Grand Theft Auto is probably the most loved video game series by the majority of gamers born in the 90s and most hated by their parents at the same time. What is the phenomenon of the series?

When we were young, many of us would indulge in playing “cops and bad guys”. Some of us would turn into valiant officers, defending the law. Others would play the part of criminals, trying to rob a bank or take over the world using a bunch of sticks. Times change but we still retain some of these sensibilities. Shackled by day jobs and family life, we can no longer run around screaming “You’re under arrest!” “Am not!”. Instead, we transferred our playground fun to other media, the video games. And judging by the example of Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series – boy, did we do a good job.

How it all started

grand theft auto london

Once upon a time, there was a development studio DMA Design. Nowadays you know it as Rockstar North. In its early days, it was known for titles such as the Lemmings series, but its ambitions were much larger than that. In 1997, David Jones and Mike Dailly released the first game in what would turn out to be one of the most groundbreaking series in the history of video gamesGrand Theft Auto. An open-world action-adventure video game series with some role-playing and shooter elements that focused on the stories of gangsters and small crooks rising to the top of the mafia or other organized crime organizations.

The beginnings were very humble. However, the ambitious developers continued to expand their vision over the sequels, which culminated in Grand Theft Auto III, believed by many to be the best title in the original series. Time passed, and more sequels came out upping the ante with each installment. Today, GTA is one of the most recognizable brands in the industry and is believed to be the forefather of modern open-world sandbox games.


Grand Theft Auto Game Series


Below, we present the most notable games in the Grand Theft Auto video game series in chronological order of their publishing dates


GRAND THEFT AUTO

Release year: 1997
Protagonist: Partially customizable gangster
Setting: Liberty City, Vice City. San Andreas

The first game in the series followed a very basic premise: the player was a small-time crook in cities overtaken by gangsters and his jobs was to perform tasks for the leaders of different gangs.

grand theft auto 1

The title introduced players to the main locations of the series: NY-based Liberty City, Miami inspired Vice City and of course the classic San Andreas region, inspired by California and parts of Nevada, with Los Santos being the representation of Los Angeles in the Rockstar games. The first GTA game may look outdated now, but back in 1997 its top-down perspective and 2D graphics and simple gameplay were quite groundbreaking and millions of people fell in love with the series. Its title, the name for the crime of stealing more than one vehicle, was also very accurate as the game was mostly about stealing cars and driving them to particular places.

London 1969 and 1961

Release year: 1999
Protagonist: One of eight based on various real-life or film characters
Setting: London

Grand Theft Auto London 1969 and GTA London 1961 were to expansion packs for the original game that took the action to the Lonon of the 60’s era, in a very experimental move from Rockstar.

grand theft auto london cover

Two mission packs that take the action from boulevards of American cities to crowded streets of London received mixed reviews as the fans preferred the American soil and setting for the Grand Theft Auto games while critics pointed out lack of improvement to the main game. Although the expansions were praised for the retro vibe of the London in 1961 and 1969. Both expansion packs are considered as the least favorite by the GTA fans and nowadays seem like a relic of the past.

GRAND THEFT AUTO II

Release year: 1999
Protagonist: Claude Speed
Setting: Anywhere City

The second game in the series saw first improvements in graphics and gameplay. Rockstar added a few important elements into the game mechanics which definitely improved the overall quality of the game.

grand theft auto 2

It was also the first game to introduce a unique and named character in the form of  Claude Speed. The players could accept missions from different gangs, which would affect their standing with other syndicates. Unlike the previous games, GTA II made pedestrians an integral part of the game world. People could be seen going about their lives and sometimes even had some interactions with the player’s character. The player could take on side missions, playing the role of a bus or taxi driver. The police chases in the game included the SWAT vans to make things a little more complicated. All this contributed to the increased popularity of the series and laid the basic structure to the future installments of the franchise.

