Throughout the history of the gaming industry, developers have come & gone. Few have had as much of an impact as Rockstar Games and its seminal success, Grand Theft Auto. The series has seen fifteen instalments over the last twenty-three years, but some have risen above the rest, making them not only the best of the series, but some of the best games ever made. Here are my top 5 GTA games.
5. GTA IV
GTA IV redesigned the series for a newer, more powerful generation of consoles. This transition from an over the top sandbox, to a gritty crime epic wasn’t a smooth one and has been labelled by fans as the black sheep of the series. This criticism isn’t entirely unwarranted; movement was slower, driving was akin to sailing a boat & there is almost no likeable characters in the entire game. All this can make it hard to enjoy the whole experience.
This is a sad fate for what is actually an impressive game with the most nuanced story of any GTA game to date. With access to more powerful hardware, Rockstar was able to completely redesign Liberty City, taking it from a backdrop to a fully fledged metropolis; far closer to modern New York than was achievable in GTA 3. As I mentioned above, the story of GTA IV is arguably the best of the series. No protagonist before Niko could be considered a redeemable figure; they knew & accepted that they were criminals. Niko was more complex; he was a victim of civil war, a PTSD sufferer who had to become something he hated in order to get revenge that ultimately leaves him hollow.
In many ways GTA IV was a victim of Rockstar Games prior success. After the release of GTA: San Andreas, anticipation for what would come next was high. Fans expected the next game to outdo San Andreas in every way and it didn’t. What it did do is provide an outstanding tale of loss, revenge & the empty promise of the American dream; For better or worse, GTA IV deserves to be remembered.
4. GTA IV: The Ballad Of Gay Tony
Despite my adoration for GTA IV, it started, remained & ended as a pretty grim analysis of modern day crime. Thankfully Rockstar would change it up in one of the two story expansions of the game. The Ballad Of Gay Tony acts as the perfect juxtaposition to the grittiness of its big brother. Unlike the crime-ridden streets that Niko walked, TBGT introduced us to the glitz & glamour of Liberty City, as well as the seedy underbelly that keeps it running.
Although mechanically identical to GTA IV, the tone is completely different. Main characters run the gamut from neurotic nightclub impresarios to culturally insensitive Arab billionaires. With wacky characters come even wackier missions; one highlight sees the main protagonist (Luis) stealing a tank from a train, while flying a helicopter. On a completely subjective note, the music also improves, with more ’80s & ’70s tunes added to the radio stations, including a new station called Vice City FM; a wink to longtime fans.
TBOGT also added numerous side activities like base jumping, club management & underground fighting. GTA IV was oddly bereft of side content so these additions help immerse yourself into the world of high society. Story expansions aren’t known for being outstanding experiences, so TBOGT is a real treat. For these reasons, it manages to edge in front of GTA IV & takes fourth place.
3. GTA V
GTA V is the best selling entertainment product ever made; that’s not hyperbole, that’s fact. Being such a success you may be wondering why it has only achieved third place on this list? GTA V is a hell of a game with some standout characters, a gorgeous open world & filled to the brim with content. The story spans three characters, brought together through their need for money. All three have their own intentions, whether that be personal ambition, a comfortable retirement or just a complete psychopathic need to destroy.
There is no denying the success of GTA V, but there are some serious flaws. The story is good, but forgettable; gameplay, functional, but not revolutionary. The same can be said about the radio station options that appear to have been sidelined for an admittedly fantastic instrumental score. Online gameplay comes across as predatory in every sense of the word; so much so, that microtransactions are literally in the form of credit cards. A recent update also added a fully functioning casino that requires players to use real money, in order to buy fake money, then gamble it!
You can only paint over the cracks for so long before people start to notice structural damage; the same thing is happening to Bethesda Game Studios. GTA V is a great game and you’ll have a blast playing it, but the cracks are showing. I only hope that Rockstar Games does the required DIY on the next entry in the long-running series.
GTA V is available on PS4, Xbox One & PC.
2. GTA: Vice City
GTA: Vice City speaks to me in a way no other GTA can. It doesn’t have the most bombastic story missions or the biggest open world, but every element comes together to form maybe not the best, but certainly the most fondly remembered game of the series. Vice City is a love letter to the decade of money, fashion & music; the period of excess that was the ’80s.
The protagonist Tommy Vercceti (excellently voiced by Ray Liotta) epitomises the franchise and its “success by any means” spirit. The city itself invoked the classic gangster movie Scarface & the music encapsulated the time flawlessly. On a side note, Vice City also has the best talk-radio station, hands-down.
Not everything is praise worthy though. Shooting is improved over GTA 3 but can still be hit or miss on weapons that require manual aim. Character models are so old you can see the geometric shapes used to create them. Random frame drops are endemic & melee fighting is unresponsive at the best of times. Regardless of these issues, GTA: Vice City deserves second place in this competitive list.
1. GTA: San Andreas
I had a tough time choosing between Vice City & San Andreas for top spot, but GTA: San Andreas truly deserves to come first. This game remains the Magnum Opus of the series and is also best selling game on the PS2. Not only does it have the most entertaining story, it also has the most likeable protagonist, (Carl Johnson) the most memorable characters & a truly detestable villain in Officer Frank Tenpenny.
The calibre of voice acting is yet unsurpassed in any GTA, with Hollywood royalty Samual L Jackson & James Woods, among many others lending their voices. Much like Vice City, GTA: San Andreas manages to capture a tumultuous moment in the history of the USA, specifically, 1992’s Los Angeles. The game oozes early nineties culture, from the music, to more controversial topics like gang warfare, the crack epidemic & the LA riots.
GTA: San Andreas represents the pinnacle of what could be achieved on the hardware of the time and cemented Rockstar’s reputation for pushing the boundaries of open world, single-player games. In the history of video games there is a small list of games every gamer should play; GTA: San Andreas is on that list.