After years of rumors and leaks, Grand Theft Auto VI is finally official. And even though we’ve only seen one trailer, Rockstar’s return to Vice City looks worth the lengthy wait. Unfortunately, it’s still going to be awhile before we can play it, as the release is scheduled for some time in 2025.
But in the meantime, there’s still plenty of other Grand Theft Auto to play. Rockstar has been cranking out games in the series for more than 25 years, and while many of these titles rank among the very best video games ever made, there are a few that are much less memorable. So, which rank among the very best? Read on to find out which Grand Theft Auto games we ranked from worst to best.
12. Grand Theft Auto Advance
In the early 2000s, GTA was about the hottest thing in gaming after the release of Grand Theft Auto III. At the same time, the Game Boy Advance was lighting up the sales charts thanks to its affordability and a fantastic library of ports and original titles. It was inevitable that Rockstar try to capitalize on the moment by putting a GTA game on Nintendo’s portable, but the results were predictably not great.
GTA Advance does try its hardest to be a full-fledged open-world GTA game, complete with an original story that acts as a prequel to GTA III and overhead gameplay borrowed from the first two games in the series. In the end, though, the GBA just wasn’t powerful enough for a game like this. The game simply does not run well, and the muffled, tinny sound effects get old after about 30 seconds. Pity the poor kids who bought this in 2004 expecting a game on par with what was available on the PlayStation 2.
11. Grand Theft Auto London 1969/1961
The London expansions to the original Grand Theft Auto might be a little more obscure than GTA Advance, but at least they’re slightly better games. Like most expansions of the ‘90s, you’re getting the same gameplay of the base game, but with a different coat of paint and in a smaller package. The retro soundtrack is nice, but beyond that, there’s not much here to distinguish it from the other early GTA games.
London 1969 was released in April 1999, and the freeware expansion 1961 followed a few months later (though it really didn’t add much beyond a few more missions). Curiously, this remains the series’ only trip to a real-world city (and one outside the U.S.). For whatever reason, Rockstar seems unwilling to revisit those ideas, though they’d certainly have a lot of potential in a 3D installment.
10. Grand Theft Auto
It can be difficult to go back to the original Grand Theft Auto now, but if you spend a little time with it, it’s remarkable to see just how much of the series’ core gameplay ideas were here from the start. The very first game featured Liberty City, Vice City, and San Andreas, as well as the trademark freedom to complete missions however you see fit. Or ignore all of that and just go on a random crime spree. Even the radio stations were part of the series from the start.
That doesn’t mean the game is without issues, though. Even when it came out in 1997, the top-down graphics were dated, and the controls weren’t great. While you can see the potential was there for what the franchise eventually became, the original GTA could have also just as easily become a footnote in gaming history.
9. Grand Theft Auto 2
Grand Theft Auto 2 is a better game than the original, but just barely. The graphics and sound are a tad bit better, but the actual gameplay is largely the same. A few tweaks to the engine do give random pedestrians more to do so the world feels somewhat more alive. The big difference is moving the action to one larger city with three districts, and a new syndicate system where completing missions for one faction can turn the others against you.
Even though it didn’t do much different from its predecessor, a lot of gamers who grew up in the ‘90s played the hell out of GTA 2 at release (whether on PC, PS1, Dreamcast, or the awful Game Boy Color port), but it’s not a title many people go back to often after the series took a quantum leap forward with its next sequel.
8. Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories
Liberty City Stories was well received when it hit the PSP in 2005. The problem is that by then, San Andreas had already been released. While Liberty City Stories adopted some of the series’ advances that came with that landmark sequel, in other ways, it felt more like a small update to Grand Theft Auto III.
For example, you could now ride motorcycles and change your clothes, features that weren’t available in GTA III, yet you can’t fly planes or swim like San Andreas allowed. Beyond that, protagonist Toni Cipriani simply isn’t that interesting, and while the usual satire and action is present, this is a fairly rote mafia story. It was novel to play a 3D Grand Theft Auto on a handheld in 2005, but almost two decades later, it’s hard to view Liberty City Stories as anything but the weakest of the 3D games.
7. Grand Theft Auto III
When Grand Theft Auto III came out in my junior year of high school, my friends and I would spend hours around the PS2, just experimenting with what we could do in Liberty City. How big of a traffic jam could we create? And what would happen when we started blowing up those cars? How long could we outrun the police? Sometimes, we’d just walk around the city listening to the comments from pedestrians. We just kept finding new things to do, even without touching a single campaign mission.
None of us had ever seen anything like it before, a realistic 3D depiction of a modern city where anything seemed possible. At the time, it seemed like Grand Theft Auto III was the greatest game ever made, and something that could never be topped. It’s just a testament to the quality of the series that almost every GTA game since has managed to surpass it.
6. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
In the canon of GTA games, Chinatown Wars remains a wholly unique experience. That’s largely due to its origins as a Nintendo DS game. Rockstar built the title from the ground up to take advantage of the system’s strengths. That means switching the action up to an isometric perspective and a new cel-shaded art style that gives the game the feel of a graphic novel.
The changes didn’t end there, though. This hardboiled tale of Chinese organized crime took full advantage of the DS touchscreen for things like car theft. And then there’s the drug dealing system, which almost has enough depth to be a game unto itself.
5. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Arriving just one year after the landmark Grand Theft Auto III, Vice City somehow managed to raise the bar even higher for triple-A video games. Tommy Vercetti (voiced by the late Ray Liotta) still might be the most popular protagonist in the series, and the story of his rise to power in a city based on 1980s Miami is on par with the very best mafia movies.
Vice City could have been a simple rehash of GTA III, but the neon-soaked environment and retro vibe gave the game its own distinct identity, and Rockstar improved the mission variety quite a bit. But what Vice City might be best remembered for is its massive licensed soundtrack of ‘80s hits. With artists ranging from Michael Jackson to Megadeath, it still might be the greatest licensed video game soundtrack ever.
4. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories
Liberty City Stories may have felt like the little brother of GTA III, but for the series’ second outing on the PSP, Rockstar learned from its mistakes to cram all of San Andreas’s improvements into what’s essentially a bigger and better Vice City. You can finally fly and swim around the islands, and empire-building is now greatly expanded, with businesses having individual missions you’ll have to complete to earn more money. You even have to defend them in gang wars occasionally.
And while he doesn’t have the same popularity as Tommy Vercetti, protagonist Vic Vance (brother of Vice City’s Lance Vance) is actually a much more likable, fleshed-out character. Even the soundtrack rocks, with Rockstar stuffing it with even more awesome ‘80s songs. It’s not quite as good as Vice City’s soundtrack, but it’s damn close. The only downside is that Vice City Stories is currently stranded on the PSP and PS2, so it’s not the easiest GTA game to track down at the moment.
3. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
The first thing you’ll notice when loading up San Andreas is just how much there is to do. In the first few hours, you’ll be introduced to riding a bicycle, gang wars, and RPG mechanics like building muscle and sex appeal. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. By the end of its 30-hour campaign, you’ll be flying a jetpack and parachuting out of planes over mountaintops. Maybe you’ll even run into the infamous ghost car or a corporation secretly creating zombies.
All of this is wrapped in one of the franchise’s best stories: a nostalgia-laden trip to the ‘90s that takes obvious inspiration from films like Boyz n the Hood and Menace II Society, but arguably equals those tales by the end of its runtime. Many fans will argue that San Andreas is still the best GTA game almost 20 years after its release, and while it’s still a lot of fun, the controls sadly haven’t aged as gracefully as the rest of the game, which holds it back from a higher spot on this list.
2. Grand Theft Auto V
It’s low-hanging fruit to point out Rockstar has been milking GTA V (and GTA Online) for more than a decade now, continuously re-releasing it on new platforms instead of working on GTA VI. But the thing is, few games can claim to have that kind of popularity and longevity. And for good reason. The world Rockstar created here is impressive, with a sprawling cityscape based on Los Angeles and a countryside with tons of secrets to discover.
It’s also one of Rockstar’s very best stories, expertly intertwining Michael attempting to outrun his past, Franklin going down that same dangerous path, and Trevoer, well…Trevor is just insane. And while the single-player campaign is one of the very best ever made, it’s the online mode, now featuring more than a decade of updates that has kept players coming back year after year. If you’ve somehow avoided playing GTA V for all these years, now is actually a great time to start.
1. Grand Theft Auto IV
Is Grand Theft Auto IV technically inferior to the fifth game in the series? Of course, it was released in 2008 and has yet to be remastered. But games are not great just because of their graphics or technical achievements.
In GTA IV, Rockstar created their very best protagonist: Niko Bellic, a haunted European immigrant in search of the American dream. Yes, there’s shooting and carjacking, but also one of the greatest explorations of the many contradictions of American society in the 21st century. Niko’s story fully explores how a country that claims to be so great can require so many awful things from someone who just wants a better life.
Over the years, some people have taken issue with GTA IV’s insistence on realism. It’s certainly not as goofy as the PS2 trilogy. In fact, it attempts to be so realistic you’ll have to stop to pay at tollbooths, though that grittiness is exactly what gives it such a distinct feel from the other GTA games. And if you want a little more ridiculousness, you can always load up the Ballad of Gay Tony DLC to play around with sticky bombs and BASE jumping. GTA IV really is the complete package for fans of the series.