GTA has been an interesting series that I’ve had a love/hate relationship with for many years. For many, when they say GTA, they’re referring to GTA3, 4, or possibly something along the line of San Andreas or Vice City. To avoid any confusion, I’m looking at the series as a whole and dishing out what I think, for better or worse.
1997 – Grand Theft Auto
You’re going to notice me exclude certain titles. This is because they’re deemed “expansion packs” and not actually a totally separate game as a result. For example, there were two expansion packs for the first GTA, both of which were London 69 and London 61. And none of that really matters because look at that piece of ass sandwich.
The original GTA, originally made by DMA, was garbage. I know, it looks KINDA fun, but that forced perspective makes it super easy to crash into shit and while the player makes it look easy, with a lives system, it was really meant to be more arcade than a full console experience like we’re used to with the more modern GTAs.
I’m providing this as reference because it makes GTA3 that much more impressive for everything it did.
1999 – Grand Theft Auto 2
While there’s more going on here (better graphics, more stuff to do, gangs, and even a save system), it’s still shit. By the way, the save system, sorta like with Maximo, required you use a shitload of money to save. I cannot begin to wrap my head around that kind of shitty game design. It looks better, but it still plays like shit.
2001 – Grand Theft Auto 3
This is what most people remember. GTA3 completely flew under the radar and this was only the second Rockstar game EVER, so people really weren’t looking for GTA3 to be anything special. Up to this point, about the only thing we had even remotely close to this was Driver 2, where you were allowed to get out of your car and commandeer a different one in the middle of a mission.
GTA3 sold us on so many things. It added the thrill of being chased by the police, gun combat, aggressive driving, and in general an actual story surrounding crime that had absolutely nothing to do with being “the good guy.” Even with the Driver games you were an undercover cop. It was the first game to incorporate so many elements…good enough…that it presented a game far better than the sum of its parts.
You might be wondering what I mean by “good enough.” Ask yourself if the shooting was anything spectacular. Or the driving. Or the fighting. Or even the dialogue, story, and characters. When you judge each part individually, you come up with something “acceptable” and that’s about it…but you sandwich them together…and they become something amazing.
GTA3 was so successful that Rockstar was able to become a mega successful company virtually overnight and go on to launch many successful games as well as GTA sequels, such as…
2002 – Grand Theft Auto – Vice City
Vice City both was and wasn’t such a radical change from the original GTA3 formula. On the one hand, you could still go around jacking cars, it dealt with the criminal underworld, there was still a fairly decent amount of mafia stuff, and a lot of things remained the same, but it was set in the 80s, in Miami…and that would normally be enough.
The music was great, the story and characters were fantastic, the setting was wonderful, you could buy properties, and you could even perform drive-bys and jump from moving vehicles. For a long time, I believed nothing would top this game. It was around this time that Rockstar starting branching out, making games like Manhunt, Max Payne 2, and Red Dead Revolver.
It’d been a little bit since we’d seen a GTA title, so it was a huge surprise when we saw TWO in one year. However…
2004 – Grand Theft Auto Advance
This is fucking garbage. GTAA is easily the worst GTA title and on top of that, to be released in 2004? Come on, man.
2004 – Grand Theft Auto – San Andreas
Thankfully, this was also the year that one of the best GTA titles ever was released. Up until recently, this was my favorite GTA title. San Andreas introduced the idea of having a shit ton of side stuff you could do like building up your character’s stats, adjusting your look entirely, fighting for turf, going out on dates (and getting lucky), and HOLY FUCK YOU CAN FINALLY SWIM.
This was a very different take on gang activity all wrapped up in one nice package. Honestly, it would be a long time before a Rockstar game, or ANY GTA-like game for that matter, would take the lead.
2005 – Grand Theft Auto – Liberty City Stories
The portable GTAs never really stood up in my opinion. Even the PSP ones, which weren’t bad, were still just alright. It felt more like trying to put another GTA3 on a portable system. And honestly, that doesn’t sound like a bad idea, given that GTA3 has been ported to nearly every device ever, but it also means that, despite the best of intentions, this game felt dated, even when it was initially released.
2006 – Grand Theft Auto – Vice City Stories
All the same, if you’re going to play a portable GTA, you may as well go along with this one. It really is the best one. Now, I know some will claim Chinatown Wars was better, but it had that goddamn forced perspective that I’ve grown to hate, so it automatically rubbed me the wrong way despite having an interesting story.
You can tell how much time and effort was put into this one despite being a simple portable title. My major beef about the portable GTAs was…where are the stats? Where are the turf wars? All the stuff they did right with San Andreas was strangely forgotten, which I never understood. It was around this time that Rockstar was also becoming known for games like The Warriors and Bully, so surely they would incorporate everything they learned into the next GTA title!
2008 – Grand Theft Auto 4
…or not. Look at how those cars control like a vat of jello. Come on, man. If you really want me to go into detail, just look at my previous article.
2009 – Grand Theft Auto – Chinatown Wars
I will admit that despite the forced perspective, this one had a number of interesting ideas such as hotwiring, fixing bombs to cars, and making your own molotovs…in the form of minigames. And even though it had that godawful perspective, it was the best one to do so. This one was also the first to incorporate more of a stealth element as far as getting away from the cops.
2013 – Grand Theft Auto 5
And now we have the king. GTA5 was the first GTA since the third to really feel new and different again. And while San Andreas had a lot of great elements in it, this one incorporated ALL of those, everything that made GTA4 fun, threw in a great story with lots of great characters, and improved the driving…all while bringing back stats and throwing in heists!
It should also be pointed out that while they didn’t tip their hat in the direction of Bully or The Warriors with the combat like I still think they should’ve done, they did incorporate on the fly side missions a la Red Dead Redemption. In fact, with as much side shit as there is in the game, it feels very much like a futuristic RDR set in California.
The ability to switch back and forth between characters is genius, allowing you to really view the story from different angles and incorporate interesting strategies not seen before in GTA titles. And the heists…ohhhhh, the heists. I won’t spoil anything, but they really are the highlight of the game. GTA5 has effectively become the new San Andreas, the official king of all things GTA.
Not everyone will agree with me and that’s fine. It’s not my problem if you want to be WRONG. GTA5 is an amazing title, even moreso than Saints Row 4, which I should probably review soon. I was actually tossing around the idea of doing a versus, but I think I’ll just do a standard review or something instead. Anyway, I’m off to play more GTA5!