Ranking The Grand Theft Auto Games, From Worst To Best

Ranking The Grand Theft Auto Games, From Worst To Best

The Grand Theft Auto franchise has been around for nearly two decades, and the series includes over a dozen titles. Some GTA games are excellent, others…not so much. Let’s take a moment to rank every GTA game, from worst to best.

We originally ranked GTA games a few years back, but that was before GTA V — so, you can consider this an update of sorts. I built this list taking into account how these games play in 2017, rather than just going with my fond memories, which means some “classics” might be lower than you expect.

Maybe you disagree with my rankings. That’s OK! Each entry also has some fun facts and bits of trivia, so don’t get too mad if [Insert Your Favourite GTA Game] doesn’t take the top spot.

13. Grand Theft Auto: Advance (Original Release: Gameboy Advance, 2004)

GTA Advance is a mediocre and ugly game that was likely hindered by the hardware. There’s only so much you can do on the GBA, after all. Due to lack of storage on GBA carts, each car has a short instrumental song that loops instead of the usual radio stations featured in GTA games. This gets repetitive quickly.

FUN FACT: GTA Advance is a prequel to GTA III, and it actually explains why 8-Ball was arrested. It even shows King Courtney, a character that is only heard but not seen in GTA III.

12. Grand Theft Auto (Original Release: PC & PS1, 1998)

The game that started it all. And yet, GTA 1 is also the least necessary game to play in the main series. Everything within GTA 1 is majorly improved in future games. GTA 1 just hasn’t aged very well, thanks to difficulty spikes that vary from mission to mission.

FUN FACT: See that on the cover? That is Trump Tower. The Tower also appeared in GTA IV, with the description that it “was built by Lyle Cleethorpes V purely to demonstrate to the world his great wealth. As a filthy-rich heir to a, quite frankly, awful family, fame obsessed Cleethorpes will do anything to get his face or name up in lights.”

11. GTA London 1969/1961 (Original Release: PC & PS1, 1999)

While technically these are mission packs for GTA 1, they added a ton of new content — including a brand new city to explore. GTA London 1969 was released on PC and PS1. GTA London 1961, a prequel, was released only on PC. Together, they are basically a new entry in the franchise.

GTA London is kinda strange. It’s the only time GTA has been set in the 60’s and unlike every other game in the franchise, GTA London is set in a real city. This is also the first and only game to be set outside the US. Ironically the developer and creator of Grand Theft Auto, UK located Rockstar North, didn’t develop the only UK based GTA. Rockstar Toronto developed London 1969 and 1961.

SAD FACT: The Crisp Brothers, who were villains in the game, were both secretly voiced by famous British novelist and art critic John Berger. Sadly, he recently passed away.

10. Grand Theft Auto 2 (Original Release: PC & PS1, 1999)

From the characters the visuals, GTA 2 is zanier than GTA 1. Infamously, you could run over Hare Krishna members in GTA 1, but in GTA 2, they are an in-game faction warring with the Russian Mafia. That’s the difference between 1 and 2. Despite the silliness, GTA 2 is a better version of GTA 1, with improved graphics, sounds, and controls.

FUN FACT: This was also the first and last time GTA would appear on a Sega console.

9. GTA: Liberty City Stories (Original Release: 2005, PSP)

The first 3D era game to appear on this list. I really enjoyed Liberty City Stories, but it had the unfortunate timing of being released after the mega-popular San Andreas. Almost every fan I know seemed disappointed by how bare bones and old Liberty City Stories felt. You couldn’t swim, you couldn’t crouch, you couldn’t fly helicopters or jetpacks or anything like that. It was a bummer.

Still, LCS had some things going for it, like the addition of vehicles from San Andreas and Vice City into Liberty City. LCS also improved the aiming and shooting, lifting its combat controls from GTA San Andreas. But one reason this game is so low on my list is I don’t really like Tony Cipriani, the main protagonist. Cipriani is annoying, and his story is weak.

FUN FACT: Tony Cipriani first appeared in GTA III as a characters who gave you missions. You might remember him as the dude who always seemed to be feuding with his loud, angry mother.

8. Grand Theft Auto III (Original Release: 2001, PS2)

GTA III’s charm is undeniable: I started playing recently with the intention of just grabbing a few minutes of footage, and ended up playing for nearly three hours instead.

The story of GTA III feels focused and moves quickly. The game is also filled with memorable missions and characters, like Tony Cipriani and his loud mother, as well as Catalina, who famously shoots Claude in the face at the very start of the game. Missions can be a bit simple compared to later GTA games, but they’re still fun to play. Remember the mission that tasks you with stealing a high ranking Mafia member’s car, arming it with a bomb and then parking it back where he is currently eating lunch? Exciting stuff!

