I was apprehensive about the Grand Theft Auto series when I first started it, mainly as a result of the mixed reviews regarding the game’s intense depictions of gang violence. I avoided the series growing up, but after a car accident left me bedridden (ironically enough), I turned to GTA V to get through the boredom.
And once I started, I couldn’t stop. I was simply blown away by GTA’s storyline and immersive gameplay mechanics. All those years avoiding it, I had no idea how exciting it could be.
I recently started replaying GTA V and wanted to take this time to celebrate this franchise as part of our “Games in Order” series. Since this is such a long series, I’ll be listing expansions and prequel spin-offs as part of their associated main-series title — check out the list below for our roundup!
The GTA Games in Order
Let’s jump right into our list with the first GTA ever made.
1. Grand Theft Auto
- Release Date: October 21, 1997
- System(s): MS-DOS, PC, PlayStation, Game Boy Color
The original Grand Theft Auto is a top-down action-adventure game set in the fictional US cities of San Andreas, Liberty City, and Vice City. Originally called Race’n’Chase, the game follows the player character through a series of missions assigned by a crime syndicate. The player is free to explore and interact with the world however they want outside of these story missions, an aspect of the game that made it stand out from other titles in the late 90s.
Grand Theft Auto’s gameplay is relatively simple — players must earn a certain amount of points in each level (without dying) to progress. Points can be obtained in any number of ways, but they’re amassed most reliably by completing missions like robberies and assassinations for the crime syndicate. Successful missions increase the player’s multiplier, which increases the number of points earned through more general actions like stealing and reselling cars. The game’s Wanted mechanic encourages players to avoid law enforcement at risk of getting “Wasted” and losing points.
Two expansion packs, London 1969 and London 1961, were released for Grand Theft Auto in 1999. The expansion packs provided additional missions for the core game, adding to the setting by offering a new city for players to explore.
2. Grand Theft Auto 2
- Release Date: October 22, 1999
- System(s): PC, PlayStation, Dreamcast, Game Boy Color
Grand Theft Auto 2 is similar to its predecessor in both story and gameplay. Once again, the player proceeds through the game by completing missions for the various crime syndicates of the area, though this time with an open-world design that lets them explore the three distinct districts of Anywhere City, USA.
The most notable difference between the first and second installments of the series is Grand Theft Auto 2’s introduction of warring gang factions. Since the game takes place in one city, the player can complete missions for more than one gang in a given area. This leads to added consequences — working with one gang may foster distrust with another. The world itself is also more dynamic, as players can have more meaningful interactions with the environment (through the game’s day/night mode and the introduction of side gigs like taxi driving) and NPCs (including an ongoing mission to kill Elvis impersonators).
3. Grand Theft Auto III
- Release Date: October 22, 2001
- System(s): PC, PS2, Xbox, Mobile
Grand Theft Auto III shifts the franchise into the 3D era, placing a sharper focus on story and character while remaining true to the series’s roots. The player controls the voiceless protagonist Claude as he completes missions for the Yakuza of Liberty City, fighting the Colombian cartel that his ex-girlfriend has sided with.
Players can roam the open world of Liberty City’s three main boroughs, completing story and side missions to progress through the campaign. Although the main concepts of the game remain the same as previous installments (with missions revolving around robberies and other crimes), the basic mechanics surrounding driving and combat have changed to work in the 3D world.
A prequel for GTA III was later released for the PSP, titled Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories. The prequel incorporated gameplay elements and vehicles that were introduced later in the franchise, though it reduced the size of the Liberty City map and cut the player’s ability to climb and swim in open water. Liberty City Stories later ported to PS2 and mobile platforms.
4. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
- Release Date: October 29, 2002
- System(s): PC, PS2, Xbox, Mobile
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is the first game in the series to introduce a voiced protagonist. Players take on the role of Tommy Vercetti, an ex-con who seeks revenge on his enemies as he builds a criminal empire in the neon-saturated setting of Vice City.
Mechanically, the game remains similar to GTA III, but with new weapons and improved graphics and animation. The game’s aesthetic was inspired by the 1980s and various movies set in that period. In fact, much of the game’s development reportedly went into worldbuilding and refining the overall “feel” of the game to be as evocative of the criminal underbelly of 1980s Miami as possible.
As with Liberty City Stories, Vice City received its own PSP prequel. Vice City Stories included a non-linear environment and mechanics that largely resembled those of Liberty City Stories, and was the last game in the franchise to employ well-known, Hollywood voice talents for its characters.
5. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
- Release Date: October 26, 2004
- System(s): PC, PS2, PS3, Xbox, Xbox 360, Mobile
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas takes place in the fictional state of San Andreas, and features the cities of Los Santos, San Fierro, and Las Venturas. Players take on the role of CJ Johnson, a former gangbanger who returns home to investigate his mother’s murder.
San Andreas introduced several elements and mechanics to the GTA series, including new RPG options, immersive gang wars, and additional mini-games. Players can change CJ’s appearance and upgrade his skills for improved gameplay and melee combat options. There are also a greater number and variety of vehicles in the game (including bicycles and jetpacks), which can likewise be customized and upgraded.
6. Grand Theft Auto Advance
- Release Date: October 26, 2004
- System(s): Game Boy Advance
Grand Theft Auto Advance returns the game briefly to its top-down era, employing many of the same mechanics as the first two GTA games alongside weapons and side-missions introduced during the 3D era. Set once again in Liberty City, the game follows a small-time criminal named Mike, whose plans to leave the city are interrupted by the murder of his partner, Vinnie. Mike must work with the warring crime syndicates of Liberty City to uncover the truth and escape with his life.
The game’s capabilities are a step backward for the franchise, as the GBA’s hardware somewhat limited potential mechanics. Animated cutscenes are replaced with text-based cutscenes, and radio stations are replaced with a single, repeating tune for each vehicle. A handful of characters from GTA III return with the setting, along with new characters exclusive to the new story.
7. Grand Theft Auto IV
- Release Date: April 29, 2008
- System(s): PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Grand Theft Auto IV is set in Liberty City as well, this time following a war veteran named Niko Bellic as he travels to the US to pursue the American Dream. Upon arriving in the city, however, he realizes that his cousin Roman’s stories were all lies to cover up a life of debt and crime. Niko gets involved in Roman’s life and begins completing jobs for him, which ultimately leads to undercover work for a government agency and a deal that may make or break his chances at the American Dream.
GTA IV introduces a cover system to its combat, allowing players to duck behind cars, walls, and other parts of the environment to shield themselves from incoming fire. Players can move around in cover to fire blindly, aim freely, or focus on a specific target (even targeting certain body parts). The game also features an online multiplayer mode that supports up to 32 players in a single session.
Rockstar Games released two expansions for GTA IV in 2009 — The Lost and the Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony. Each of these expansion packs follows a new protagonist and a plot related to one of the side characters of the main campaign.
8. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
- Release Date: March 17, 2009
- System(s): PSP, Nintendo DS, Mobile
In Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, players follow Huang Lee, the spoiled son of a Triad boss, after he’s kidnapped and loses a valuable family heirloom. Huang and his uncle are dishonored as a result, and must work to regain their status and honor in the Triad gang. The game takes place in the Liberty City of GTA IV, and is shot from a pseudo-top-down angle that allows for full camera rotation. The game is stylized to look like a comic book in all versions but the PSP port.
The basic mechanics remain similar to the other installments in the franchise, with added touchscreen features for portable devices. The game modifies the Wanted mechanic by allowing players to demolish police cars to reduce their Wanted level. It also introduces a drug dealing mechanic that gives players a chance to utilize geography and underground markets to make money on the side.
Chinatown Wars offers cooperative and competitive multiplayer, though the PSP version is limited to only two players.
9. Grand Theft Auto V
- Release Date: September 17, 2013
- System(s): PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Grand Theft Auto V returns to the city of Los Santos, and is the first installment of the series to feature more than one central protagonist. Players follow Michael De Santa, Franklin Clinton, and Trevor Phillips as they’re caught up in a life of crime that each of them had sworn they’d left behind. The protagonist’s lives quickly become derailed as a result of their heists and increasing involvement with the feds, and players are left with a choice that questions the meaning of loyalty in a world that prioritizes the cycle of violence.
GTA V’s mechanics remain relatively unchanged from previous installments, but they’re streamlined for smoother gameplay. Case in point? This iteration once again incorporates RPG elements, allowing players to customize any of the three protagonists, all of whom come with unique skill proficiencies based on their former life of crime. Players can experience the game in first or third person, and switch between them at any time.
GTA V was re-released for next-gen consoles after its initial launch and has received several expansions for its online multiplayer mode, including several new customization options, vehicles, and heists.
The Future of Grand Theft Auto
As of right now, there are only rumors about a potential Grand Theft Auto VI. There’s already a lot of debate surrounding the unannounced installment, including speculation about a return to the Vice City setting or the introduction of a female protagonist. We at HGG are excited to see where the series takes us next and will be keeping you updated on any news!
Thank you for reading! We hope you enjoyed our list of GTA games. Please feel free to leave a comment, and check out some of HGG’s other gaming roundups!