The Grand Theft Auto line of games became one of the most popular of the last few decades. It’s one of the more popular “sandbox” type games that has an open game world where you can follow the missions the game has, but you can also go off the rails and just explore however you want, while the game responds to whatever you do.
Here’s a description of the major Grand Theft Auto games in order, going up through 2013.
Grand Theft Auto (1997)
The first Grand Theft Auto game was a solid hit from the late 90s. It was actually available for the ancient Sega Saturn Platform, along with the first PlayStation and Nintendo 64.
In the single-player game, you control a low-level gangster who’s doing tasks for a mob boss like dealing drugs, stealing stuff, and so on.
In general, you’re just going from A to B, but you can do whatever you want along the way like stealing cars, beating people up, or anything else. Many of your choices have consequences like if you steal a fast car, you can get places faster.
Grand Theft Auto: London 1969 (1999)
This game is actually an expansion pack for the first GTA game. It was only playable if you had the original 1997 game. London 69 was released for MS-DOS, Windows, and PlayStation.
It takes place in London during the mentioned year. You play a criminal again, just like in the original game, but a different setting.
The game adds period-specific slang like “busted,” but has mostly the same gameplay as the original. It had mixed reviews when it came out
People at the time wrote that the audio was particularly an improvement with a great soundtrack There were 36 new missions and a lot more to do. It got mixed reviews but they were generally positive. It’s certainly not the most acclaimed game in the series, however.
Grand Theft Auto” London 1961 (1999)
Another version of this expansion pack was added later that year, in June. This one was completely free and it added new missions for an earlier year in the same universe.
It’s the exact same engine and is available mostly for PC. It added 22 new vehicles, an extra cut scene, and a multiplayer map option based on Manchester in the UK.
It added quite a lot of new options in terms of the specific game object, but the gameplay was essentially the same as from the previous London instance. So, it makes sense to play this option, especially since it’s free if you liked the former one.
This is one of the less acclaimed games however, it’s worth noting. Many people prefer the main Grand Theft Auto game to this side episode, especially since it’s the second side episode.
Grand Theft Auto 2 (1999)
The follow-up to the original full game came out in October. It was available for Windows and PlayStation. The game had mixed reviews, but similar characteristics to the first one.
You had to get a set score to make it to the next stage. You can get points by doing things like selling cars, destroying cars, completing missions, and so on. This version of the game wasn’t set at any particular time, despite contradictory statements in-game.
Gameplay elements were added, however. You can now save your game by going to the church you came from. You can choose job offers from different crime syndicates, and doing so will make that syndicate like you and other syndicates like you less.
There are now more interactions with vehicles, and with the police, including between non-player characters. You also get a health meter, side missions, hidden packages, and upgrades.
Soundtracks varied between radio stations as well.
Grand Theft Auto III (2001)
GTA III was quite a popular version of the game, and it came out for a huge number of platforms, including PlayStation 2, Xbox, Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, Android, iOS, and Fire OS, though some of the mobile ones were added later.
It won awards when it came out, and received a very high score from the site Metacritic, at 97 out of 100. There was a shift to 3D graphics, and many people thought the game was just much easier to look at than previous games.
The game could now use more memory due to the DVD upgrade, which allowed it to add more options like animations, more music, and special environments.
The gameplay worked through a health bar where you reset and lost all of your items when they ran out. This time you went to the nearest hospital. You also lost some money. In this game, you control a specific criminal named Claude.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002)
This game is set in a fictional city named Vice City in 1986. You play as a mobster named Tommy Vercetti. You can actually play several different missions at the same time in this game since some missions require you to wait.
Gameplay makes it so that you can ride motorcycles now. Another new feature is auto-aim for help with shooting enemies. You can also regenerate your health meter now, add body armor, and there’s a “wanted” meter for your character that goes up when you commit crimes. This means those police officers will chase you more the higher your meter is.
The game was initially playable on the usual PS2, Windows, Xbox, and Mac. At some point, mobile options like iOS, Android, and Fire OS were added, though the mobile games were different.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004)
This version of GTA was also highly acclaimed, just like GTA 3. It scored 95 out of 100 on Metacritic. It featured well-known celebrities, including especially West coast actors. At the time, it had the most voice actors ever. The game is set in 1992 and follows a character named CJ.
San Andreas added stealth and role-playing elements. It doubles down on the open world, creating a huge space to explore. It also features many vehicles including tanks, bikes, aircraft, helicopters, and more.
Many of the reviews mentioned how it’s one of the better games in the series in terms of sandboxing and exploring due to having so many potential different options.
You can play the game any way you want, with less emphasis on linear play.
Load times are also minimized.
Grand Theft Auto Advance (2004)
GTA Advance is one of the less admired games in the series. It was made only for Game Boy Advance which explains some of the lack of enthusiasm.
Gameplay occurs top-down. There are no cut scenes and no dialogue from pedestrians due to the format. The game simply plays GTA III dialogue when you hit a car. There are also no radio channels.
It uses basic GTA elements except paired down for the handheld format. The plot is set in Liberty City, which is the same as for GTA III. You follow a character named Mike, who exists a year before the original GTA III game.
Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories (2005)
The Liberty Cities Stories game came out for PS 2, PS Portable, and the other mobile platforms, with PS 2 being the primary one at the time.
In the single storyline, you follow a character named Toni Cipriani. The game has the usual GTA elements like a 3rd-person perspective and open-world options.