Also excellent: using cheats to fly the tank. Man.

FUN FACT: GTA III’s radio has references to Carcer City, the setting of Manhunt. Additionally, different cars from GTA III pop up in Manhunt, including the Blista Compact. And a bathroom in Manhunt is actually ripped directly out of GTA III.

7. GTA Chinatown Wars (Original Release: 2009, Nintendo DS)

Chinatown Wars returns the GTA series to its top-down roots, except this time, it’s in Liberty City.

Chinatown Wars includes an addicting drug dealing system. Sometimes deals go smoothly, while other times, you get attacked or ambushed by the police. Dealing drugs is one of my favourite things to do in Chinatown Wars; Rockstar fleshed the entire thing out really well. Driving across town to sell a bunch of weed in an area where it goes for a high price is very satisfying, for example, and it helps that all the UI for the system feels professional and serious.

FUN FACT: GTA Chinatown Wars is the only single-player GTA game starring an Asian American.

6. Grand Theft Auto Vice City (Original Release: 2002, PS2)

The first time I played Vice City, a friend lent me his copy. He had to leave after a few hours, but I, desperate to keep playing, kept my PS2 on while taking the disc out. I was hopeful that the PS2 would let me keep playing, but that’s not how it works. Still, that moment is emblematic of how much I love this game.

Bright pink neon, blue suits, bright yellow sports cars, and tons of cocaine: Vice City is the 80’s incarnate. Vice City also has one of the best soundtracks of the entire franchise, which is saying something.

While I love Vice City, actually playing it again is a good reminder of how far the series has come. Vice City can feel clunky and unresponsive, especially when it comes to combat. Fighting multiple enemies can be a nightmare, because the lock-on system isn’t reliable. Still, the city, music and atmosphere help keep Vice City from ageing too poorly.

FUN FACT: GTA Vice City has billboards that reference Miami…so does Miami actually exist in the GTA Universe?

5. GTA Vice City Stories (Original Release: 2006, PSP)

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories is Vice City, but with better controls and more things to do. GTA VCS also added a ton San Andreas-style features, such as swimming, gang wars, multiple outfits to wear, among other things. After years of watching Tommy drown, being able to swim around Vice City is a welcome change.

The gang wars and empire-building mechanics in Vice City Stories are a highlight. Growing your business and defending it to earn money is a ton of fun, though I wouldn’t be surprised if most people missed out on the experience because it was only initially available on PSP (and later ported to PS2)

FUN FACT: Most celebrities who appear in GTA tend to play a character — . Samuel L. Jackson, for example, was in GTA San Andreas, but as corrupt officer Tenpenny. In Vice City Stories, Phil Collins appears…as Phil Collins. Hell, he actually performs in Vice City. It’s a bit strange and of course, because it is GTA, someone wants to kill the famous musician.

4. Grand Theft Auto San Andreas (Original Release: PS2, 2004)

Vice City is great, but San Andreas is better, especially when it comes to the combat, visuals, and number of vehicles. San Andreas is a bigger game in nearly every way: you can fly jets, plan a heist, visit Las Venturas and gamble, buy property, take part in gang wars, drive a train, climb stuff, ride a bicycle, play basketball…the list goes on and on.

FUN FACT: On PC, you can still mess around with GTASAMP, a multiplayer mod that has been around for a decade now. Wanna play San Andreas with other fans? Great news, this mod is still populated and active to this day.

3. Grand Theft Auto IV (Original Release: 2008, PS3 and Xbox 360)

GTA IV divides fans. Some loved GTA IV’s serious tone, while others miss the wilder side of GTA. For me, it easily makes my top three.

In GTA IV, combat finally feels modern: you can use the left and right triggers to aim and shoot, a change that makes combat feel natural. I also love the way the city looms over you as you look up. Plus, flying a helicopter in the night as New York Groove plays on the radio is still awesome.

I also really enjoyed the driving in GTA IV, as it felt heavy and smooth, unlike the previous games. The result is that when you get good at driving in GTA IV, it actually feels like you learned a skill. Back when I played in multiplayer servers, I remember getting really pumped whenever I out-drived other players, especially if I managed to avoid an accident or ambush.

GTA IV also featured the first major attempt at a GTA online multiplayer mode. Modes like Cops N’ Crooks, are still fun to play, and I enjoy that you can turn off parts of the game, like police or friendly fire. Having that sort of granular control made me feel like I was creating my own rules, my own special stories. Even the more recent GTA Online doesn’t feel that intimate.

