Let's Rank The Grand Theft Auto Games, Best To 'Worst'

We did it with Halo, so let's do it with another of the world's biggest game series, Grand Theft Auto. And by "it", I mean rank the games from "best" to "bottom of the list".

Why? You might be new to the series. Or diving back into it. These games take a long time to get through, so you should probably start with the good ones first. Or... you might just be arguing with friends. That's the beauty of these things. With a series like Grand Theft Auto, every game has its ups and downs, its pros and cons, and exploring just what ticks people's boxes can be a blast.

Before we dive in, a few notes: these aren't Kotaku's picks for the pecking order of the GTA series. They're just mine. You'll no doubt find my colleagues chiming in below with their two cents! Also note that, like with Halo, I've had to set some boundaries on what I'm including and what I'm not.

It was a lot tougher to draw a line in the GTA series, since it spans so many platforms (and even decades), but at the risk of offending purists I've decided to stick to just the standalone titles. That means no "Stories" or "Episodes" titles, as by sharing a map they're sharing half the experience (making them more of an expansion, in my opinion, even with their own stories), but I'll consider them as part of the main games they're based on.

1. Vice City

It may not be the perfect Grand Theft Auto game, but it's the perfect Grand Theft Auto experience. Sure, on a superficial level it's the car chases and gunplay that make a GTA game fun, but it's the strength of the world that helps set these games apart from each other. And no world was better realised than Rockstar's take on 1986 Miami. The first time you drive past pink neon lights while Jan Hammer plays on the radio, you'll feel, just for a moment, that you're quite literally back in the 1980s. It's a little bit terrifying.

It also helps the game boasts perhaps the series' strongest assortment of characters, led by Ray Liotta's Tommy Vercetti, who is nevertheless outshone by William Fichtner's coke-addled lawyer turn.

2. Grand Theft Auto IV

Drab as it may be, Rockstar's most recent entry in the series built a world so rich they could put three stories in it and still make parts of the map feel brand new. While dialling back the chaos of San Andreas upset some, for me it was a welcome move, the added "realism" of 2008's Liberty City creating a virtual metropolis that lives and breathes like no other in all of video games.

3. Grand Theft Auto III

The most revolutionary entry in the series, as it's the one that brought the franchise into the 3D world, I don't think GTAIII gets enough credit for the strength of its map. While the story and characters aren't so hot, Rockstar clearly finding their feet in that regard, GTAIII's map is I think the best of the entire series, because it's small enough, and each street is unique enough, that it doesn't take long to learn the entire thing off by heart, something that's almost impossible in later games.

4. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

Why isn't this higher? I thought San Andreas overreached. The RPG stuff they added to the game wasn't enriching, it was annoying. The size of the map wasn't a good thing, it just meant there were plenty of places you'd get stuck without a vehicle. And I don't think the whole early-1990s thing was done as well as Rockstar's treatment of the mid-1980s in Vice City.

Yet...good Lord, it's a big game. And a crazy one. Rockstar brought that back with GTAIV's Gay Tony (the return of parachutes, etc) because, while world-building can be important, sometimes you just want to fly a jet fighter around then parachute onto the roof of a truck before blowing it up with an RPG.

5. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

It's not as pretty as bigger games, or perhaps even as engaging, but it sure is interesting, both because of its focus on Chinese-American gangsters (something not really covered in previous games) and its novel control schemes, which brought a unique GTA experience to platforms like the DS and mobile phone which previously (and still have to) suffer poorly-implemented ports.

6. GTA London 1969

Why is this the best-ranked "original" GTA game? Because it remains the only GTA game set outside the United States, which by default also makes it one of the most interesting.

7. GTA 2

I was never the biggest fan of the original 2D games, as the viewpoint deprived them of the sense of place and scale that are so important to the 3D games, but GTA 2 at least introduced a number of key features found in later games, like the ability to save your game and to perform different missions for different gangs.

8. Grand Theft Auto

Not a bad game by any means — it spawned this series, after all! — it's just got little to recommend it over any of the games listed above unless you're writing a paper on the history of the franchise.

9. Grand Theft Auto (Game Boy Advance)

The less we say about this, the better.


Comments

    Close... but of the big 4 games...

    VC > SA > VI > III

    III was revolutionary, but the improvements in every subsequent game make it obsolete now.

      If you're going to fault GTA III for it's obsolete game mechanics you should do the same for Vice City, they're only a year apart and largely similar.

