With a franchise spanning 26 years, Grand Theft Auto has become one of the main staple franchises in gaming. With only 12 games being made, Rockstar seems to have found the best formula to get people’s attention and sell millions of copies of their games, even if they are mostly known for the controversies they contain.
With Grand Theft Auto VI recently getting a cinematic announcement trailer that got over 100 million views in 48 hours, it’s time to look back on the franchise’s history and rank the games based on how good they are, why they were successful, and how they have aged. As someone who still plays most of the games to this day, I wanted to take the time to rank every game in the Grand Theft Auto series, from the worst to the best, in order.
1. Grand Theft Auto Advance
Formats: GameBoy Advance
Original Release Year: 2004
How do you screw up one of the best games to release for modern consoles in 1997? You take the game and port it over to the GameBoy Advance. Grand Theft Auto Advance is nothing more than a scaled-down port of Grand Theft Auto. If you thought it couldn’t get worse than putting GTA on GameBoy Color, somehow the GameBoy Advance version was worse. The world scale was drawn so far in that you barely fit a couple of cars into the screen, and the two-button layout doesn’t help things either. I have no idea how Rockstar or Nintendo thought it was going to be worth putting Grand Theft Auto on underpowered handheld systems… But I guess some things never change… Right, GTA “Definitive Edition” on Nintendo Switch?
2. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
Formats: PlayStation Portable, Nintendo DS, iOS, & Android
Original Release Year:2009
The handheld era was concluded with Chinatown Wars, one of the weakest entries into the “stories” series of GTA games. While the Nintendo DS version did some things differently, with the touch controls being integrated into things like carjacking and opening other things, the PlayStation Portable version was just a boring port where there was nothing different from the 2D era games. As for the plot, it was a very generic and somewhat racist Chinese gang wars story with a character whose whole motivation is to find a family sword… Even MK1 does that plotline, and it still sucks… Not to mention that the game Sleeping Dogs did the whole GTA in China thing much better three years later, which would explain why this game isn’t well remembered.
3. Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories
Formats: PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, iOS, Android, Fire OS
Original Release Year: 2005
This is the first time Rockstar has tried to do an expansion pack since the first Grand Theft Auto on the PSX/PC, and it didn’t come off as well as people expected. Once again, using a handheld console to bring this expansion to the original Grand Theft Auto III story to life wasn’t the best idea. Back in the day, the PlayStation Portable wasn’t as powerful as the PlayStation 2, leading to games running slow and having to be downgraded graphically to fit on the handheld. There was a PlayStation 2 port made later, once sales of the PSP version didn’t do too well, but the story itself, which was centered on the first crime family you encountered in Grand Theft Auto III, didn’t catch on as well as the original game did. While it was a good attempt at making the 3D era of the Grand Theft Auto series portable, the end result wasn’t all that great.
4. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories
Formats: PlayStation 2 & PlayStation Portable
Original Release Year: 2006
This entry into the “stories” series tries to pull the heartstrings by having the story revolve around a pair of brothers, one of whom is trying to find money to help the other with medical issues. This leads him into the seedy drug underworld and all the difficulties of controlling such a trade. The issue here is that Vice City Stories was, like Liberty City Stories, released on PlayStation Portable first, and then PlayStation 2 later on. Honestly, by this point, the “Stories” series was starting to die out before the game was released. People didn’t want to play a downgraded Grand Theft Auto: Vice City on the go when the PlayStation 2 original was still a lot better story and performance-wise. The “Stories” series was a good idea all the way through, but it was the execution on handhelds that stopped them from appearing ever again, lost to time and collectors shelves.
5. Grand Theft Auto: London 1969
Formats: PlayStation, Windows, MS-DOS
Original Release Year: 1999
The first expansion pack ever released for PlayStation, Grand Theft Auto: London 1969, was a very experimental thing. To load this game on PlayStation you needed to own the original Grand Theft Auto and insert the disc after starting to load the expansion pack. (Though these days, you can download a patched version of the PlayStation game that no longer requires this method to play) This expansion takes players back in time to a sort of authentic version of London in 1969 (or 1961 on PC), where you will do missions for a bunch of hippies, mugs, and other lowlives in the same style that you did in Grand Theft Auto. While this expansion wasn’t one of the best games on the market, it did some innovative things at the time and allowed Grand Theft Auto to grow into the mega-franchise it has become. This badly aged hit has become a main part of any GTA collector’s must-have list, commanding high prices online to this day.
6. Grand Theft Auto Online
Formats: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S
Original Release Year: 2013
There are not enough negative terms and words in the English language that can describe how much I HATE this game. Grand Theft Auto: Online is the reason why we have waited 10 years for Rockstar to create Grand Theft Auto VI. I know people wanted an online version of Grand Theft Auto for decades leading up to this release, but once it came out, it was nothing but a troll lobby and remains so to this day. Thankfully, the original PlayStation 3 version of this game got time-locked with cheaters kept in this version of the game until the servers were shut down in June 2021. The PlayStation 4/Xbox One version of the game continued alongside the PC version. When Grand Theft Auto V got another re-release on PlayStation 5/Xbox Series X/S, Grand Theft Auto: Online came along with it and continues to this day.
