Even though it’s been quite a long time since we’ve seen a new Grand Theft Auto game, there was a time when we used to get regular releases (and regular controversies) almost every other year.
From its humble origins as a top-down shooter to the massive open-world success it sees today, Grand Theft Auto is a franchise that many of us grew up exploring. An interesting cast of characters, deep and often comedic storylines and a range of deadly weapons and fast cars have kept fans coming back for over 20 years.
Today, we’re going to have a quick look at all of the Grand Theft Auto games that have been released so far. We’ll look at what each title offered, where it was set, and even some of the expansions that were added to it over the years.
Release Date: 21 October 1997
Platforms: Windows, MS-DOS, PlayStation, Game Boy Color
Starting where it all began, the original Grand Theft Auto was released way back in 1997. Originally meant to be a simple racing game called Race’n’Chase, Grand Theft Auto went through a huge amount of changes before release.
In this game, the developers paved the way for the franchise that was to come. Many of the gameplay elements and mechanics are things you’ll see today (albeit new and improved). You’ll see plenty of action that switches seamlessly between on-foot and on the road.
You play as a small-time criminal, looking to make a name for himself in the crime world. Your character finds himself knee-deep in a world full of contract killing, drug running, and carjacking. You’ll be armed with plenty of weapons you pick up along the way and get to drive in some of the 20 unique vehicles ranging from buses to sportscars.
There’s plenty of free-roaming and a huge 200 missions that take place over three different cities to get stuck into. If you enjoy the first Grand Theft Auto game, there are also two London-themed expansions to try out.
As expected for a game from the late 90s, the graphics are pretty simple, so if you’re heading here from GTA V, you may be a little disappointed. But it’s good to see where it all started and how far the franchise has come.
Release Date: 22 October 1999
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation, Dreamcast, Game Boy Color
Just two years later, a sequel to the original game was released. Grand Theft Auto 2 came with some improved graphics and mechanics and was the first GTA game to use 3D models. While this game has the same overhead view for the camera perspective, the use of 3D modeling was certainly a huge change from the original. However, the visuals in this game have been criticized in reviews, particularly regarding the lighting effects.
The game is set in Anywhere City, a futuristic city based on a mixture between New York, San Francisco, and Miami. There’s a distinctive bleak and dystopian atmosphere which might seem a bit strange for those used to the later GTA games.
Other than this style change, GTA 2 also introduces a reputation system that affects the player’s relationship with the city’s gangs. This is shown through a meter at the top-left of your screen which will show you what each group or gang thinks of you. There are also some brand new weapons, vehicles, and enemy types to square up against.
Release Date: 22 October 2001
Platforms: PlayStation 2, Microsoft Windows, Xbox, Mac OS X, Android, iOS, Fire OS
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The third main game in the Grand Theft Auto series was also one of the first to make the jump to 3D graphics. Set in the fictional Liberty City, a New York counterpart, you play as a criminal named Claude as he tries to get revenge on his girlfriend who left him for dead.
Although the 3D graphics look a bit dated now, at the time of release this large open-world was met with great reviews. Grand Theft Auto III quickly became one of the highest-selling games of 2001 and cemented many fans’ love for the series for years to come.
This is the first GTA game to use a new camera perspective, which is an adjustable third-person camera instead of the traditional top-down view that the first two games had. This means it’ll feel a bit more familiar for fans of the later games.
Alongside this new perspective, GTA III also introduced a new control scheme and gameplay mechanics including the star meter. As you commit crimes, the police will pick up your trail and try to arrest you. Each star you get comes with a more drastic response from the authorities and it was always a blast trying to survive with the maximum number of stars.
Release Date: 29 October 2002
Platforms: PlayStation 2, Microsoft Windows, Xbox, Mac OS X, iOS, Android, Fire OS
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After the success of Grand Theft Auto III, a sequel soon followed. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is a game that just oozes charm and is still replayed to this day. Set in the fictional city of Vice City, it doesn’t take long to work out that this is as close to Miami as you’re going to get in a Grand Theft Auto game.
The game follows Tommy Vercetti after his release from prison as he rises to become one of the biggest players in the Vice City crime world. There are two main islands to explore and this is one of the most detailed worlds released in the franchise at the time.
The atmosphere paired with the great soundtrack make this a great game to kill a few hours in, even if you don’t end up following the main story.
Release Date: 26 October 2004
Platforms: PlayStation 2, Microsoft Windows, Xbox, Mac OS X, iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Fire OS, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
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A fan favorite for many, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is one of the most well-regarded games that Rockstar has ever released. Set in the fictional state of San Andreas and including areas based on California and Nevada, this was a huge world to explore that really pushed the hardware at the time to its limits.
This title followed the story of Carl Johnson as he returns back to the city he once escaped. After his mother is murdered, CJ returns to San Andreas only to be framed for homicide by two corrupt cops. The story takes you across the entire state of San Andreas as you wrestle for control of the streets, meeting new and interesting characters along the way.
There are plenty of cars, planes, bikes, and weapons to play around with this time around. The story writing was also the best of the series so far and even included voice actors such as Samuel L. Jackson and Ice-T.
