Grand Theft Auto, the crown jewel in the Rockstar empire. No series in video game history has had the effect on the industry as much as GTA, and that, my friends, is a fact. From humble beginnings on the PlayStation 1 to a release that continues to dominate sales over four years after its initial launch, GTA is a series that is loved by most. I guarantee you, ask any gamer to name their top 5 games and a GTA title will be in there somewhere. But which one is the best? Well, that is the question we’ll hopefully be answering today. Now, before we get into it here in the Top 5 Grand Theft Auto, there is something I want to raise: This list is solely listing Grand Theft Auto III – V. The original three and portable releases are not featured. The three original releases (Grand Theft Auto, Grand Theft Auto: London 1969, and Grand Theft Auto 2) and the portable versions (Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories and Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars) are all fantastic games in their own right, but I want to concentrate on the main series as we know it now. With that out of the way, let’s dive straight in as we count down our top 5 Grand Theft Auto games.
Number 5. Grand Theft Auto IV (2008)
The most ‘realistic’ (as realistic as a Grand Theft Auto can be) release and also the first of the series to be released on the previous generation, GTA IV was met with, and quite rightly so, critical acclaim. This was a game we had been waiting near on three years for since the initial release of the Xbox 360, and a bit later the PS3. Rockstar though, true to form, didn’t rush anything, they took their time and would not release anything until it was 100% ready. GTA IV introduced a number of firsts for the series. Most of which were just small touches, which were very welcoming but also kept alive one of the worst initiatives in the franchise’s history and omitted some very popular favourites. But let’s start with the positives. The combat in GTA IV had been the best in the series up until then because it introduced something that had started to become the norm in 2008: a cover system. The simple ability to hide your carcass behind a car, box, wall, etc., revolutionised how we played GTA, and it was fantastic. Obviously, with the increased power from the 360 and PS3, GTA IV featured some incredible set pieces which made the cover system shine during the shootouts. Main character Niko would also steal a car much like someone would in real life, by smashing the window and hotwiring it. Also, again a first for the series, Niko put on a helmet when he jumped on a motorbike. Did this change the gameplay in any way? Not really, but it was a small extra that would help immerse us into this realistic world Rockstar had created.
That also became GTA IV’s biggest drawback; it was just a tad too realistic. Gone was our ability to customise vehicles. We could no longer make our friend eat so much fried chicken that he would pile the pounds on and have to spend an hour in the gym. There were no planes; helicopters still made an appearance though, and there was a limited amount of clothes you could buy for Niko, so basically, in their attempt to make this the most realistic entry in the series, Rockstar had taken some of the fun away. Now, I am not saying this is a bad game, far, far from it. GTA IV is amazing, and it was fun in its own way. What wasn’t fun at all, though, was the constant barrage of calls from the various NPCs: ‘Hey, do you want to go bowling?’ No, Roman, no I don’t. ‘Hey, do you fancy shooting some pool?’ You’ll be getting a shooting, Roman, if you don’t leave me alone! And that went on, and on, and on. Of all the elements to take from San Andreas, why did they have to incorporate that?! I mean, on occasions it is fun to get drunk with an NPC, but damn it, Rockstar, on my own terms!
Number 4. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004)
GTA IV may have introduced a few much welcomed new features to the gameplay, but San Andreas was throwing new gameplay elements at us like they were cooked up frag grenades! There was so much new with San Andreas that it made us all crazy back in 2004. Swimming! No longer will we just sink to the bottom of the deep blue like a useless brick, and the map was fricking huge! Looking back at it now, it really wasn’t and there was a lot of wasted space, but back in 2004 it did truly feel like an entire state. Customization was a huge part of San Andreas, with Rockstar giving us the ability to change a variety of physical attributes for main character CJ, such as different hairstyles, more clothes than ever before, tattoos and his build. Want to turn CJ into the Terminator of Grove Street? Well, just head to the local gym and hit those weights. Perhaps you would rather CJ be rather portly? Well, just fill up on some pizza and fried chicken and he will be fat and happy. Another first for the series was the ability to customise cars and play mini-games, such as dancing in a nightclub and playing a bit of pool.