      San Andreas is a lot more advanced than both of them.

        Yeah the 'Vice City the best GTA ever' is getting old, and without meret - it was awesome at the time, but doesn't stand the test of time.

    In my opinion SA was far and away the best. I think vice city is overrated. I played the shit out of all of these games though I love the series. But SA is probably my favorite game ever. It felt like a game that you could truly do anything you wanted!

    I think VC is the best of the bunch and it would seem a lot of people feel the same, so the question is why haven't RockStar revisited Vice City? Also I think the original GTA deserves to be higher on that list so many hours of fun + it was a great multilayer game for its day

      Because thats obviously actually san andreas. Which they are of course revisiting now in V. And LA is much more interesting to do a next gen fully realized take on than Miami.

      It wasn't the Miami setting that made VC great, it was the 1980s setting. So returning to VC in any other period won't be nearly as fun.

    My personal opinion would be SA > VC > IV > III

    There's just something really special about San Andreas that keeps me playing it still today, 8 years after it was released.

    Where are the PSP games?

      Agree. Liberty city stories and Vice city stories were great games that came out on two platforms. How can you do a complete list without these?

    What are you on drugs!?? GTA 2 was by far better than the rest

      yeah delusional kids these days, GTA2 best by far.
      VC a close 2nd
      SA the worst possible, only just beating GTA4.

    That GTA2 video reminded me of this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eto_2Xgcpi8
    Wankers on duty by Da Hool. Blew me away when I saw it on red tv on FOXTEL.

      While I'm here, the best GTA theme song, fom the original. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYy69qOJWoM

    GTA IV was a complete let down for me, VC, SA, III would all come before it.

    I'm worried the V will have the same problems as IV. Just too "open", not pointed enough to make you follow the story line and keep you interested. You just start fucking around, stealing cars, killing random people. That's fun for about 5 minutes. There need to be a compelling and engaging story line to keep you interested.

    +1 SA > VI
    VI was just annoying. Ppl call at the worst times, and the cars drive like wet spaghetti.
    SA had harriers and jetpacks.

      First of all, there is no GTA VI, it doesn't exist. It's quite obvious you're talking about GTA IV however. People call at the worst times because you forget to or are oblivious to the fact you can put your phone on silent and not receive the calls at all, it takes 2 seconds and everyone is happy. The cars drive closer to realism than any other GTA, not good for mindless arcaders who don't understand braking points, apexes and the fact a handbrake simply shouldn't be used when evading the police unless completely necessary.

        Yeah - except the rewards for taking the annoying as hell calls were massive i.e. free cabs. Basically, you were going to have to do something annoying no matter what, which to me sums up my experience of the entire game: good story, complete absence of fun.

        I personally love the driving physics in GTA IV

        Oh wow, you are so superior to everyone else because you don't like arcade games, wow man. you are so much better than everyone.

    I loved the realism of IV and the Insanity and exploration of SA... The problem with GTA IV, was that you started on one side of the city and knew that things would be pretty much the exact same if you drove to the other side, whereas SA had a lot of different terrain types to explore. V looks to be combining these, which is fantastic.

      Anyone who say's that GTA4 has realism in the vehicles has obviously never driven a real car, if any car on the road handled like they do in GTA4 cars would be made illegal for public safety.

        What he actually means, is that GTA4 had the most realistic car handling for the series, as previous GTAs' were arcadey - non physics based handleing. Realism and realistic mean 'like reality' - not 'same as reality.'

    VC - Yes. Awesome, start to finish, everything about it.

    SA - Really good, but didn't quite hit the mark for me. Yes it had flying/parachuting/swimming etc, but the characters and story just felt like it didn't have anything holding it together. It started awesome with the 90s hip hop vibe, but then it went all over the shop. Not enough cohesiveness, felt like they were just adding stuff for the hell of it and not because it helped the over all story. Still fun.

    III - Revolutionary in so many ways, had a lot of awesome stuff that they built on later with VC and SA. But even though the graphics and gameplay aren't amazing, still better than IV.

    IV - Great graphics but... really frustrating driving/shooting/controls in general, lots of superfluous crap (TV?), a mixed bag of not very memorable characters and not a very interesting overall story. It felt like they were trying to make it 'too' real, and it removed a lot of what made it fun.

    It is beyond comprehension how any of you contest GTAIV being better than SA.