You can use motorcycles in this game, although you can’t use flying vehicles normally. The game also disallows climbing or swimming. The layout is also a lot smaller than San Andreas.
The game got OK reviews, but it still wasn’t as popular as Andreas or GTA 3, likely because of the extra limitations in this game.
Grand Theft Auto Vice City Stories (2006)
Vice City Stories is playable on the PS2 and the PSP consoles, though there are differences between the mobile and non-mobile games. It’s set in the Vice City fictional setting based on a California town like LA.
This game restores the ability to swim, and it has the usual open, non-linear approach to gameplay that GTA makes famous.
Gameplay was updated for this game, including especially the combat system. You can now “intelligently target” enemies attacking you so that you won’t accidentally attack civilians. You can bribe cops now as well.
A new concept in gameplay here is empire building. You can now open businesses and take them over from enemy gangs. You control Vic Vance, a corrupt cop.
Grand Theft Auto IV (2008)
GTA IV is available for PS3, Xbox 360, and Windows. Nico Bellic is the main character this time. He’s a war vet from eastern Europe.
The game scored really high again, 98 out of 100 from Metacritic. It was an immensely popular game.
New gameplay elements included a cover system, where you can move between covers while you’re in a gunfight. You can fire blindly if you can’t see enemies, aim freely, or target a specific individual.
You can target specific parts of the boy now as well. The melee part of the game makes it so that you can disarm opponents as well.
Additionally, you can get out of sight of officers and have the wanted meter enter a cool-down mode. This is going off of a meter that goes from 1 to 6 stars.
The highest level means that officers do everything they can to incapacitate you. Reviewers note that this mode is seriously aggressive.
Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and The Damned (2009)
This title contains two-episode expansion packs for the GTA IV game. You can play this game on Windows, Xbox 360, or PS 3. Plot-wise, it occurs at the same time as both GTA IV and The Ballad of Gay Tony. This expansion pack was reviewed very positively.
New options for this game include the mid-mission checkpoints which make it easier to make it through missions if you die after that point since you can get back to the halfway point if you’ve made it there before.
There are also new multiplayer modes like witness protection, races, chopper versus chopper, own the city, lone wolf biker, and club business.
The plot follows Billy Grey who is the president of the Lost motorcycle club in Alderney after he gets back from rehab ordered by the court. The game was ranked fairly high, though not the highest in the series.
GTA: The Chinatown Wars (2009)
Chinatown Wars was designed for portable platforms like Nintendo DS, PSP, iOS, Android, and Fire OS. It’s the thirteenth game in the series and it’s set in Liberty City, the stand-in for NYC.
The gameplay is different than other GTA titles since the POV is not at ground level. Instead, the game is top-down with a camera you can rotate.
Another difference is that there’s no limit to how many police cars you can disable to escape the police instead of having to get out of a wanted zone. The plot has a subplot where you can deal drugs in the city. It allows you to figure out the best places to sell different drugs.
You can destroy cameras to give you advantages on each level. Another difference is that you can steal parked vehicles in different ways.
The old cars just require a screwdriver whereas newer ones make it so you have to hot wire. If it’s a state-of-the-art car, then you may even have to hack it. The game also features email prominently so you have to go to a safe-house to access the laptop or PDA.
Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony (2009)
This game is the second episode pack for GTA IV. It worked on Xbox 360, Windows, or PS3. It’s set at the same time as other GTA IV games.
It was highly popular, and many people say it’s the best downloadable pack ever.
Gameplay has options like a scoring system for missions, just like what you had in the Chinatown game. You can do missions again to get better scores.
The different characters can help in different ways, like getting more help from people, more weapons, and more vehicles. More new gameplay options include going to a driving range, air hockey, drinking games, and a dancing mini-game.
GTA V (2013)
The platforms for this game include PS3, XBOX 360, PS4, Xbox One, Windows, PS5, and Xbox X/S.
Gameplay includes the usual 3rd person options or you can go first-person instead if you want. It’s set in San Andreas, with the fictional City of Los Santos.
The world is even bigger than ever before though, and you have complete freedom to explore it however you want. There are lots of options for fighting, including the usual melee and firearms, but now adding explosives. The map is so big that the game had to limit some options in other games though, like the fixed-wing planes.
You can control three different players in the game, including Trevor Phillips, Franklin Clinton, and Michael De Santa. Their stories all connect while you play through the game. Sometimes you can actually complete missions with more than one of these characters for some complex gaming environments.
Grand Theft Auto Online (2013)
GTA Online can be played on many different gaming platforms including PS3, Xbox 360, PS4, Xbox One, Windows, PS5, and more. It is fundamentally a multiplayer game.
This title is fundamentally different than the others due to being an online game. In other words, you play it with other people live through the Internet. As of 2021, this online game is still going. It was fairly well-received when it came out, though it didn’t have anywhere near the top ratings of the series.
Material is being added to the game constantly, including in 2021, extra stunt races, mod shops and tattoo parlors, and weekly challenges such as races. The game has a similar style as all GTA games, with a focus on completing tasks.
You control a customizable silent character within the San Andreas environment. There’s a campaign, but it’s still in an online environment.
Eventually, you begin to set up your own criminal syndicate by finishing more and more difficult missions. You can team up with others or play against them, depending on how you want to play it.
New material was updated throughout the run of the game, and as long as the game lives, this appears to be ongoing.
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