FUN FACT: My favourite easter egg in GTA IV are hippo-shaped trash bins, which you might recall from Manhunt. So then: where does Manhunt fit into the GTA multiverse?

2. Grand Theft Auto Episodes From Liberty City (Original Release: 2009, Xbox 360)

The DLC for GTA IV is better than the original release. Each DLC gives you a new perspective on Liberty City: Lost and The Damned is gritty and dirty, Ballad of Gay Tony is fun and glamorous.

Lost and The Damned added a new biker-centric campaign, which was a huge departure from the original GTA IV campaign. GTA IV was all about an immigrant coming to America and trying to make it. The Lost and The Damned is all about hanging with your biker gang, fighting rivals and cruising around Liberty City in choppers. I’m not a huge biker guy, which is why I consider Lost and The Damned the lesser DLC compared to Ballad of Gay Tony (but they are both still good.)

Once TBOGT was released I don’t think I ever played standard GTA IV online multiplayer again. Gay Tony added so many things that became must-haves, like parachutes, sticky bombs, tanks, golf, dancing minigames, mission scoring and large military-grade weapons. Ballad of Gay Tony also lightened the mood and had more fun than GTA IV. Never mind the music: Ballad of Gay Tony took the already fantastic GTA IV soundtrack and stuffed it full of neon, fun and partying.

Fun Fact: GTA Episodes From Liberty City added two new episodes of Republican Space Rangers, a cartoon you can watch on the in-game TVs. The main character of the series is voiced by Lloyd Floyd, who has done more voice work for Rockstar than any other voice actor. He also was the voice of the pigeon in this commercial.

1. Grand Theft Auto V/ GTA Online (Original Release: 2013, Xbox 360 & PS3)

Full stop, GTA V is the best GTA game ever made.

GTA V is easily the best-looking and best-playing game in the entire franchise, and a large part of that has to do with Rockstar’s attention to detail. You can knock over traffic cones, watch animals in the woods, read labels on cereal boxes. Hell, you can watch TV or even surf a totally fictional in-game internet. It’s wild.

GTA V is also a joy to play, and in a single session you can alternate between the chaos of blowing up a train or robbing a bank to the beauty of parachuting over the desert at night. It’s wonderful.

Then you have GTA Online. Yes some of the pricing is ridiculous, and the grinding to get the newest and coolest toys can take forever. But GTA Online is still a playground that I’ve lost hundreds of hours in. Driving around the mountains, doing missions, racing cars, starting large firefights with the police — these are all things you’ve done in GTA before, but being able to do it all with friends revitalises the experience.

The best part is, every few weeks or so, there’s a new vehicle or mode to play around with. GTA Online is constantly changing, and these updates — which are often free — add entirely new gameplay systems. Three years after the release of GTA Online and I’m still playing the game nearly every week; it still feels fresh.

Fun fact: While GTA fans have spent years looking for UFOs, ghosts and Bigfoot across multiple games, most of those searches haven’t turned up much. Rockstar seems to have noticed this was a trend, because they included all three of those things in GTA V. That inclusion helps why the legend of Mt. Chiliad was so powerful in motivating people to look for a fabled jetpack.

Putting nostalgia aside, as someone who has put an embarrassing number of hours into all GTA games, GTA V is the pinnacle of the series.

This article was originally published in January 2017.


    • I had the most fun with Vice City. But I was 20 years old, working full time and had the cash and time for gaming. Even then though, I remember thinking the combat and movement were very clunky.

      That music tho…

      But I couldn’t go back to it now. Times have changed and even though I dislike the GTA V story, just wandering around the world is darn impressive, and that’s just on PS4!

      • Same. It was Vice City that really got me into the series, but it was a product of its era. I’m not sure it would work today, even with upgraded visuals. GTA IV and V have really ramped up the game to the point the earlier ones cant compete.

        And thats shown in the list. For the most part, from worst to best, is GTA 1, then 2, then 3, then 4, and finally 5, with the variations for each scattered in and around their primary game equivalent.

        • Yup. Have to agree. Except for San Andreas. I really felt like Vice City was just more fun to play.

    • Vice City radio was the best in the whole series to me too.

      LOVE IT. Not the best GTA, but seriously the radio was phenomenal and miles ahead of the rest.

      Song selection was superb.

  • V is definitely the most playable. However, I think the gravity and emotional punch of IV is a true narrative achievement. Despite its missteps (and the bloody flying rats) it trumps V.

    As a point of nostalgia, I recall booting up III for the first time on my PS2 and being blown away by the size and freedom of the game. There had never been an ‘open world’ of such quality and diversity up til that point in gaming. It was quite the milestone.

