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

    No stories or episodes because they use an already existing map? So you're ranking the city designs from your favourite to least favourite. The setting of the game is so important to the story, and so you decide to cut 4 games out of the list just because you know the map.

    Then I scrolled up and saw Plunkett's name. *slow clap*

    I have never understood SA, all my friends love it, but I feel its almost the worst in the series. It had some cool stuff and was big. But its useless making a big game if 70ish% is junk. The first part of the game was so boring I couldn't ever bring myself to replay it. Vice City is awesome, and so was the 80's and every cheesy line that came with it. Its practically Scarface, its pure awesome.

    i was surprised to see vice city on top, most people choose san andreas as the best.

    which i'm happy about, san andreas is great (it wopuld be my number two) but as far as location and setting goes vice city was great.

    Vice City > San Andreas > IV > III

    Vice city was not only the first GTA game I owned, but the first game I owned on my shiny new PS2. So much time was put into this game, and many played through it many times. That is why it is my favourite GTA game.

    2 > VC > 3 > SA

    The others never really got me, IV was just horrible what with it being too serious. That was about when I jumped ship to Saint's Row.

    San Andreas 4th was just to get people butthurt, it's obviously second or first. GTA IV should have been 4th

    ok i have played these games from the very first so heres my list

    1 gta san andreas(still going strong on the pc, would be on the ps3 too if they released it)
    2 gta III (was quite innovative for its time)
    3 gta 1(was a really good game solid as for the time it was released, really hard to play these days because we are use to such a high standard)
    4 gta II
    5 gta vice city
    6 gta IV (very pretty game not much else worth mentioning)

    didnt mention gta london 1969? because i never had a chance to play it

    Oh look, it's yet another laughably horrible Plunkett article.

    Who the hell plays GTA for the story? LOL. San Andreas is by far and above the greatest GTA ever made. The size and amount of things to do is what GTA is all about - I have a feeling people who prefer IV were too young when SA came out or too old to simply appreciate a plethora of crazy dumb fun. That's why it's also considered by many to be one of the best games ever made as well. IV is the only mediocre GTA, next to GTA London.

    I don't think some of you understand what the main appeal of the series is - lots and lots of dumb fun. Hollywood storylines and realistic physics are not why people buy the games.

    San Andreas all the way.

    Vice City in second, I think the story was stronger but San Andreas one-upped it in almost every way (VC - jump off a boat and drown in scary blue water that looks to be 1.5m deep? Come on...)

    VC was totally Scarface and the mansion was sweet. But I liked the fact that Rockstar took some Manhunt gameplay and threw it into SA so you could sneak around stealthily. The music in both is outta this world - I only just prefer SA in that regard because of the GNR, RATM and Snoop & Dre making it heaps gangster.

    And the whole terrain argument is subjective, personally I loved hooning around the hills and mountains on a dirtbike.

    Other than that GTA3 then GTA4 (couldn't get into the story of GTA4, but it plays brilliantly)

    Go get SA-MP and tell me how many players are online, and then compare it to IV and it's DLCs online player count. The numbers don't lie.

    GTA 4 does not deserve that position over SA. At least SA can run SMOOTHLY on a PC that exceeds the maximum requirements, unlike the memory leaking, unoptimised GTA 4.

    Loved SA but the story is all over the place. I'm a small time ex-gang member wrestling with what it means to be part of a community - oh look, I'm stealing a jump jet off an aircraft carrier.

    VC was the first GTA I owned and it holds a special place in my heart. If you played the more recent GTA's first it's hard to explain what made it the best; the map was probably the smallest, the graphics were average and it has some terrible mechanics (aiming, no swimming, jumping, punching). Yet it was just a magical experience and most of my best gaming memories come from that game.

    1.GTA IV
    2.GTA SA
    3.GTA III

    these r my favs

    will be released in Australia. The orinigal game (that everybody else sees fit enough to play) was Refused Classification by the ACB last month because of in-game morphine use. The for-Australian-eyes version no longer has

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