The Grand Theft Auto (GTA) franchise has established itself as one of the most popular game series of all time. Publisher Take Two Interactive’s Q4 2022 earnings report even proclaimed GTA as “the most successful, iconic, and critically acclaimed brands in all of entertainment” after selling over 375 million units from all of its games worldwide.
The GTA formula is fairly simple. All of the games from the franchise give specific tasks to players they need to fulfill, which highlight activities such as shooting and driving throughout the open world of each title. But what makes every GTA game special is the environment modeled after real cities from around the world.
GTA has already existed for over two decades now, and a handful of franchise titles have made their marks in the gaming world. Let’s dive deeper into our list of all the GTA games, ranked according to their gameplay, commercial and critical success, and overall impact to the community.
10 best GTA games, ranked
10) Grand Theft Auto
The GTA franchise wouldn’t be anything without the first Grand Theft Auto game. Though its graphics are underwhelming, it introduced the GTA formula to the world, highlighting the missions, crimes, and action-packed chases, which have been the core of all the GTA games.
Since the first Grand Theft Auto game became the testing grounds and example for the succeeding games in the franchise, however, some elements have been discontinued in the later titles. One example is the top view of the game, which was removed after its sequel, Grand Theft Auto II, and made a special return in Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. Still, it made commercial success, shipping over one million units for PlayStation and PC in 1998.
9) Grand Theft Auto II
Grand Theft Auto II was released in 1999 and is the sequel to the original game of the same name launched in 1997. With this two-year gap, a lot improved, especially with the graphics and sound quality of the game. Though it still retained the top view for players, it was the last time a mainline GTA game had the feature.
But what could be considered as Grand Theft Auto II’s biggest strength is the multiplayer mode wherein up to six people can battle it out on various maps available in the game. The option to manage a player’s status with rival gangs also debuted, with Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas being the only other GTA title to have this so far. And just like its predecessor, it did not make much critical success, but rather a commercial one.
8) Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories
The game that starred Tony Cipriani as its protagonist, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories is a prequel game to Grand Theft Auto III. It is most notably known for being the first 3D game released for a portable console (PSP), as well as including vehicles from both Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.
As for Cipriani, the character has been known as a character who gives missions in Grand Theft Auto III. He is also famous for being a mama’s guy, with the tagline “Tony, how your momma” being an iconic line not just in the game but from the franchise as a whole. Liberty City Stories’ graphics, of course, are also a lot better than Grand Theft Auto III’s.
7) Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
Almost 10 years after the top-down view was last featured in a GTA game, it returned in Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. Released in 2009 for PSP and Nintendo DS, the game is set in Liberty City, with Triad gang member Huang Lee introduced as its main protagonist.
Chinatown Wars also introduced a game mode where players are tasked to sell drugs to users in various areas of the city while escaping from police chases. Overall, the game made a commercial and critical success, especially in how it integrated the franchise’s classic elements, as well as the newer and more advanced features seen on most video games during that time on handheld consoles.
6) Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories
PSP fans would most likely remember how they downloaded or used the disc version of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories. The game has gone down as one of the most popular PSP games of all time, thanks to its wonderful storyline that revolved around ex-soldier Victor “Vic” Vance who went on to build his own crime empire in the city of Vice.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories is the prequel to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. It included many activities players can do all over the area, such as swimming, riding various vehicles, and, of course, action-packed missions that involved police chases and gang wars.
5) Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Set in Vice City, which is modeled after Miami, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City took all the good things Grand Theft Auto III had to another level. This is despite the game’s one-year gap of release, with Vice City introducing some well-known “firsts” to the GTA franchise.
The game’s protagonist, Tommy Vercetti, is the first fully voiced main character in the franchise. Also, Vice City further improved all of its open-world components by providing more buildings, vehicles, improved graphics, and a memorable soundtrack comprised of songs mostly coming from the ’80s, further cementing its retro vibe.
4) Grand Theft Auto III
Grand Theft Auto III could be a frontrunner for having a large impact on the franchise. The fact that it was the first title from the series to use a 3D, open-world setting really established it as one of the most known GTA games of all time, or even one of the best games in history.
Though it had its share of lapses, including the game’s story, which could still be compared to its predecessors, the actions players can do in Grand Theft Auto III brought a ton of excitement to fans, especially with the crimes and missions available that felt more real than the offerings of Grand Theft Auto and Grand Theft Auto II.
3) Grand Theft Auto IV
Grand Theft Auto IV was released in 2008 and, despite making some sort of separation of fans because of its serious vibe, it became one of the most commercially successful games from the franchise. Also, it garnered a handful of accolades, including the Game of the Year awards from Kotaku, The New York Times, and Time.
Grand Theft Auto IV is set in Liberty City, where it follows the story of an American immigrant named Nico Bellic. But aside from its excellent story, the game is known for paving the way for an online multiplayer mode in the franchise.
2) Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas probably has the biggest map available in any game from the GTA franchise. With San Andreas being based on Los Angeles, as well as other areas nearby, the missions players can do became more engaging, especially with the car chases involving the game’s main character, Carl Johnson.
Carl Johnson is depicted as someone who just returned to San Andreas after staying in Liberty City for quite some time. His story is more of a “looking-back” one, where he engages in the crimes that happen in his home city, which has become a home for gangs.
But what made San Andreas stand out is its advancement compared to the other games (even outside GTA), considering it was released way back in 2004. The open-world design is excellently made, the story is impeccable, and its overall impact is immeasurable, especially with how it almost made GTA a genre.
1) Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas may be considered the peak game of the franchise, but when talking about the best GTA game, it should be Grand Theft Auto V.
Grand Theft Auto V is the latest entry into the GTA series of games, having released in 2013. The game is the best so far in terms of graphics, highlighting the vast fictional city of Los Santos. Its story is also commendable, where there are three playable protagonists: Michael, Trevor, and Franklin.
The aspect that makes Grand Theft Auto V the best GTA game so far is the continuous support it receives, especially with it being the game to transition into an online modality. The game even has GTA Online, offering the overall gaming experience refreshing almost all the time.
With this, we should expect Grand Theft Auto VI to be its main competition when it releases. But what Grand Theft Auto V established in its almost 10-year existence can be dubbed as unmatchable already.