The story was fantastic, a tale of betrayal, revenge and a lowly ex-con trying to become the most powerful man in San Andreas. However, some of the changes were not so welcoming. Much like in GTA IV, you would be called on your mobile phone by various NPCs, but the sheer volume of calls you would get was irritating. You would be on your way to do a mission, then you’d get a call from your girlfriend (yep, CJ could chat up various ladies in San Andreas) to go see her, as you haven’t for a while. So you postpone your mission and head on over to her, only to be called by someone alerting you that a rival gang is trying to annex part of your territory, so you ditch the date to go save that, and so on. Really, the main problem with San Andreas is the same with GTA IV, but San Andreas was just more fun.
Number 3. Grand Theft Auto III (2001)
Rockstar must have known when development had finished on GTA III that they were about to change the video game world forever. Just think about the titles that GTA III inspired: Saints Row, True Crime, Crackdown, and Sleeping Dogs, to name a few. How normal is it now to play a game in a living city? Well, it wasn’t always this way. In 2001 GTA III gave you that option. The first time you boot GTA III up and see the sprawling Liberty City in front of you, just awe, shock and awe. GTA III had a great story of a lowly criminal looking to find his way in the big L. Our character is obviously the least interesting of the series as he doesn’t talk, he just stares at everyone, but luckily the cast of entertaining NPCS help provide the vintage GTA humour. The fact you could walk up to any citizen in Liberty City and beat them to death caused a widespread backlash from some mainstream media outlets. Killing innocent citizens was nothing new in GTA, but it had never been in this amount of detail before. This controversy would become another aspect of the series which followed it, but one person’s controversy is someone else’s progression.
Number 2. Grand Theft Auto V (2013/2014)
The greatest game from the last generation? Quite possibly. GTA V perfected everything that was wrong with its predecessor. There was still the realism IV offered, but back was the San Andreas level of customization, and it was fun again. For the first time in the series, GTA V let us take control of three different characters; two quite average, to be honest, but one of them quite above average. Do I really need to say who the standout character is? No, I didn’t think so. GTA V featured the most detailed living city in the series’ history, where the NPCs in the game really feel like they are going about their lives. When you finished with the main game, you could then jump on over to the much improved GTA Online mode where you can create a character of your own and forge your own legacy. The fact that GTA V is still in every games chart around the world coming up to four years after its initial release just shows how perfect of a game it is. Gone are the annoying NPC calls, instead you call them! Street races, golf, darts, pool and tennis are all available to play to keep you entertained.
The best thing about GTA V though? Switching back to Trevor and seeing just exactly what he has been up to again. Also, you really feel like an important part of the city once you start buying the various properties and businesses available. Getting this cash together is a result of the hard work during some of the greatest missions in the series’ history. GTA V would be number 1 without question if it wasn’t for this next gem in the crown jewel of Rockstar’s empire…
Number 1. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002)
Best story in the series? Check. Best soundtrack in the series? Check. Best main character in the series? Ever so slightly, yes (sorry, Trevor). Ladies and gentlemen, the conclusion to this top 5 countdown: GTA: Vice City. There isn’t anymore praise I can give Vice City, it’s just perfect. The Scarface-inspired story, the 80s Miami setting, the music, everything was just incredible. I would often just drive around the city listening to the various radio stations, and just admiring this fantastic, bustling city and being able to buy various businesses truly made you feel like a kingpin, especially once you buy yourself the sharpest suit available. Storyline-wise, taking inspiration from the greatest gangster film in history was always going to make this epic.
Tommy Vercetti was the first speaking main character to feature in GTA, and Rockstar still hasn’t managed to top the 80s gangster. Setting it in the 80s was genius because, well, everyone loves the 80s! And VCPR is still the greatest radio station in the history of everything. Ah, Maurice Chavez, hours of entertainment, thank you, sir. It might not have the realism IV and V had or the level of customisation that San Andreas offered, and it didn’t have any revolutionary changes that III introduced, but Vice City was and still is perfect, and that is really all I need to say.