Few video game series are as legendary as Grand Theft Auto, which made a name for itself thanks to developer Rockstar Games. GTA has been around since 1997, spanning numerous console generations, and taking place during versions of the 1960s to the 2020s. It’s a controversial series that has been featured in the news for its violence and adult themes, but this has led to even more sales, increasing its allure and popularity.
Beyond its controversies, the Grand Theft Auto series is comprised of fantastic games — some of which have completely revolutionized the medium as a whole. Many modern hits owe a lot to the Grand Theft Auto series, proving just how important these games are, even decades later.
You might want to revisit the Grand Theft Auto games for nostalgia’s sake — or maybe you simply want something to hold you over until GTA 6. Either way, below is our definitive ranking of the mainline entries in the series, from the original game to the behemoth GTA V.
Grand Theft Auto IV is one of the more interesting entries in the long-running series. Launching for the PS3 and Xbox 360 in 2008, this game had an immense amount of hype surrounding its release, and it mostly lived up to the expectations. This game had it all: Improved combat, which included a cover-based system similar to Gears of War; incredible visuals (for the time); a city that absolutely felt lived-in; and modern touches such as the implementation of a cell phone that could be used to set up sessions with in-game friends. Speaking of which, the friend system was novel, allowing you to partake in activities with the characters from the story.
The main character, Niko Bellic, is arguably one of the most interesting of the entire series, with a deep backstory that made him feel more fleshed out. Beyond the base game is the robust online mode that allows players to explore the city freely and partake in competitive battles such as races, deathmatches, and other modes. At the time, this was absolutely groundbreaking, as it was the most impressive online mode in the series. Despite this, GTA IV is often forgotten about, and in some cases, it feels like the black sheep of the series. This is despite its phenomenal review scores. Nonetheless, GTA IV is one of the best in the series and is still worth playing in 2021.
Without a doubt, Grand Theft Auto V is the most robust and successful game in the series. As many Grand Theft Auto games broke new ground, the fifth numbered installment is iconic, eventually becoming one of the bestselling games of all time (at around 150 million units sold). There’s a lot that makes this game so special, such as its absolutely massive open world, its refined gameplay, and its characters. Speaking of characters, this was the first game that featured three playable protagonists, Franklin, Michael, and Trevor — each with their own personalities and motivations. This gave the series a fresh take while implementing smart story segments that tied to the gameplay as well. The standout portion of the main campaign is the heist system, which allows you to team up with your allies to rob a bank.
However, the lasting effect of GTA V has to do with its multiplayer mode, Grand Theft Auto Online. Most of the game’s continued success can be attributed to the online mode, giving players nearly an infinite number of things to do with (or against friends). It truly gives players a massive sandbox full of events, money to earn, and an evolving city that motivates you to keep checking in. GTA Online lets you live your best life, with the ability to buy properties, cars, jets, vehicles, and pretty much anything else. The heists are also available in this mode, expanding upon the basic foundation of the main campaign but allowing multiple players to enjoy them at once. The online mode will likely shape the way the series is handled going forward, shifting away from the single-player approach, with a greater emphasis on multiplayer.
- First Grand Theft Auto 6 trailer takes players back to Vice City
- Three classic Grand Theft Auto games are coming to Netflix next month
- The best Mario games of all time, ranked
- GTA 6: release date speculation, trailer, news, rumors, and more
- Grand Theft Auto 6 is getting its first trailer sooner than you think