Every Grand Theft Auto Game, Reviewed: GTA 5, San Andreas, And More
By Alessandro Fillari | @afillari on
Moving On Up In The City
Over the course of the franchise's twenty years, the Grand Theft Auto series has seen all sorts of changes and improvements throughout its many crime sprees in large open worlds. While each game brought its own take on the familiar rags-to-riches story, where a small-time hood makes some bold moves against some notorious criminals, Rockstar Games have managed to up the ante with every installment--eventually becoming the quintessential example of what an open-world game is.
Starting out as a top-down sandbox action game where stealing cars and evading the law was the primary focus, 1998's Grand Theft Auto offered several missions and challenges that tested players' driving skills. But not long after, the series eventually transitioned into the 3D open-world space with Grand Theft Auto III. Upon its release, the third core entry in the series was a watershed moment in gaming, kicking off the push towards games that offered complete freedom in vast worlds--all while causing trouble along the way. GTA III saw a number of spin-offs such as Vice City and San Andreas, which greatly expanded the scope of gameplay and exploration.
But it wasn't until 2008 when GTA III saw its true successor with Grand Theft Auto IV, serving as a reboot for the series. Stepping into the shoes of Eastern-European immigrant Niko Bellic, the newcomer would fall into the criminal underworld of the re-imagined Liberty City, as he tried to get his own piece of the American dream. Though IV was a far more subdued take on the increasingly more over-the-top GTA experience, it managed to tell a far more consistent and layered story that grew more engaging as it went on--and the narrative was fleshed out even further with the release of two story expansions." But in 2013, Grand Theft Auto V saw its release, taking the series to new heights. With three playable characters, the largest map of the series, and a densely populated online mode with heists and other high-stakes missions to take part in, GTA V would eventually go on to become the fastest-selling video game in history.
Over the course of the Grand Theft Auto series' rise, and occasional falls, GameSpot was always there to offer our thoughts on its continued growth. While we skipped out on reviewing some of the more obscure GTA titles, particularly ones for the Game Boy Color, we've invested time with the franchise's most noteworthy entries. Here are all of our reviews for every major GTA game, from 1998 to the present day.
Is there a particular GTA game that still stands as your favorite among the others? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments below.
Grand Theft Auto | 8/10
"The real payoff of Grand Theft Auto is the freedom it allows. With most games you can only go where the game tells you to go when you're told to. In GTA you can go anywhere in the city, take any car on the street, at anytime. The only two things you really have to watch out for are getting killed or arrested. The true joy of GTA is the giddy feeling you get when you decide for no apparent reason to start launching rockets, blowing up cars, setting people on fire, and then, just over the screams you hear the sounds of approaching police sirens. Then you're forced to decide. Will you jack a car and get out of Dodge, or will you man up and stick it to 5-0 with your gat? That's what the game is all about, having that overwhelming feeling of slightly giddy doom when the police start to close in, and leaving the scene unscathed in a shiny new police car."
-- Ryan MacDonald
Grand Theft Auto: London 1969 | 5.9/10
"Grand Theft Auto: London 1969 does have some good things going for it. The go-anywhere, do-anything nature is its biggest plus, and if the structured assignments don't appeal to you, you can take any car joyriding and create a little crime spree of your own. There's a tangible sense of tension as you're trying to get to a safe house with the police on your back, and the way the police try to set up roadblocks is a nice touch. But Grand Theft Auto just has too many problems to make it anything more than a premise in search of a better game. All you would-be thugs out there keep your fingers crossed and hope the sequel addresses these problems."
-- Ron Dulin
Grand Theft Auto 2 | 6.8/10
"Whether or not you'll enjoy Grand Theft Auto 2 depends on a couple factors. If you're easily offended by the concept of running around and committing wanton acts of destruction with a few simple button presses, this game isn't for you. If the first game's control scheme baffled you, there's no solace to be found here either. Though the game manages to be quite a bit of fun, it occasionally still feels like a glorified mission pack."
-- Jeff Gerstmann
Grand Theft Auto III | 9.6/10
"Rockstar and DMA Design have obviously spent some time making sure that Grand Theft Auto III is a quality product, and that quality shows in everything, from the graphics, to the sound, to the plot points, to the gameplay itself. Unlike previous games in the series, the game is extremely fun whether you play it as it was intended to be played or eschew the game's intended mission structure and set out on your own to wreak havoc throughout the city. While the violent nature of the game will surely turn some people off and kids simply shouldn't be allowed anywhere near it, Grand Theft Auto III is, quite simply, an incredible experience that shouldn't be missed by anyone mature enough to handle it."
-- Jeff Gerstmann
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City | 9.6/10
"In the end, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City provides just about everything you'd want in a follow-up to an outstanding game. It's bigger, badder, and better in almost every imaginable way. The game tells a compelling story and adds enough gameplay content to the formula to engage players who've already played the previous game to death. And if by some small chance you somehow missed out on last year's GTAIII, Vice City will clue you in on what all the commotion was about. In short, if you're old enough to purchase Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, then you absolutely should, and fast."
