When Rockstar Games released the first Grand Theft Auto in 1997, no one expected it to become what it is today. While always at the center of controversy, it continues to entertain millions of gamers over the years. While the sixth game has been announced, it is useful to look back in the series and refresh our memories. In this article, we will rank the best GTA games ever.
You can define all GTA games differently. But you can always find common points among these differences. For example, almost all games have classic characters. Unforgettable NPCs, memorable cities, feeling of freedom and modes… Everyone expects something different from GTA 6, but we all know it will be a great game.
If you are ready, we can start to take a look at the old GTA games that have managed to exceed all expectations for years. I am making this ranking purely according to my personal thoughts. Therefore, there may be points where you disagree with me. I apologize in advance and take you on a beautiful journey through the GTA history.
Only the main games are included in the list. So you won’t see Liberty City Stories, Vice City Stories and Chinatown Wars below.
Table of Contents
Grand Theft Auto – 1997
When talking about games with a long history, the ones that are most difficult to include in the comparison are often the oldest. Since they are far behind in terms of technology, they have a serious disadvantage. The situation is the same here. When the first Grand Theft Auto game was released in 1997, it was ahead of its time. I have to accept this. But when I think of it objectively -naturally- it is very poorly compared to modern games.
Things change when we consider the first GTA alone. It has all the features that define modern members of the series: open world, level and quest system to name a few. Considering that Liberty City was also presented in this game for the first time, we can better understand what Rockstar Games accomplished 25 years ago.
Grand Theft Auto 2 – 1999
It was a sequel game that took all the good features of the first game and made it even better, GTA 2. Rockstar Games started to show that it slowly warmed up to the open world genre with this game. Peak camera angle had more detail than the first game. Smart pedestrians, modern game-like map and smoother gameplay make it better than the original.
The reasons for being sixth in this list are almost the same as the first game. Since it was developed in 1999, it could not keep up with the technological revolution. Rather than being a game that opened the horizons of the players, it had to remain a very good sequel. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s pretty hard for it to take on its 3D brothers.
Grand Theft Auto III – 2001
I’m aware that I’ve gone in order so far, but things will change from now on. But first, it’s time for the most important game in the series. The third game was the point where everything changed for both Rockstar Games and the Grand Theft Auto series. The first adaptation of 3D technology to the open world was a revolution for everyone. It was our first time witnessing something like this. Everything was as it should be with a huge map, a city that feels alive, and magnificent gameplay brought by three dimensions.
You may have forgotten it because it’s been a long time. All of what I am describing took place 21 years ago, in 2001. It’s really a great achievement to come out and be this good two years after GTA 2. We went back to Liberty City and heard for the first time how a GTA story can be. Like I said, it was perfect for those years. When I look back now, I see how much Rockstar Games has developed its own horizons. Because each of the next GTA games manages to rise above GTA III.
Grand Theft Auto IV – 2008
I don’t think we disagreed in the first three games. But after this point it could be. Because when I look at all the GTA games, the game that I could not put in the top 3 is GTA IV.
Grand Theft Auto IV is different. Its story, atmosphere and characters are the darkest of the series. Considering that it was released after Vice City and San Andreas, we can understand that it is one of the most interesting decisions Rockstar Games has made. I say interesting because this game had everything.
First of all, the graphics were incredible. Nico Bellic’s story was so good that I still remember it frame by frame. The combat system had been completely changed. You felt that Liberty City was alive while playing the game. But what GTA IV did best was combining gameplay with a single-player story. The success here created GTA V, which we will talk about shortly.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City – 2002
Vice City, which is mentioned the most when talking about GTA 6, deserves to be at this point in the list. According to many players, it is the most iconic game Rockstar Games has made. I agree with this thought and would like to increase it a little more. I think we all forget that Vice City was released just a year after GTA III. When you think about it, you will realize how great Rockstar Games has accomplished.
Vice City is an unforgettable game in every sense. We’re very lucky to play this game thanks to its pop culture references, memorable characters, 1980s Miami concept, weapons, vehicles, story and more. Tommy Vercetti was the first GTA main character to speak. This small detail completely changed the atmosphere of the game. But the real credit has to go to the atmosphere. Vice City may not be the best GTA game, but it’s definitely the most memorable.
Grand Theft Auto V – 2013
Please keep calm and put the controller on the table slowly. I know that Grand Theft Auto V is objectively the best GTA game. There isn’t much to discuss about it. The masterwork of Rockstar Games is one of the best not only in the GTA series, but in the gaming history. We can tell by the fact that it is one of the best-selling games of all time and is played by millions of players even in 2022.
With its massive map, perfectly crafted gameplay, memorable characters, easter-eggs, and being a true open world game, it leaves little room for doubt. There is also a three-character gameplay that Rockstar Games designed years ago and postponed due to technology.
When talking about GTA V, it is impossible not to mention GTA Online. Rockstar Games’ money machine continues to break records even after years. I’m not surprised because if you can find a good server and player group, you can make unforgettable memories. If it’s so perfect, why not in the first place? Because…
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas – 2004
San Andreas is the best GTA game ever.
It has such good gameplay that Rockstar Games couldn’t do better even today. There are new mechanics such as gang wars and territory control. It has RPG features for the first time in a GTA game. For example, as you eat more, you gain weight and run slower. If you go to the gym regularly, you can build muscle and increase your endurance in the game. It has even better features than GTA V when it comes to haircuts, spending time with NPCs, additional jobs, customization features.
I know GTA V is technically a better game. But no other GTA game has that magic that San Andreas has. Maybe it’s the story, maybe Grove Street, maybe Big Smoke. I don’t care what the reason is. Freedom is the only thing that matters to me. And San Andreas has that more than anything.