Release Date: 26 October 2004
Platforms: Game Boy Advance
We won’t delve too much into this next title as it is a bit of an odd addition to the series. Grand Theft Auto Advance was released only on the Gameboy Advance handheld console and saw a return to the top-down gameplay of earlier Grand Theft Auto titles.
The game is set in the year 2000 in Liberty City and follows Mike, the main protagonist of the story. The main conflict in this game falls around the Mafia as Mike looks for answers on why his partner was murdered. There are a couple of recurring characters from Grand Theft Auto III that you can meet in this game, but the top-down style might be a difficult readjustment for some.
Release Date: 24 October 2005
Platforms: PlayStation Portable, PlayStation 2, iOS, Android, Fire OS
After the widespread success of San Andreas, Grand Theft Auto came out with Liberty City Stories. This game was developed primarily for the PSP hand-held console and is a prequel to GTA III. As it’s set in Liberty City, it has plenty of similarities to GTA III in terms of graphics.
However, there were some gameplay improvements made, some of which we saw in the follow-up games. Upgrades in this game include indoor environments and more fluid camera movements.
In this game, you control Toni Cipriani who quickly finds himself in the middle of several organized crime families. With some heavy Italian American stereotypes and tropes, it may feel a little bit cheesy and dated even now. There are, as expected, plenty of missions including driving people around, killing people, and stealing stuff, which all move the overall plot forward.
Release Date: 31 October 2006
Platforms: PlayStation Portable, PlayStation 2
The second installment in the “Stories” series of games covered one of our favorite games in the series – Vice City. This was the third game released on handheld consoles and brings players back to the alternate Miami once again.
The story follows an ex-soldier named Victor Vance as he tries to set up his own criminal empire after being kicked out of the military. This is a prequel to Vice City and you’ll get a little bit of backstory to some of the characters that you’ve met, including Victor’s brother Lance.
A new feature brought to the series in Vice City Stories was the idea of ‘empire building’. This allows players to open and operate businesses across the map, all while protecting them to try and turn a profit.
Release Date: 29 April 2008
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows
Unfortunately, Grand Theft Auto IV turned out to be the last game in the main series we’d get for a while. It’s a good job that it was so packed with content that it kept us playing for years, especially with the two expansion packs that were released.
Set in a fictional rendition of New York City, Grand Theft Auto IV’s Liberty City was a joy to explore. The map consists of four main islands (with some smaller ones dotted around), each with their own look and feel. You can easily spend hours just visiting the sights which include the Statue of Happiness (the Statue of Liberty), Star Junction (Times Square), and Rotterdam Tower (the Empire State Building).
The story follows Niko Bellic, an eastern European who has emigrated to Liberty City to pursue the American Dream. As with most GTA games, you’ll quickly get mixed up in a series of unfortunate and illegal events which includes meeting crime families and doing jobs for your cousin.
There were also two pretty large expansion packs for this game, Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned and Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony. In The Lost and Damned, you’ll get to play the role of the vice-president of a motorcycle club as they aim to keep their chapter running. In The Ballad of Gay Tony, you play as Luis Fernando Lopez, a former drug dealer turned bodyguard for Gay Tony.
Release Date: 17 March 2009
Platforms: Nintendo DS, PlayStation Portable, iOS, Android, Fire OS
This is the last GTA title so far to have been released on portable consoles. Chinatown Wars is the fourth handheld console game and is set in Liberty City in the year 2009. There are a couple of differences between versions for this title with the Nintendo DS version making use of the touchscreen for GPS and the radio whereas the PSP version featured updated graphics and extra missions.
The story follows the adventures of Huang Lee, the son of a local triad boss. After his father is murdered, Huang starts his journey to avenge his death while also trying to find a stolen family heirloom.
This is another Grand Theft Auto game that makes use of a top-down camera, so if you’re a fan of the older games in the series, this is a great game to pick up.
Release Date: 17 September 2013
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Buy from Green Man Gaming.
That brings us onto the most current Grand Theft Auto to be released so far – Grand Theft Auto V. Yes, we all know that it isn’t the fifth title in the series, but it’s the latest in what could be seen as the main series of games.
Set in the city of Los Santos, a fictional representation of Los Angeles, this is the largest map that players have had the chance to explore so far. The city includes all the staple locations you could wish for in a Grand Theft Auto game including an airport, busy city streets, vast mountainous areas, shady neighborhoods, and secret government facilities.
The story this time around follows three main characters, with the player having the ability to play as each of them whenever they please. There’s Michael, a retired bank robber who’s back from the dead, Franklin, a small-time gang member and Trevor, an old friend of Michael’s who causes mayhem wherever he goes.
You can easily spend over 50 hours completing the main storyline of GTA V, but once you’ve finished, there’s also a vast online mode to get stuck into. This is set in the same city as the main game and allows you to create a character from scratch, bringing them from rags to riches.
We bet you didn’t realize there were that many Grand Theft Auto games right? It’s quite an impressive list that might have even started before some of our readers were born! By the looks of the release dates, we’re hoping that we’re due another installment of Grand Theft Auto in the near future. We’d be excited to see just what improvements could be added with the use of next-gen hardware.
What did you think of our list? Did it hit you with a wave of nostalgia? Let us know what your favorite game of the series was. To keep up to date with the latest news and to catch more lists like this, be sure to follow us on Twitter and check back often.