GRAND THEFT AUTO III

Release year: 2001
Protagonist: Claude
Setting: Liberty City

The first installment of the 3D-era, the action of Grand Theft Auto III returns to the Liberty City, now divided into 3 distinct districts, which unlock as the player progresses through the game.

Grand Theft Auto 3

The protagonist of the second game, Claude, also makes his return, taking missions from rival gangsters and doing side activities, such as firefighting and chasing down criminals. Thanks to the 3D engine, the game improved on many aspects, from moving around and driving to NPC activity. The game was considered one of the most important titles of the early 2000’s era of video games and established itself as a classic action-adventure with elements of an RPG and Third-person shooter. Although Claude was a mute character, the story of GTA 3 was quite interesting and definitely had that New York mobster vibe in it.

GRAND THEFT AUTO: VICE CITY

Release year: 2002
Protagonist: Tommy Vercetti
Setting: Vice City

GTA: Vice City was not as groundbreaking as its predecessor, as the gameplay and graphics were mostly the same, but other elements of the game proved to be fantastic established Vice City as a cult-classic and fan-favorite.

grand theft auto vice city

Because of its engaging story, one of the greatest video game soundtracks of all time, an amazing climate of 80’s Miami-styled Vice City and a roster of talented voice actors (including Ray Liotta, Danny Trejo, Dennis Hopper, Burt Reynolds or Philip Michael Thomas, who portrays a similar character to one he played on Miami Vice), many gamers and critics consider Vice City as one of the best Grand Theft Auto games, if not one of the best Action-adventure games of the 3D era.

Vice City tells the story of Tommy Vercetti, recently released from prison in Liberty City, who is sent by his old boss Sonny Forelli to Vice City, where nights are rough, and trouble waits around every corner. For the first time, the player can ride motorcycles. All the staples of the series return, including wanted levels, side missions, and free-roaming on the streets of Vice City in-between missions. The player can now purchase assets which will generate additional profit as well as safe houses, where the player can save the game.

Grand Theft Auto Franchise Collection

Buy GTA Vice City together with different GTA games in one single collection pack edition.

GRAND THEFT AUTO: SAN ANDREAS

Release year: 2004
Protagonist: Carl Johnson (C.J.)
Setting: Los Santos, Las Venturas, San Fierro (San Andreas Area)

For one generation of gamers, San Andreas is the best GTA game, period. The title surely is one of the most notable games of the last 20 years and took the already popular Grand Theft Auto franchise into a whole new level.

Grande Theft Auto San Andreas

San Andreas returns, this time comprised of three locations: Los Santos, based on LA, Las Venturas, inspired by the miraculous Las Vegas, and San Fierro, with landmarks familiar to those living in San Francisco. Although Rockstar returned to the locations known from previous games, everything apart from their names changed. San Andreas introduced a huge map, full of interesting characters, vibrant cities and even rural areas.

The game also introduced several changes to gameplay: the protagonist, C.J. could gain and lose weight, learn different fighting styles, acquire and improve various skills, as well as have “romantic” encounters. The realistic approach to modern crime and gangster culture and the cultural aspect of suburban L.A proved to be a jackpot and many players loved C.J and his “hood”.

GRAND THEFT AUTO IV

Release year: 2008
Protagonist: Niko Bellic
Setting: Liberty City

The first installment of the “HD era” sees the return of Liberty City, now even more similar to New York. The main protagonist, Niko Bellic, an immigrant of eastern-European origin, comes to pursue the American Dream, unfortunately for him, the reality is much harsher.

Niko is immediately caught in a conflict between various crime organizations and the Russian mafia. He becomes a killer in order to help his cousin Roman and find out who was the man that betrayed his army unit many years ago. Outside the story missions, the player can indulge in various side activities, such as taking on bounty missions, available accessing police computer, inviting other characters to spend time at bars and other social activities. The game features browsing the internet option, where the player can read about their recent exploits or access dating website to meet potential girlfriends. The complete edition of the game includes both expansions packs and additional content.

