Like it or not, Grand Theft Auto III changed the world. Rockstar’s 2001 opus spearheaded the evolution of open world game design, incorporating mechanics that many didn’t think to use. Since then, Rockstar has continued to churn out hit after hit, taking players into caricatures of the country’s most famous cities. They also proved that imitation was the sincerest form of flattery, as dozens of developers began making games set within open world environments in order to reap the benefits of a new genre. With the release of the first trailer for Grand Theft Auto V, we here at Darkstation thought this would be the perfect opportunity to discuss our favorite games in the franchise. After going through our list, tell us what your favorite game is in the comments!
Hiram - Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
Yeah, the console games are cool and all and have good stories and stuff, but for my money, GTA doesn't get better than Chinatown Wars. After the last few times that a GTA game appeared on a handheld not being too great, there wasn't as much hype as there should have been around this one, but Rockstar delivered a game that I still put in my DS every now and then- and even though I beat the game, it's still full of secrets to find. While it plays great and looks nice on the DS's screen, my favorite part is definitely the writing. Taking the series mobile allowed the series to get incredibly self-aware and referential, and the writing has never been sharper and funnier. There's even a surprising amount of mission types, and the final sequence on the back of a boat with a minigun to find your father's killer is immensely satisfying.
Jonathan - Grand Theft Auto IV
Grand Theft Auto IV was a tonal shift in the series, and one that shook up the gaming world. Before GTA IV the series was comedic in nature and revolved around silly gags and crazy moments rather than the tenacity and raw emotion that fueled the fourth installment. Don't get me wrong, San Andreas was an amazing game and did have some great emotionally charged moments but it was nothing close to GTA IV. To me San Andreas was the last of the "gamey" GTA games, meaning one that let you fly jet-packs and preform ridiculous stunts. GTA IV took it in a whole different direction that was completely unexpected. Nico and his story still stay with me today and everything from the streamlined gameplay, to the beautiful city, to the insanely well done voice work made the experience that much sweeter.
Alexander - Grand Theft Auto IV
Over the years I have sunk a lot of time into the Grand Theft Auto series. While messing around could be fun in the games, especially San Andreas, I found myself always entertained the most when playing through the stories. Due to this GTA IV was probably my favourite, though it was a close call with Vice City. Niko Bellic was a strong relatable protagonist that made you care for the story properly for the first time, especially when the games climatic hours had to you make some rather tough choices that culminated in some disastrous consequences. While the story was fun, the multiplayer free mode was what kept me coming back long after the games ending, with me and a few other friends ripping people new ones in helicopters and on foot. The current generation of consoles allowed for all of this, so here’s hoping that GTA V will live up to what is now extremely high expectations.
Jeremy - Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
I was a huge GTA fan since the very first game and I have played every game since then. The one I easily remember with the most fondness was San Andreas. At the time the game was easily the largest open world game I have ever played and was filled with more things than I ever could hope to accomplish. This game really defined sandbox games for me and my friends and I spent so much time trying to find the craziest things to do like flying a harrier through a tunnel or jumping bikes off of mountains. GTA 4 kind of lost the luster that I felt was so strong in San Andreas which was just all of the crazy and ridiculous stuff you could do in this giant city. I appreciate GTA 4 for bringing it down to reality but that wasn't why I played the GTA games. While I still enjoy every game to be released under the Grand Theft Auto name, San Andreas will always be the one I remember the most.
Allen - Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
San Andreas will always have a special place in my heart. I love the design of the map, how each major city was completely different from each other in shape and form. It blew my mind that I could escape the smog of Los Santos and into the fresh air of the forest surrounding Mt. Chiliad, tear down the steep hills of San Fierro and make a flat out high speed burn straight to heart of Las Venturas, with many interesting and crazy stops in between. Quite often, I would forgo the game’s story missions and steal a motorhome, taking it for a relaxing drive through the city to Mt. Chiliad’s peak. After gazing upon the incredible landscape Rockstar molded, I would hope on a motorcycle and run it off a cliff at top speed while listening to ‘Freebird.’
