and barriers.
The story isn’t much to speak of either; pay phones guide players from generic mission to generic mission, with minimal background on why any of this is really going on. The game isn’t abysmal, it can offer fun for a few hours, but the developers’ unwillingness or inability to fix most of the glaring mistakes from the original put GTA 2 well towards the bottom of the list.
11 Grand Theft Auto: London 1961
The second of two freeware (paid on Playstation), expansions for the original Grand Theft Auto, Grand Theft Auto: London 1961 was a narrative overhaul for a game that lacked a concrete story.
It features the same protagonist from Grand Theft Auto: London 1969, albeit eight years younger, and was the first GTA to include drive by shooting, a mechanic that has become synonymous with the series.
Although it suffers from the same shortcomings as the original GTA, the excellently crafted narrative present in both London based expansions is what sets it apart. Although the second story isn’t as strong as the first expansion’s, it’s still a strong offering in a series that-- at the time-- had little to offer story wise.
However, the controls, combat, and driving are all pretty poor in the grand scheme of the series, landing it lower on the list.
10 Grand Theft Auto: London 1969
The first expansion for the original Grand Theft Auto, it shines above its progeny for the sole reason that it has a stronger storyline. Players are able to select from a cast of thugs that want to make their way up in the seedy underworld of the London crime world through various missions.
Featuring a variety of new vehicles, missions, and features, London 1969 is the pinnacle of the original GTA, which honestly isn’t saying that much.
Aside from the same stomach churning camera, clumsy controls, and uncontrollable driving, the story is what makes this expansion viable at all. It’s still worth a play just for the story if gamers are able to stock up on Dramamine.
Interested parties shouldn’t expect anything life changing gameplay wise, the only reason to come back to 1960’s London is to experience the trials and tribulations of its criminal underworld.
9 Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories
With all of the atmosphere and energy present in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Vice City Stories is a worthy addition to any PSP library (if anyone even has those anymore), but falls short compared to other handheld entries.
The story follows Victor Lance, the older brother of turncoat sidekick Lance Vance from Vice City, who is dishonorably discharged by his military superior after being set up following a fumbled drug deal. Out on the street, Vic is thrust into the seedy underbelly of Vice City, where he must navigate a cast of colorful characters while building his own drug ring.
While Vice City Stories isn’t bad per se, it isn’t really that great either. The so-so graphics, decent gameplay, and forgettable story all land it smack in the zone of mediocrity. It’s not the worst Grand Theft Auto to play, but it definitely isn’t the one gamers are going to show their friends.
8 Grand Theft Auto III
When most fans of the Grand Theft Auto series think about the origins of the series that they love, they think of Grand Theft Auto III. Not because it’s the true origin of the series, obviously, but because it’s the origin of the game style that they love so much. GTA III essentially gave birth to the third person open world action game, as most gamers know it today.
Featuring a silent protagonist who’s sold out by his girlfriend, players must navigate the leather jacket clad antihero through Liberty City, which felt at the time to be a complex, breathing city full of hapless bystanders and rival gangs.
Many a gamer lost a significant portion of their time playing around in the sandbox Rockstar Games built for the Playstation 2. Unfortunately, GTA III hasn’t aged as well as many gamers would have hoped, although it will always retain the throne of being one of the most influential video games ever made, singlehandedly shaping the industry for the foreseeable future.
7 Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad Of Gay Tony
Injecting some much needed color and glitz into the world of Grand Theft Auto IV, the second expansion pack for one of the worst GTAs is surprisingly good. Apart from taking place in the same Liberty City, The Ballad Of Gay Tony feels a bit more fleshed out than it’s predecessor.
The inclusion of multiple side activities, like the underground fight tournament, managing the nightclub, and the inexcusably missing from GTA IV BASE jumping segments all make it stand out.
The story is a joy to play through, as Luis Lopez does his best to stay afloat in the shadowy underworld of Liberty City, while trying to keep Gay Tony alive and somewhat sober. The additional activities that can be completed bump Gay Tony up a few points, but gamers will still be aware that they’re stuck in the drab concrete jungle of Liberty City before they know it.
6 Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories
Essentially the game that Grand Theft Auto III was meant to be, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories fills in all the gaps that GTA III didn’t even know it had.
Reintroducing motorcycles back into the mix, being graphically decent for the PSP, and featuring a strong mafia storyline, Liberty City Stories still holds up surprisingly well today, at least for the most part.