The Lost and Damned & The Ballad of Gay Tony

Release year: 2009
Protagonists: Johnny Klebitz & Luis Fernando Lopez
Setting: Liberty City

The first DLC to GTA IV features familiar faces from the main game.

Grand Theft Auto IV The lost and the Damned

The main character is Johnny Klebitz, a member of a motorcycle gang called the Lost. The DLC adds several new types of vehicles, mainly new models of bikes. The player can feel like a true biker gang member while cruising the streets of liberty city together with their fellow gang members. Emphasis on bikes means there are also motorcycle races available for the player as a fun pastime.

Unlike the dour mood of the first GTA IV DLC, the Ballad of Gay Tony feels like a party.

GTA 4 main character

In TBoGT the player controls Luis Lopez, a friend and protegee of a club owner “Gay” Tony Prince. The DLC features several new activities the player can take part in, including base jumping, underground fights and drug wars. Some of the activities directly relate to the clubby theme of the game. These are club management, where the player has to carry out different tasks, such as driving celebrities or acting as a bouncer.

GRAND THEFT AUTO V

Release year: 2013
Protagonist: Michael De Santa, Trevor Phillips, Franklin Clinton
Setting: Los Santos and the surrounding areas in San Andreas

The newest and arguably the best game in the series, Grand Theft Auto broke almost every possible video game sale record. Rockstar sold more than 100 million copies of the game, earning $1 billion in the first three days since the release. It still is one of the best-selling and critically-acclaimed video games of all time.

GTA V introduces the largest map in the history of the franchise, with a ton of activities spanning from fishing and golfing, to breakneck races across land air and water and, of course, criminal activity. The player is given control of three different characters, each of whom possesses unique skills. Michael Townley and Trevor Philips attempted an armed robbery in which Michael was shot. Years later, he is living under witness protection as Michael de Santa.

After a series of unfortunate events, Michael befriends Franklin Clinton and is found by angry Trevor. The trio forms an unlikely partnership and has to deal with gangs, mafia, FBI (FIB in GTA world) and even cheating wives. Grand Theft Auto V has been praised for its graphics, realism (Many buildings in Los Santos look exactly the same as their real-life Los Angeles counterparts), interesting story, fully-fleshed characters, and gameplay. The game spawned another entry in this list, GTA Online, which is basically the Multiplayer mode for GTA 5.

GTA Online

Release year: 2013
Protagonist: Customizable character created by the player
Setting: Los Santos and the surrounding areas in San Andreas

An online multiplayer expansion to GTA V, and ultimately, as a separate title in its own right.

GTA Online allows players to freely roam the streets of Los Santos together with their friends and participate in all the side activities the game has to offer. The game has also a small campaign mode where the players take part in various types of heists. The true allure of GTA: Online are different types of matches, designed by other players. These include wacky races, team and solo deathmatches and many, many more. Players can’t buy GTA Online as it is basically a multiplayer version of GTA V with customizable characters, but they can always make sure they have enough cash on them in the game world.


The ultimate gangster experience

grand theft auto 5 car pursuit

These are just the most notable games from the franchise that have been released for both consoles and PC, we did not include the Liberty City Stories, Vice City Stories, GTA Advance or Chinatown Wars as they were not released for Windows and are not considered as important to the series. If one were to try and describe the experience that the Grand Theft Auto series provides, it would be a very difficult, maybe even an impossible task. The amount of content bursting from the screen is unbelievable. With each installment Rockstar North managed to up the ante, to make the experience even better. All this culminated in GTA V/Online, possibly the most successful game in the series, which after six years since release, still manages to draw in new players.

So, what is the appeal of the GTA Franchise? Is it the impossible amount of content? The story that could put to shame many Hollywood productions? The free-roaming gameplay, which had become a model often copied by other open-world games? Truth is, it’s all of these things. Like in our childhoods, when a bunch of kids could think up incredible scenarios for their “cops and bad guys” plays, the GTA series provides the players with all the tools to make its world their own, adult playground.