Why the hell is it so hard to play GTA 1 and 2 online in 2023? After the GTA 6 trailer dropped the other night, I felt like revisiting some of the older games in the series. Knowing they became freeware years ago after Rockstar made them available through its now-defunct Rockstar Classics site, I assumed it would be relatively easy to get hold of them.
Not as easy as I’d hoped. Trying to track down a working PC copy of either game leads you through a minefield of skeevy sites and fake or malicious downloads. The top-ranked page on Google attempts to emulate the old Rockstar Classics site, but contains suspect install files that will send your antivirus into a panic. The wide cultural cache the title carries makes it a prime target for the kind of people who would like to infect your PC with malware, and they’ve worked quite hard to overtake pages of Google search results.
Rockstar pulled both games from sale on Steam after making them free, though store pages for both exist in archival form. Because of their reclassification as freeware, neither game is available for sale anywhere outside of collectors hawking old discs and boxed copies. Your best bet for finding the files Rockstar originally uploaded to its Classics site is using Archive.org’s stored version of the page.
It is safer and easier to find PS1 ISOs for both games than it is to find their PC equivalents. It is easier still to find boxed copies for sale online. GTA 1‘s two expansions, GTA London 1969 and GTA London 1961, have somehow suffered an even worse fate and are almost nowhere to be found. The few versions that are in working order haven’t been updated in years, encounter problems with modern operating systems, or have to be run in the DOSBox emulator.
Years of Reddit threads and Steam community conversations retread the same ground: where the hell did they go, and why the hell is it so hard to get hold of them now?
For a series as important to video game history as Grand Theft Auto, it shouldn’t be like this. This is such a colossal failure of games preservation I can hardly believe it. These games should be easy to legally find, obtain, and play without having to resort to plumbing the dregs of the internet, searching archives of dead sites, or resorting to piracy. Rockstar is doing the industry a profound disservice by not making them available through its own official channels, but why would it bother when there isn’t any money to be made on it?
Which brings us to the obvious question: Is there a future where it brings GTA 1 and 2 back in a remastered package like the GTA Trilogy? Anything is possible! But for now, Rockstar seems happy to let these important, foundational games in an important, foundational series fade into obscurity. It never should have let things get this bad.
Update 8/12/23 at 8:00 AM AEDT: Thanks to reader Kehander on Twitter, we’ve got a win! You can find a full, ready-to-play freeware pack containing Grand Theft Auto and both the London 1969 and 1961 expansions over at gtaforums. The pack has been rebuilt by fans of the game to run on modern operating systems, features widescreen support, and even working multiplayer. God bless the fans. I’m grateful to you for taking it upon yourselves to do the work that Rockstar won’t.
GTA2 has not, as yet, received this kind of loving restoration due to some lingering questions about its freeware status.
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Image: Rockstar Games
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