While the console versions became a FOMO simulator, with people who didn’t grind every day getting left behind in terms of content since the XP system is slower than a sloth going uphill, many players would turn to “Bull Shark” cards to increase their wealth, skipping one of the barriers to entry for content. Many other players were left behind (myself included) since things like gangs and heists required a constant connection with friends to progress, and random people were nothing but trolls from start to finish.
The PC version, on the other hand, has thrived. Not only are there people playing the game as intended, but a HUGE influx of roleplay servers run by third parties would allow people to make their own adventures in the Grand Theft Auto universe. Some of these servers get more people online daily which rivals the official servers. This is the only positive that I have to say about Grand Theft Auto: Online. Otherwise, my statements about the game being a troll lobby still stand today.
7. Grand Theft Auto
Formats: PlayStation, MS-DOS/Windows, & GameBoy Color
Original Release Year: 1997
The original, the OG, was the beginning of so many people being run over by cars for no reason… in the game. Grand Theft Auto came out of nowhere with a level of violence and mayhem that no one was prepared for. Becoming one of the most controversial video games since Mortal Kombat on Arcade, Grand Theft Auto became the game that politicians used to show that “gaming is harmful to children.” Well, as one of those children, I thought the game was a great laugh riot! There was nothing better than running down a conga line of religious folks (or Elvis impersonators in some versions), leaving behind a long trail of blood in my wake. Hell, most people would play Grand Theft Auto in a “pass along” style, where you would go on a rampage in the game and see how long you would last against the Police before getting killed by them or some random who had a gun. Most people didn’t even play the game as intended for a long time, and it took me years before I knew there was a story! Respect to the original Grand Theft Auto must be given, but the game has evolved so much since 1997 that the original isn’t up to the legendary status it began with.
8. Grand Theft Auto 2
Formats: PlayStation, Dreamcast, Windows, & GameBoy Color
Original Release Year: 1999
How do you follow up on one of the best and most controversial video games on the market at the end of the century? You make the graphics smoother, the gameplay better, the story tighter, and overall make Grand Theft Auto 2 a better version of Grand Theft Auto. Grand Theft Auto 2 brought you back into the world of the first game with a simplified gang reputation system, which sees you balancing three gangs at once while working for all three of them. While the core gameplay didn’t change too much, the controls were worked on to give you more… control… over the vehicles so that they were not so slippery on the roads and acted more like actual cars. The combat was improved, giving new weapons to cause mayhem. However, not everything was improved. There was a bit of censorship, with some of the violence being toned down, especially in the PlayStation version. But this didn’t stop Grand Theft Auto 2 from becoming a very well-selling game in its own right, cementing that the first game was not just a fluke.
9. Grand Theft Auto III
Formats: PlayStation 2, Xbox, Windows, OS X, Android, iOS Fire OS (Also included in Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition)
Original Release Year: 2001
After having three well-received 2D (or 2.5D) offerings on PC and PlayStation, Rockstar decided to use the power of the PlayStation 2 and Xbox to do something that no one thought was possible; Take Grand Theft Auto into the third dimension! Not only did Rockstar take the challenge, they changed everything for the better, creating the formula that carries on into Grand Theft Auto games today. Not only did we see Liberty City in 3D for the first time, but we also got a narrative adventure where we took our silent protagonist, Claude, as he makes his way up through the underworld of Liberty City after being betrayed by his lover/partner-in-crime. Seeing the graphical changes to the game and a full-blown narrative to go with it was something to behold.
However, at least here in Australia, the game would continue to be controversial since there was one thing that our classification group didn’t agree with, which was prostitutes being in the game doing their “job,” followed by bashing them to get money back. Not only did this go against Australia’s classification of depictions of sexual content in video games, but also violence against women. So our version got changed… As did some things in the US version due to the 9/11 attacks in New York. While you can’t get the original GTAIII version with twin towers and more New York-accurate LCPD Police cars, Australians can find the uncensored version of GTAIII by looking for serial number SLES 50330… Not that I’m telling you about that ;)
10. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Formats: PlayStation 2, Xbox, Windows, OS X, Android, iOS, Fire OS (Also included in Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition)
Original Release Year: 2002
While Grand Theft Auto III raised the bar for the Grand Theft Auto series as a whole, Vice City started the “when is an expansion, not an expansion” phase for the franchise. Taking place in Vice City, the second area you could play through in the original Grand Theft Auto, this game brought you into the violent and drug-filled era known as the 1980s, taking a lot of influence from Scarface and other very 1980s-style movies out there. Once again, you are working your way through the underworld of the time, going from simple drug runner to drug baron, much like Tony Montana did. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is one of the more unique entries in the modern Grand Theft Auto series thanks to its gamble in sticking to a non-modern era, and it continues to be well-loved by fans of the franchise. Even if the Definitive Edition did it dirty by not getting enough love, unlike other entries.
11. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Formats: PlayStation 2, Xbox, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Windows, OS X, Android, iOS, Windows Phone, Fire OS, Oculus Quest 2 (Also included in Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition)
Original Release Year: 2004
Probably one of the most beloved entries in the Grand Theft Auto franchise, getting the most care when it came to the Definitive Edition collection, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is only breaking the Top 5 here. While the 1990s-based Los Angeles Rap-inspired game was interesting to play the first time, and again with the HD edition. There is a lot to the story of CJ dealing with not only his return to San Andreas but the gang wars of Grove Street, biased Police, and a system designed to keep people like him down, but there were so many changes with the gameplay. The inclusion of bicycles into the mix, a gang warfare system, and even a fitness mechanic where what you ate and did to work out would affect your stats in the game. All of this created a very deep game while keeping things simple and appealing to the major audience. The only reason it is in the number 5 spot is because the storytelling in Grand Theft Auto games has improved so much since San Andreas… Grand Theft Auto V takes us back to the area, including Grove Street, showing that not everything ages like our rose-colored glasses make us believe.
12. Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony
Formats: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, & Windows
Original Release Year: 2009
A weird choice, to be sure. The Ballad of Gay Tony doesn’t give you the role of Gay Tony, but you play Luis, a guy who is working for Gay Tony and his nightclubs. For the majority of the game, you are doing the usual things of following the storyline, which involves Gay Tony and his inability to make money. However, where The Ballad of Gay Tony stands out is the nightclubs themselves. After a while in the story, you are given control of one of the nightclubs to manage. Instead of giving you a boring business management simulator, Rockstar gives you the ability to do mini jobs for the club like bouncer, and manager, take shots in the VIP area, and dance on the dancefloor to make the club more successful. Moments like these make The Ballad of Gay Tony stand out. The main game is cookie cutter as Gay Tony’s missions in the main game, but it’s the smaller things that make you get involved in the world that this game creates. It was a risk that Rockstar was willing to make long before the movement began.
13. Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned
Formats: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, & Windows
Original Release Year: 2009
The Lost and Damned was Rockstar’s first attempt at making DLC story content for its franchise that is directly influenced by missions or moments in the main game. Following Johnny from The Lost Motorcycle Club, a group of Bikie outlaws known for dealing drugs and killing people. Not only did this DLC give us an insight into the outlaw bikie culture, but it also told a heartfelt story at the same time. The main mechanic here was the Motorcycle ride system, where you had to ride in formation with the group while out with others. While not too long with its story, it was good enough out of the two Stories from Liberty City DLC to have a not-so-happy follow-up in Grand Theft Auto V, ending not only The Lost, but Johnny in the process.
14. Grand Theft Auto V
Formats: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, & Windows
Original Release Year: 2013
The game has been released and re-released so many times that it is beginning to rival Skyrim and Doom when it comes to what you can play Grand Theft Auto V on… All with good reason. Taking three different personalities and mixing them into one amazing story that sees us go back to one of the fan-favorite areas from the 3D era, what’s not to love? This twisted tale of Michael, Trevor, and Franklin takes you through a lot of normal missions that all Grand Theft Auto games have you done but also introduces new things like heists that will see you planning out everything from the layout to the acquisition of tools, and executing the plan while also doing missions for the FIB and other organizations. Probably one of the most well-written games on the market over the last decade, Grand Theft Auto V is a standout that raises the bar going forward… However, it did inspire Grand Theft Auto: Online, causing us to have nothing good to play for the next ten years.
15. Grand Theft Auto IV
Formats: PS3, Xbox 360, & Windows
Original Release Year: 2008
“Hey cousin, want to go bowling?”… Yes, I know that people hated the mini-games in Grand Theft Auto IV. However, the story of Niko Bellic was really good to play. The tale of an illegal immigrant running from his past in the world of Liberty City is something that shows the old “American Dream” story that everyone outside of the country idolized (Not so much anymore, but it was good once upon a time). This was one of the biggest undertakings since Grand Theft Auto III brought the series into 3D for the first time.
Everything that Rockstar learned through all the PlayStation 2 era games was in full display here, even laying the groundwork for Grand Theft Auto V in the process. Grand Theft Auto IV remains a “lost classic” in the franchise, forever locked to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 for some reason. Yes, the social aspects of the game were a pain in the ass, but the twists and turns in the main storyline were something that had to be experienced firsthand to understand. Grand Theft Auto IV shows that anything is possible, though a dark past is difficult to outrun, and the ending shows that... Can we get this port for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S, please?
Grand Theft Auto VI
Since this was only recently announced, we’ll treat Grand Theft Auto VI as a “Special mention.” While we’re sure that the game will be huge and possibly take one of the top three spots on this list should it be revised once it comes out, it’s still way too early for us to say that for sure. The trailer was great, but it was just a bunch of cinematic sequences put together to show off the style Grand Theft Auto VI wants to bring to PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series consoles in 2025. Until we get pure gameplay, there is no way we can rank this game anywhere on the list. Come back in another two years.
This is our Grand Theft Auto games ranking from worst to best. Do you agree, or do you have your own ranking? If so, let us know in the comments, and then be sure to check out our review of Grand Theft Auto: The Definitive Edition and our thoughts about Grand Theft Auto VI not being released on PC.