Well, damn. Only 14 days to go until the mammoth seventh-gen masterpiece drops from the heavens like an atom bomb, strapped to the T with fire-works, which will spell out “GOTY in a big way!” in big, neon-esque traces of letters. Yes, perhaps the only game that can beat The Last of Us for GOTY, Grand Theft Auto V, is almost here. Ever since I was 4, and for the first few seconds I had it, into my PS2 I popped in the gritty, mafioso masterwork GTA III, I have been an extremely hardcore fan of just about every game in the series short of the original, which is quite terrible, and you have my full recommendation against playing it. I feel, to welcome perhaps the new king of the series, as well as open-world sandboxes, or hell, video gaming, I will rank, from worst to best, the games that encompass the violent, provocative Grand Theft Auto series.
Grand Theft Auto
It’s not a stretch when I say this is one of the worst games I’ve ever played in my life. Terrible controls say it all. Rockstar North (formerly DMA Designs) had not mastered the open-world structure until GTA III, so it’s understandable, somewhat, but honestly: why is this game so bad? And argue this in the comments, no, it wasn’t good for its time.
Unlike the previous installment, this one is actually decent. Good, you might say. It fixed a lot of the problems of its predecessor, and added in a cool mission structure that would later be used in sub-par GTA IV alternative, Saints Row 2. While not quite a showcase for things to come, it was still a nice little game. Both this and the first one can be downloaded here, legally, for free: http://www.rockstargames.com/classics/
Grand Theft Auto: The Lost and Damned
An internal power struggle between two former brothers in arms, The Lost and Damned was the first of the formally Xbox 360-exclusive GTA IV DLC, and was considered, for a while, to be the single best piece of DLC ever released; basically being its own standalone game. It added 20-something missions to the intertwining GTA IV narrative, sweet new toys, fantastic new multiplayer modes (such as Chopper vs. Chopper) and much, much improved bike handling. Definitely worth the $10 it’s selling for.
Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony
The second piece of GTA IV DLC, a colossal mood whiplash from the first two chapters of the GTA IV trilogy; this game was good ol’ outlandish GTA fun, adding back such things as (hugely nerfed) tanks, and parachutes. Every mission had you doing something wacky and/or outlandish, and gave you many big, fun toys to do so with. This story, running parallel to GTA IV’s and TLaD’s, being basically the first video game about the recession, brought closure to the overarching story, and was a worthy end to the trilogy.
Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories
The first (decent) handheld entry in the series, was also definitely the most technically violent and unhinged. It kept its roots established in the PS2 trilogy, but don’t mistake this for being a port, as it’s anything but. It’s a brand-new story, with a mission count that rivaled a console entry, giving off the impression that R* put as much care into it as they usually do; a testament that isn’t wrong.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories
The incredible soundtrack is more than enough to boost this one pretty high up, but the overall polish and amount of content is staggering for a PSP game. This game marked the beginning of R* telling darker, more personally mature stories, though that’s not to say it lost the series past comedic charm, Lance notwithstanding; striking the perfect balance between old and new GTA.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
The unforseen scope, absolutely outlandishly insane, hefty narrative, and unique, lovable characters make San Andreas one of the best games on the PS2. Sure it had its problems, such as the dumb eating system, and traversing the waterworn wilderness on foot, and getting lost, but the good definitely outweighed the negative points. I used to be tremendously hooked on this game when I was a tyke, and years later, I can see exactly why.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Man, back in the day, nothing beat driving around the highly atmospheric Vice City, listening to Michael Jackson, and just having overall one hell of a time. Then, I discovered the amazing narrative; one jampacked with content, humor, and memorable moments, that while it may fall apart in the last half, with its bullshit property buying mechanic being required to progress (which is made damn near impossible if you don’t buy the race track right away), it ends in a phenomenal way, and is just amazing and highly recommended.
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
You may attempt to brush this one off, due to its overall art-style, top-down view, and (formally) DS exclusivity. You’d be sorely mistaken, as this game is anything but the DS’ masterpiece. A scope, size, hefty mission count, and hot-button trigger never before seen in a DS game, great story, gorgeous art-style, and flawless gameplay, make this the very best DS game ever made, let alone the best handheld GTA.
Grand Theft Auto IV
Grand Theft Auto IV took everything R* had ever done prior, and took it up to 11, delivering a masterpiece of video, audio, and gameplay. The gameplay and mission structure is tight and hefty, but what makes this game is its incredible narrative, with its excellent writing and amazingly acted, likable characters; and the city itself, the single most atmospheric gamespace in all of open-world gaming (and gaming, in general; right up there with Rapture and Aperture). R* buffed up the gunplay (much improved from the past entries; read: actually decent), and driving mechanics (just excellent), and shoved it into a complete and total package; powered by their unstoppably potent RAGE physics engine. Immensely recommended; can be picked up for around $30, in a package complimented by The Lost and Damned, and The Ballad of Gay Tony, both of which are imperative to appreciating the entire arc story.
Grand Theft Auto III
Provocative. Groundbreaking. Revolutionary. Earth-shattering. All of these are adjectives that fit Grand Theft Auto III like a hardboiled detective with a pint of whiskey. Its adult themes, unfathomable scope, formerly unseen mission structure, and unbelievable wealth of content totally broke the ratings scale when this baby dropped a little into the PS2′s life-span, and (along with Metal Gear Solid 2) made it the money-printing machine we all know it as today. It still impresses me to this day that, yes, this game was ever actually made. Words cannot describe what exactly made it so damn special, so I say just play it for yourself, as it (along with every other installment released on PS2) is available on the PS Store for only $10; a steal. An absolutely unforgettable masterwork of the genre, and the single most important 3D game of all-time.
I have very little hope that V will ever surpass the last two games on this list in terms of quality, but it’ll probably end up taking third place away from Chinatown Wars. Thank you for letting me spill my heart out to you about my favorite game series, Grand Theft Auto. Share below your thoughts, favorites, and memories.