Grand Theft Auto Series – Ranked! (From Worst to Best)

Here’s a game series that truly requires no introduction. Arguably the biggest entertainment brand on the planet right now, the Grand Theft Auto games are a hallmark in the medium and for a very good reason. Often imitated but never bettered, tonight we take a look back on every main entry in this long-running open world crime sandbox. For the sake of brevity, only main entries are being considered in this list, that means no spin-off or handheld titles.

#7 – Grand Theft Auto (1997)

Proof that everyone has to start somewhere. What originally began life as DMA Design’s Race N’ Chase, a cops and robbers style game, quickly took on a life of its own as the Grand Theft Auto series, and Rockstar Games, was born. With that said, and all respect due, the first title is difficult to go to back now over twenty years later. I played this one way back when on the original Sony PlayStation, and while passable for the time, there’s little incentive to return to Liberty City in this incarnation.

#6 – Grand Theft Auto 2 (1999)

Bigger and better in every way. After several successful expansion packs, Rockstar knew that they had to pull out all the stops to up their game when it came to their numbered sequel. What we got two years after the original was a more focused and expansive game world, that was more light hearted and comedic in nature. The story missions tie together in a tighter fashion too. It’s just a better game than its predecessor. Period. If you have an itch for top-down classic GTA action, you can’t go wrong with this one.

#5 – Grand Theft Auto 3 (2001)

This was the game that took the franchise from decent to god-like. The series’ meteoric rise can be traced back to this sixth generation gem, and it’s easy to see why. Ditching the top-down nature of earlier titles in favour for a fully 3d game world. GTA 3 had it all; cinematic cutscenes complete with a fully voiced cast, a huge open world to explore and an equally enticing narrative to experience, it’s no wonder why this game has its place in history. GTA 3 laid the groundwork that continues to be iterated on to this very day.

#4 – Grand Theft Auto IV (2008)

Taking the open world series into the seventh generation was to be no easy task. This period of video gaming was marred by muddy grey and brown colour palettes, and unfortunately Grand Theft Auto IV didn’t escape unscathed. With the drastic change in art direction came the stronger emphasis on gritty realism, both in the game’s narrative and core mechanics.

The combat felt just as heavy as the driving, so much to say that there definitely was a sense of weight. This title features what I believe to be the best story of the whole franchise, and it still holds up in many ways 13 years after release. DLC would later inject fun and colour back into GTA IV with The Ballad of Gay Tony and The Lost & Damned being just as enjoyable as Nico Bellic’s adventure.

#3 – Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004)

Now we get to the game that many people would say ranks as the definitive entry in the franchise, and I can certainly see why. Taking place in the mid-1990s, and with a clear inspiration from movies such as Boyz n the Hood, San Andreas was bigger and deeper than any video game at the time, and still holds up efficiency in 2021. There’s such a vast amount of things to do. Sure, the main narrative is engaging and characters well realised, but the main draw of this title is the little things. Drag racing, lifting weights, pimping your ride just right etc. There’s simply not enough time to put into words exactly how massive this game is. That’s not even scratching the surface on the memes and moments like Big Smoke’s drive thru order.

#2 – Grand Theft Auto V (2013)

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was 16 years old, I had just finished a science lesson and talk that day was abound with hype for what would become the highest grossing entertainment product in history. Throwing the game into the family Xbox, we were overwhelmed by the rich and dynamic world of a reinvigorated Los Santos, the beauty of the graphical presentation and the level of immersion from the main narrative. What can I say about this game that hasn’t already been stated before? Take what was good about San Andreas, modernise it, and you have a pretty good idea of what to expect. While the story isn’t fully cohesive at times, it would be criminal to understate the sheer level of ambition that pores out of every kilobyte of this incredible title.

Every problem people had with GTA IV was addressed. The colour palette thankfully gained some much needed contrast, missions were more varied and exciting, as well as the addition of customisation options and flying vehicles. With GTA it really felt like the sky was the limit. It begs the question of exactly what could surpass it.

#1 – Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002)

Released only a year after GTA 3, Vice City innovates on everything that made that title as groundbreaking as it was, and in spectacular style. The neon, the music! Vice City is absolutely gorgeous. You simply can’t beat cruising around the rain soaked streets at 80-mph whilst Duran Duran blasts on the radio, racing to the next main mission across the beautiful coastal beaches.

If there’s one game that’s left a lasting legacy on me as a person, it’s Vice City. It may lack the graphical fidelity of GTA IV and GTA V, but it makes up for it with it’s abundance of heart and charm. Tommy Vercitti is also the best protagonist that these games ever had, rivalling even that of C.J. and Trevor Phillips. The story takes cues from 80s crime thrillers such as Scar Face and runs with it unapologetically. I could genuinely spend all night writing an essay on exactly why I love this game.

As with anything, it’s all subjective. I respect all opinions and understand that how feel and my opinions could differ wildly and that’s okay. One thing I hope we can all agree on is in confirming our excitement and hopes for what’s next in the franchise.

Author: Aleksha McLoughlin

Current 3rd year journalism student at Falmouth University. Writer for Pit of Plagues, The Metal Experience and other music based publications, as well as freelance.

2 thoughts

  1. For cool, nice article. I’ve not played all of them to compare or even enough of the ones I did play, can’t claim to have ever finished one through the story either but do remember just having a blast in Vice City and usually just running around be silly in the others that I’ve played, not a fan of the top down originals tbh but that just wasn’t my type of game, I was far more interested once they started in 3D. Thanks for sharing.


    1. Hey Rob, thanks for your comment!

      Yeah, I agree. The top down games were good for their time but nowhere near the levels of enjoyable of the 3D or HD titles. Happy to see we see eye-to-eye on Vice City. I hope you’re doing well!


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