  • This really feels like an ordering of technical accomplishment rather than ‘what was actually the most fun\best story\etc game’.

    Anyone being serious would almost certainly have to level that at Vice City (if you come down on the side of story), or San Andreas (if you come down on the side of gameplay). Whilst IV was excellent (and I’d rate it \ its expansion at 3), V needs to get dropped down the list as the boring ass game it is.

    • Some elements of V remind me of San Andreas so I was happy about that. San Andreas was probably my favourtie but I can’t deny that V is still an objectively better game in 2017.

      They have all been pretty damn impressive (besides mobile or handheld) when they have been released, so at each time they’ve all been amazing haha.

    • Terrible list. Vice City had the incredible story, San Andreas was the first with true size.

      Even III should be higher, seeing that huge sprawling open world for the first time was revolutionary.

      V is a feat in itself, but it has an awful story and nothing truly original.

  • Vice City and San Andreas will always be my favourites because the stories and music were so great (V was also very good but I remember the story less fondly).

  • Part of me still prefers the size of III/Vice city, as both games are big enough to feel like you’re in a fully realised world, but small enough for everywhere to be memorable. If you took a screen shot of anywhere in those games I’d be able to recognise it. I’d really struggle to do that in the later games, especially VI or V.

    • Yep III and Vice City are my favourites by far. I also enjoyed the Mafia style story much more than the LA gang stylings of San Andreas.

      I played the hell out of III and know all the cars, the radio, the locations, I just didn’t connect with San Andreas and any of the later ones. I wish they would revisit the world of III to be honest, I’d buy that in a heartbeat.

  • seeing the original GTA at last place immediately makes this article wrong. its easily in the top 4 or 5. it pioneered the series as well as being amazing to play. #suckmyrocket#buckfast

    • Agreed, this list is basically in order of release with some of the mobile titles chucked in the mix.

      • I see this list as ‘which is the best GTA experience if you had never played one and wanted to play one today‘. Without a doubt GTA V is the most playable, best looking and technically impressive GTA.

        The list would look different if it was ‘which GTA provided the most fun/memorable/impressive experience of its time‘.

  • Outstanding article, and completely spot on. Literally, GTA is the ONLY game series I play, or even have an interest in playing. It has long become as much it’s own thing as a Mario or Zelda, as clearly V holds the distinction of being the most profitable and fastest selling piece of entertainment in history. Not only that, but this week, GTAV returned to the #1 selling spot, for the 10th time in the UK, (3 solid years later) ahead of EVERYTHING and ANYTHING recently released. THAT is saying something. But honestly, absolutely the BEST PART of GTA V at this point… is that it was built for a game system released 2005… This is very old hardware at this point, (granted it’s been significantly spruced up for its re-release) yet it remains probably the most visually stunning and most insanely detailed game available. Still… Three years later…. And the fact remains, WE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT A NEXT/CURRENT GEN ROCKSTAR GAME WILL BE CAPABLE OF, AND THAT IS A SCARILY EXCITING THING. Red Dead II will lay the groundwork for VI and all I can’t even begin to imagine what they might be like. Long live ROCKSTAR.

  • San Andreas for me. Very unique and fun game, and the RPG elements were a welcome addition. Only let down was the flying missions.

  • Gta 3 should be alot higher as it was the one that went next level and opened our minds to what was truly achievable in gaming. I remember been so blown away by it everytime i turned it on, even months later.

    Our video store had 2 copies and while it was banned and waiting a reprint you had to sign a disclaimer saying you had to pay 300 bucks if you damaged the disc. Never been so fucking scared handling a cd in my life ?

  • I’d put San Andreas at the top (for the hugeness! Even now I go back to it just to fool around), IV for the plot and that New York feel, then V. While V has superiority with how it is put together, it became a vapid cashgrab, with the singleplayer being utterly ignored. Not interested in grinding – I’d rather explore and V is strangely empty. Had they put something more in there, plot-wise, maybe with different characters, a la TBOGT et al, it might be different, but I stopped playing V, but in the last few months, I’ve picked up IV and SA again.

  • GTA4 had an okay story, but it was boring, the game itself didn’t bring much mood, it felt lacking on release compared to what came before and of course what comes after.

    GTA2 on the other hand oozes of mood and style. Everything that makes GTA standout began here. Hell you could argue this game still had the better gameplay till San Andreas or 4 came out. Yes it’s old and top down – but boy it’s full to the brim with fine touches to detail that the better entries have made the series known for. Pretty sure it’s free to pick up so do play it.

    Chinatown wars and the drug dealing in that game says it all – surprisingly addictive and while it’s obvious as to why this mode hasn’t returned, it’s a shame.

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