For those of us born in the 80s and 90s, Grand Theft Auto (GTA) holds a special place as one of our earliest venture into open-world experiences. The series, debuted in 1997, feautring a gameplay centered around criminal activities. However, it wasn't until the release of the third main installment that GTA truly captured the world's attention, introducing a revolutionary 3D open-world environment. Despite its controversial themes, the series keeps thriving, giving players that rush of diving into forbidden activities.
The upcoming game in the series GTA 6 has been in the works for nearly a decade, and it’s set to take a whopping 12 years for the sequel to hit the scene, building up crazy excitement among fans. The recent unveiling of GTA 6 through an intriguing trailer that parodies real-life events in Florida (also the inspiration for the game's fictional setting, Vice City) has displayed some cutting-edge graphics, setting the bar way high for the release. We don't know much about the gameplay yet, but it's pretty fair to think Rockstar has a few tricks up their sleeve. Can't wait to hear more about GTA 6 real soon! But before that, let's briefly look back at the mainline GTA games that have captured our hearts over the past 26 years:
Grand Theft Auto (1997)
The series kicked off in 1997 with its debut game released on MS-DOS, Microsoft Windows, and the PlayStation. Later, in October 1999, it made its way to the Game Boy Color. Initially planned as "Race'n'Chase", a game featuring police officers pursuing criminals, it underwent a shift in development towards the open-world crime genre. Developed by DMA Design (now Rockstar North), the game took a top-down approach, offering an open-world action-adventure where players could dive into various criminal activities across three fictional cities.
Game progression followed a linear path through different levels, with players aiming to reach a target number of points by taking on jobs and causing chaos in the cities. This inaugural installment marked the introduction of three iconic cities in the GTA series, each modeled after a real-life U.S. city: Liberty City (New York City), San Andreas (San Francisco), and Vice City (Miami).
Grand Theft Auto 2 (1999)
In 1999, the second main game was released, continuing the top-down perspective and introducing a whole new vibe with complex missions set in a place called "Anywhere City”, a fictional retrofuturistic metropolis in the USA. Building on its predecessor's gameplay, the game brought in enhancements like increased customizations, additional side missions, and environments you could actually interact with.
Grand Theft Auto III (2001)
GTA III brought about a major shift in the series, unveiling a fully immersive 3D open-world environment playable in the third-person perspective. Its release in 2001 marked a revolutionary moment in the gaming industry, setting new standards with its captivating world, cinematic storytelling, and the freedom it offered players to explore. Stepping into the shoes of Claude, a silent protagonist, players navigated the fictional Liberty City.
The game’s impact was huge – not only did it become one of the best-selling games of 2001, but it also sparked a gaming revolution, popularizing the open-world genre and leaving a lasting influence on countless future games. Widely regarded as a landmark in the open-world concept, GTA III consistently appears on lists of the greatest video games. The accolades poured in, with the game clinching several prestigious awards, including multiple Game of the Year titles from various gaming publications.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002)
Taking place in the 1980s within the fictional Vice City, this installment embraced a lively, neon-drenched atmosphere inspired by Miami's vibes. The game maintained the full 3D open-world gameplay, allowing players to step into the shoes of Tommy Vercetti as he delved into the drug trade and ascended within the criminal underworld. Notably, the game also secured multiple Game of the Year awards from various gaming publications.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004)
This game broadened the series' horizons with an expansive open-world portrayal of California and Nevada, featuring three major cities: Los Santos (drawing inspiration from Los Angeles), San Fierro (modeled after San Francisco), and Las Venturas (a nod to Las Vegas). Centered around the narrative of Carl "CJ" Johnson returning to his hometown of Los Santos, the game brought in RPG elements, enabling players to personalize their character's look and abilities. It’s worth noting that the game still stands as the best-selling PlayStation 2 game to date.
Grand Theft Auto IV (2008)
GTA IV took us on a journey back to Liberty City, presenting a more realistic and gritty narrative that followed the life of Niko Bellic, an immigrant from Eastern Europe. The game explored themes of organized crime, family dynamics, and the pursuit of the American Dream.
This iteration of Liberty City, modeled after New York City, was approximately three times larger than the one in Grand Theft Auto III. In a departure from tradition, the development team opted not to draw inspiration from previous renditions of Liberty City, aiming to maintain only the "general feel" and nothing more. To ensure an authentic environment, Rockstar North's team members embarked on multiple trips to New York for extensive research.
Grand Theft Auto V (2013)
GTA V stands tall as one of the best-selling video games ever. Set in the reimagined San Andreas (inspired by Southern California), it introduced three playable protagonists—bank robber Michael de Santa, street gangster Franklin Clinton, and the always-angry Trevor Phillips—each with their own unique storylines that eventually converged. The game showcased an extensive open-world, thrilling heists, and a sprawling multiplayer mode called Grand Theft Auto Online. Remarkably, the online mode has been a money-spinner for Rockstar, especially through the sale of Shark Cash Cards, which provide in-game cash for players.
Besides the seven mainline games mentioned above, let’s not forget about the series’ various spin-off releases for handheld consoles, such as Grand Theft Auto Advance for the GBA and Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars for the NDS, which offered distinct gameplay experiences and entertainment.
Which games of the series have you played? Which one did you enjoy most? Let us know in the comments!