Aside from the solid controls and memorable narrative, the game also featured some of the best radio stations in the series, and even gave gamers their own station to port their music onto.
Unfortunately, this-- and many other notable features-- would not make it into the Playstation 2 port, which was pretty lackluster when compared to the PS2’s other GTA offerings.
5 Grand Theft Auto: The Lost And The Damned
The first expansion for Grand Theft Auto IV, The Lost And The Damned is the closest a lot of gamers will get to being in a biker gang. Following biker Johnny Klebitz, the acting president of the Lost while the actual president was incarcerated, players will participate in a variety of different biker related activities while rumbling through the streets of Liberty City.
After the president’s eventual second arrest, Johnny is left to keep the Lost MC afloat by engaging with the cast of characters from GTA IV and completing various missions for them.
The Lost And The Damned is the best expansion for GTA IV and is noticeably more enjoyable than its foundation. The motorcycle club setting, strong voice acting, and excellent gameplay mechanics all make it a standout in the franchise.
4 Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
Using a top down camera that can be rotated (what a concept), Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is one of the strongest entries in the series, despite the return to a perspective that emulates the first few games. Featuring an excellent story, tight controls, and sufficiently chaotic gameplay, it is easily the strongest portable GTA to date.
Following Huang Lee, the son of a murdered Triad boss who is kidnapped and left for dead at the start of the game, gamers are thrust into the world of the Triad’s and their place among the other gangs that inhabit Liberty City.
Enjoyable missions, an excellent soundtrack, and impressive graphics elevate Chinatown Wars above the rest, making it the best GTA made for portable consoles, as well as one of the best in the series.
3 Grand Theft Auto V
As the most recent of the franchises’ installments, Grand Theft Auto V does a lot of things right. The city of Los Santos is alive and breathing to the fullest extent, with citizens feeling more like sentient entities, as opposed to blood filled set pieces.
Vehicles and weapons are numerous to the point of being intimidating, and the three interwoven narratives are well written and entertaining. The missions and heists are well constructed, making most of them a joy to partake in, with the option to retry for high scores against friends.
Throw in Grand Theft Auto: Online and GTA V quickly jumps to the upper echelons of series. Despite being jam packed with insane amounts of detail, activities, and mayhem, the narrative can at times feels largely uninspired compared to other games in the series.
None of the characters are particularly likable (and maybe that’s the point), but after a while their perspectives almost become a burden on the expertly crafted world.
2 Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
As one of the most highly regarded entries in the franchise, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is one of the best. Offering a sprawling world, excellent story line, amazing soundtrack, and variety of vehicles and weapons, it’s obvious why San Andreas made it into most gamers’ hearts so easily. However, San Andreas’s greatest strength is also its greatest hindrance.
Aside from the excellent narrative, cast of characters, and well-crafted gameplay, the game world often feels too large, and the game constantly reminds you of how large it really is.
As Peter Griffin would say, “it insists upon itself.” Rockstar knew that they had crafted a massive world and they wanted to make sure that gamers saw every corner of it, even if they didn’t want to.
While large, open sandboxes are a great setting for any game. However, when developers force you to drive half an hour to activate a mission only to have you turn back around and drive another half an hour to the objective, the game's size begins to feel inorganic. This is not a feature to be enjoyed, but something that must be engaged, even if some gamers don’t feel the need to turn every stone.
Plus, the train mission still makes most gamers grit their teeth just at the thought of hearing “all we had to do, was follow the damn train, CJ!”
1 Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
As the crowning achievement of the GTA franchise, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is easily the best game in the series. The storytelling is some of the best in video games period, with expertly crafted characters and a narrative that is engaging, humorous, and depressingly down to earth.
Vehicles and weapons may not have vast selections like past games, but the ones included are some of the best in the series. The music is top notch, whether this is because the soundtrack consists of '80’s hits or is just groomed to perfection hardly matters. Nothing feels tacked on just for the sake of it-- everything in Vice City is there for a reason and it all feels perfectly balanced.
The acid washed and neon dipped world of Vice City never feels rushed or overwhelming; everything fits together in a way that is rare for an open world game, so much so that Vice City hits the perfect rhythm seldom seen in the world of video games.
The entire experience has its own energy about it, a love letter to gangster movies and the 1980’s in general, while being a resoundingly strong product all on its own. Vice City achieves a level of greatness that few other video games will ever come close to, making it the best in the GTA series and one of the best video games in general.
Do you agree? What's your favorite Grand Theft Auto game in the series? Tell us in the comment section!