    GTAIV is far better than SA in every single aspect of the game, I agree entirely with the author's views, too big, annoying and unnecessary RPG crap thrown in and the atmosphere was terrible. I'm glad Rockstar got the "gang banging, rap / hip hop culture" bullshit out of the way with an unnumbered title.

      What "annoying RPG crap"? You mean like the dating system in GTA IV?

      As for the gangster rap culture, what else would you expect in a 90s LA setting. The Grove St missions were only the first part of the game anyway.

        Exactly r,e 90s LA setting. The citys poor suburbs are real shit holes, and Rock* nailed it right in SA (even if it was in a humorous way). If the author is complaining about SA being too large, they're probably in for a real treat with GTA 5.

        I'm not saying they could have used a different time or culture, I'm just glad they appeased that crowd in an unnumbered title and now it's out of the way.

        I think I've made it obvious that rap / hip hop culture isn't my thing.

          You've certainly made one thing obvious from your comments here, but it isn't what you think.

            Outside of my preferences on GTA games and the above comment, nothing comes to mind. Care to enlighten me?

    I can appreciate that III was a huge step forward, but Vice City was the game that III should have been (R* brought it out a year later) and I really don't think it should be that high.

    Oh and SA is about a bajillion times more fun than IV.

    Yep, putting IV and III above SA made me instantly lose interest.

    lol SA 4th? oh hellz no Luke.
    Thats obviously best in the series

    For it was definitely:

    1. Vice City
    2. San Andreas
    3. China Town Wars

    And the rest, for me, were a bit "meh".. I did enjoy the original GTA when it first came out but not like I enjoyed VC.. GTAIV for me came across as stale and uninspired.. nice graphics and all.. nice ambition.. but for some reason it fell "flat" for me.. I'm hoping V is going to rectify all that.

    Aside from my opinion.

    http://www.metacritic.com/game/playstation-3/grand-theft-auto-iv

    http://www.metacritic.com/game/playstation-2/grand-theft-auto-san-andreas

      Were you referring to the User Scores? Because that's the take home message I got.

      Splitting hairs between a 95%(SA) and a 98%(IV) if you meant the Metacritic Scores.

    For me it's;

    Vice City
    GTA III
    IV + Episodes
    Liberty City Stories
    Vice City Stories
    GTA II
    GTA I
    San Andreas (Whilst an excellent game, I was never keen on the whole Ghetto imagery & early storyline)

    Last edited 05/12/12 10:00 am

    The important thing is that Vice City is listed as number one.

    Strange that there's no mention of the Liberty City Stories - personally they were good, but not great. Haven't played much of IV yet, still on my list.

    I get the feeling that you're letting nostalgic emotions blind your opinion Luke. If you where to take away the music and the 80s Miami theme, Vice City is pretty bland by todays standards. Theres nothing wrong with admitting the current gen GTA games are better than their previous incarnations. Us GTA fans loved Vice City, but honestly #1? :S
    Story? Characters? Mission gameplay are nowhere near as good as GTA 4.

    Last edited 05/12/12 10:43 am

    How long has it been since you played Vice City, the game world is tiny and bland.

    There's some neon lights around and some girls in bikinis on skates but that's about all that stands out. The rest is basically up to your imagination and the expensive licensed 80s soundtrack.

    It's nice that Ray Liotta did the character voice, but the cut scenes, dialogue and general story aren't remarkable.

      Really the story, cut scenes and dialogue isn't remarkable? You're obviously not much of a fan of the two main influences of the Vice City story those being Scarface & Miami Vice.. Both are exceptional in my opinion.

      I went back and replayed it this year and had just as much fun playing it as I did when it was new on the PS2.

    For me its;

    San Andreas
    GTA 4
    Vice City
    GTA 3

      Same for me, but I would slot GTA 2 above 3.

      So hard to make a list, I've enjoyed them all for different reasons.

    My personal list
    Tied first: Gta VC & GTA SA
    Second: GTA 4 & Expansions & Gta 2
    Tied Third: Chinatown wars & GTA Vice City Stories & Liberty City Stories ( i actually enjoyed the Stories games Vice City Stories has some of my favorite characters and music of all the series)
    Tied Fourth: GTA 3 & GTA Advance (My best gaming memories come from GTA 3 but it really cant be higher)
    Fifth: GTA 1 & London (expansion so i count it as one game)

    The Gameboy Color GTA Games do not appear on my list they were horrible ports with even worse controls.

    Last edited 05/12/12 11:21 am

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