-- Jeff Gerstmann
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas | 9.6/10
"Usually, when a game tries to do a million different things, it's an overambitious hodge-podge that can't manage to get its different parts down cold. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas has you doing many, many more things than any previous GTA game, and while some of them do work a little better than others, the strength of all these different gameplay elements--too many to count--makes for a powerful package that does not disappoint, despite the extremely high standards that Grand Theft Auto established and that San Andreas needed to live up to. With its strong story, well-written dialogue, terrific voice cast, impressive graphics, great in-game sound, and extremely entertaining and varied gameplay, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is a stupendous thrill ride that shouldn't be missed."
-- Jeff Gerstmann
Grand Theft Auto: Advance | 6.5/10
"While the Grand Theft Auto series may be one of the most popular things going on in gaming these days, most people don't really know too much about the roots of the series. Yes, the "III" in Grand Theft Auto III does, in fact, mean that there were two games out before it. Those two games were top-down, 2D games that had the same basic structure as the newer games in the series, but it was done on a much smaller scale. That smaller scale is now available in an all-new GTA adventure for the Game Boy Advance. GTA Advance basically takes the gameplay from GTA1, adds in some of the conventions of GTA III, and brings along a rather dull and poorly written story, too. There's some nostalgic gameplay here, but by and large GTA Advance just isn't much fun."
-- Jeff Gerstmann
Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories | 8.6/10
"It's really pretty amazing that GTA: Liberty City Stories manages to cram in so much of the GTA experience that you're used to seeing on consoles. While the game is definitely a fine technical achievement and one of the best PSP games to date, the dull storyline and basic mission design do bring the whole thing down a bit. Maybe it's not entirely reasonable to expect for this game to live up to its console counterparts in every respect, but it retails for just as much as they did, and attempts to do many of the same exact things, so it really is a whole new GTA (just in a familiar setting). Yet for all it squeezes out of the PSP, it doesn't quite squeeze everything that makes the GTA series so special. But if what you're after is a game that looks and plays like a Grand Theft Auto game for your PSP, you'll definitely be satisfied."
-- Jeff Gerstmann
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories |
"Vice City Stories is certainly an enjoyable follow-up to what Liberty City Stories offered last year. It's unfortunate that Rockstar wasn't able to craft a story as compelling as that of the console GTA games, and some of the technical limitations of the game engine are really beginning to stick out. Still, Vice City Stories does Grand Theft Auto in portable fashion quite well. It may not take the series into any kind of new territory, but it does the things it needs to in order to be an enjoyable GTA game more than well enough."
-- Alex Navarro
Grand Theft Auto IV | 10/10
"In case you haven't guessed already, Grand Theft Auto IV is a game that you simply have to play. The single-player game, which you can still play long after you complete the story, is the series' best by far, and the multiplayer features are good enough that you'll likely have no problem finding people to play with for many months to come. The minor flaws that you'll experience are no more difficult to overlook than those in previous GTA games, and they're greatly outnumbered by the features that will impress and surprise you anytime you think you've already seen everything that the game has to offer. There's lots to see in Liberty City, so you'd best get started."
-- Justin Calvert
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars | 9.5/10
"Perhaps what's most amazing about Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is that it doesn't feel like a scaled-down handheld version of a GTA game. Rather, it feels like a logical and somewhat experimental progression for the series, introducing a handful of great new features that seem destined to become standard in future iterations. And don't let the art style or the presence of simple minigames fool you; Chinatown Wars is every bit as deserving of its mature rating as previous games. It's also one of the best GTA games yet."
-- Justin Calvert
Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City | 9/10
"Even if you choose to ignore the multiplayer and most of the optional activities and side missions, there's a good 20-plus hours of fun to be had with these episodes. The visuals are showing their age, and The Lost and Damned, while great, is clearly inferior to The Ballad of Gay Tony, but in every other respect this package is difficult to fault. The stories are compelling, the memorable characters are too numerous to mention, and the gameplay is still top-notch. It's unfortunate that PS3 owners have had to wait so long to get their hands on this content, but that's certainly no reason for you not to enjoy it. The PS3 episodes are indistinguishable from there Xbox 360 counterparts, and there's no question that you should play them. So, the only decision you need to make is whether you'd rather download them for $20 each or pay $40 to get them on a disc."
-- Justin Calvert
Grand Theft Auto V (PS3/360) | 9/10
"Where do you begin talking about Grand Theft Auto V? Do you start with the vast, varied, beautiful open world? Do you start with the innovative structure that gives you three independent protagonists you can switch between on the fly? Maybe you talk about the assortment of side activities you can engage in, or the tremendous number of ways in which you can go about making your own fun. Or perhaps you dive right into the game’s story problems, or its serious issues with women. GTA V is a complicated and fascinating game, one that fumbles here and there and has an unnecessary strain of misogynistic nastiness running through it. But it also does amazing things no other open-world game has attempted before, using multiple perspectives to put you in the thick of cinematic heist sequences and other exhilarating, multi-layered missions like no open-world game before."
-- Carolyn Petit
Grand Theft Auto V (PC, PS4, Xbox One) | 9/10
"Aside from a few mild frame rate issues that sometimes take the edge off its more dramatic moments, this is the definitive version of GTA V, and the bar by which all other open-world games, or indeed any game that aims for a cinematic feel, should be judged. It is beautiful, and thought-provoking, and thrilling throughout. Even if you've played through GTA V once already, it's worth going back just to be reminded of what an outstanding achievement it is."
-- Mark Walton and Peter Brown