Joseph - Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
As fond as I am for the ridiculous nature of Volition’s Saints Row franchise, I still feel that San Andreas was the game that really hit the sweet spot in terms of fun insanity, sheer content, and a gripping story that kept me invested throughout. San Andreas is a behemoth of a game. The world is massive, and the story shuffles you from the L.A. inspired Los Santos, to the Las Vegas rip-off of Las Venturas. There’s a ton of diversity with each location, and while its size can definitely work against the game due to its now archaic mission structure, it created a sense of adventure and progression throughout the game’s lengthy main story. San Andreas was the first GTA game to introduce RPG-lite progression mechanics, and while these weren’t incredibly deep, it meshed with the rags to riches story, eventually resulting in a severely overpowered CJ when returning to Los Santos to take down the corrupt Frank Tenpenny (Samuel L. Jackson). The game captured a sense of player progression that not even Rockstar’s own Red Dead Redemption could capture. Most of all, San Andreas is just a ton of fun to play. Flying a hydra jet while listening to Living Color’s “Cult of Personality” and parachuting into the middle of a gang war while wearing only a cowboy hat and boots encapsulates the game’s sheer ridiculousness. I can’t fault Rockstar for going in a more grounded direction with GTA4 because topping what they accomplished with San Andreas is definitely a difficult task.
Mikhail - Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Vice City was the only GTA game I’ve played for more than an hour. It just really struck a chord with me, more so than the previous GTA games (and GTA IV). In fact, I’ve played that game for many, many hours. I enjoyed the cut scenes, the Scarface-inspired story and the Miami setting. It was a cool world to be immersed in. Dirty, but cool. I never finished it because I couldn’t beat one of the latter story missions, but I enjoyed my time with it up to that point. Even now, 10 years later, I can still recall certain locations, certain routes, and moments. It’’s also one of the few games I remember playing together with a long lost friend, and so above all the other Rockstar games this one is close to my heart.
Ryan - Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
GTA III introduced an entire generation of gamers to what was possible utilising the potential of the new gaming hardware within the PS2. But in hindsight whilst it was a fantastic game you can tell Rockstar was a novice in the craft they had created themselves. So if that was the product of novices Vice City to me was the game where they mastered their art. The game was a blood soaked neon lit representation of what it truly meant to make a sandbox. The world was brilliantly realised. The story was a fantastic reimagination of one of my favourite films of all time. And the soundtrack... Well lets just say I still have a Vrock playlist on my iPhone. I have many fond memories spending hours of my teenage years on this game hunting down those hidden packages and inviting my friends over for a “survival challenge” where we would put in the all weapons cheat and see how long we could last causing havoc on the streets of vice city. This to me was the first GTA that really showed off the series’ now well known character and I will never forget it for showing me this.
Brian - Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
I grew up on the neon-lit strip of Miami Beach, so it’s little surprise that I felt right at home with Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. While the formula was still being perfected, I happen to think that San Andreas was a superior game, this is the one that grabbed my heart. They captured this idealized, movie version of the 80’s better than anyone else had at the time because it was a composite of all the best versions: the cocaine druglords of Scarface, the hot cars and fast women of Miami Vice, the end of disco, the drug-adled gluttony of hair bands. Vice City introduced the motorcycle to GTA, and I spent hours driving the strip between the port and the biker bar, a huge straight, length of pavement that was probably home to more mayhem and chaos then any road anywhere. It let me buy a strip club, run a print shop, film a horribly cheesy porno and advertise it with a pair of rock hard fake tits projected onto the side of building. I made Tommy Vercetti the King of Vice City, and in turn, Vice City made me the king of Miami. A fake, fantasy Miami... but what else is South Beach if not utterly fake and fantastical.
John K - Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was the perfect mix of everything that has made Grand Theft Auto great ever since it moved into 3D. The series reached its peak in the PS2/Xbox era, when it was still tongue-in-cheek, before it became overly “realistic” and “serious”, and when fun side activities were more fun and abundant. Vice City was the pinnacle of that era. It had great side missions that, when you completed them, allowed you to buy assets in the city. This was a feature that was sorely missing in GTA IV. Vice City had a lot more radio content than Grand Theft Auto III, but it still had great writing and lots of humor. In San Andreas and especially in GTA IV, that content swelled noticeably, but at the expense of quality. With Vice City, Rockstar nailed the setting perfectly, paying homage to one of my favorite movies of all time: Scarface. They have gotten pretty good at modeling games after movies, but they never did it as superbly as they did it with Vice City. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is easily one of my top 10 favorite games of all time.
So there you have it, 1 vote for China Town Wars, 2 for GTAIV, 3 for San Andreas, and 4 for Vice City. What's your favorite GTA title? Feeling nostalgic and want to go with GTA 1, 2, or 3? Or maybe you agree with our editors, let us know in the comments below.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.