Although it’s one of the best sandbox games around, letting you do whatever you want, when you want, Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series has plenty of specific goals you need to achieve, and although it’s tempting and enjoyable to simply go on a rampage, it’s the missions the series features that drive us forward.
Over the course of the series, GTA has tasked us with a myriad of criminal challenges, and we’ve seen some truly excellent missions that have made the most of the sandbox world. So, we thought we’d look at the our favorite GTA missions from the series. These are missions that impressed us in various ways, and stuck with us as particularly memorable levels.
Of course, as we’re talking about specific missions and their content here, it goes without saying that there are plenty of spoilers ahead. You have been warned.
25. Risk Assessment – GTA V
We kick off with a bit of a surreal Strangers and Freaks mission for Franklin in GTA V. Minding his own business wandering through Vinewood Hills, Franklin encounters a dog. For some reason, Franklin seems to understand the dog, a nod to classic kids show, Lassie, and trails the pooch to a stranded extreme sports nut, Dom, all while exploring the relations between man and his best friend.
The whole mission here is great, with Franklin being pressured into going for an impromptu skydive from a helicopter above Mount Chiliad, and then a high speed bike race down the mountain itself. It’s a terrific introduction to “The Dominator,” and keeps you on your toes with a face-paced race. It’s a great example of how GTA‘s mission structures have evolved and grown more flexible. However, it’s the opening that stuck in my memory.
The crazy conversation with the lone dog, which Dom claims doesn’t even exist, leaves us wondering just what did Franklin see, and did he simply partake in a little too much herbal recreation beforehand? Who knows?
24. Saint Mark’s Bistro – GTA San Andreas
This mission is a stroll down memory lane for long-time GTA fans, and sends CJ back to the Liberty City from GTA III. Specifically, this mission revolves around Saint Mark’s Bistro, a Mafia concern that featured in Grand Theft Auto III.
The mission itself isn’t all that amazing in terms of mechanics, and is more of a shoot out. The main draw here is the chance to fly out of the already massive San Andreas, and visit a totally different city, one we’ve become very fond of. It’s a great experience, and one that doesn’t only strengthen ties between the events of the Grand Theft Auto III trilogy of games, but also gave us hopes at the time, that future games would do the same thing. Grand Theft Auto V, in particular, has done this, with its trip to North Yankton.
23. Dropping In – GTA IV Ballad
Rockstar is capable of making some excellent mission sequences that take us on a thrill ride in the course of a single task, and the mission Dropping In from GTA IV‘s expansion, The Ballad of Gay Tony, is a prime example.
The mission is simple – kill your target. It’s a straightforward goal that Grand Theft Auto has featured many, many times. However, here you go about things differently. You begin by parachuting on top of the building your mark is in, and you then have to fight your way down to the floor he’s hiding on. After killing him, which you can do by throwing him out of the window, you then make your getaway in true Hollywood action star style, by jumping out of the window and parachuting down onto a moving getaway vehicle. Brilliant stuff.
What makes this mission all the more enjoyable is the change in tone Ballad of Gay Tony brings to GTA IV. Both the main game and the other expansion, Lost and Damned, are very low key compared to previous games in the series, but Ballad brings back much of the crazy tomfoolery we’ve come to love in GTA San Andreas, and when it first released, we were glad to see it return.
22. The Job – Grand Theft Auto Vice City
GTA V is all about making money by stealing it, introducing heists in both the story and the online component. However, GTA V didn’t start this, far from it. One of the earliest examples of Rockstar quenching its thirst for good old fashioned bank heists is The Job from Vice City.
The Job is just the culmination of a series of related missions where Tommy has to recruit his team and plan the bank heist. It’s the foundation of what would become so prominent in GTA V, and at the time, it was a mission that demonstrated Rockstar’s ability to do more than simplistic ‘go here, kill him’ missions.
21. Green Goo – GTA San Andreas
This as a memorable mission for a couple of reasons. First, it makes use of one of the best items in San Andreas: the jetpack, which CJ uses to attack and land on a moving train to steal secrets from the US government, under the guidance of The Truth, played by Peter Fonda.
It’s one of the most over the top missions in terms of plot and setting, but this is one of the main reasons GTA: San Andreas is so good. It manages to blend serious action with absurd asides, and it does so without upsetting either. There are many reasons why many still consider San Andreas to be the best GTA, and this is just one.
20. Father / Son – GTA V
GTA V, with the benefit of modern technology behind it, features some of the most complex and detailed missions in the series, and it has a wide range of tasks, keeping the story interesting and unique throughout. One of the early stand-out missions has to be Father / Son. Here Michael and Franklin have to race to save Michael’s son, Jimmy, from some boat thieves. This involves a high speed chase through heavy traffic, as Franklin has to climb from Michael’s car to the boat in order to save Jimmy.
It’s a brilliantly paced and executed chase, complete with the expected hanging from a swinging mast avoiding oncoming traffic, and it’s accompanied by the banter between all three characters. It’s made all the more thrilling playing from first person in the current gen re-release.
19. Stowaway – GTA San Andreas
This is another perfect example of GTA: San Andreas‘ fondness of going all-out, and sees CJ using a motorbike to board a cargo plane as it takes off from the runway. Avoiding gun fire and objects falling from the back of the plane, CJ makes his way into the belly of the cargo carrier before it takes to the skies. He then fights his way through the plane to the cockpit, where he plants a bomb and jumps from the rear of the plane before it blows, parachuting to safety.
The GTA series is heavily influenced by Hollywood, both in style and mission content, and this kind of mission clearly pays homage to the classic 80s action movies, making for some of the best, most memorable missions.
18. Landing Strip – GTA Online
Many would pick one of the excellent heist missions from GTA Online as the best and most memorable, but for me the Lester mission, Landing Strip, clinches it. It’s one of the first larger scale missions you get to take part in, and it’s also one of the first where my friends and I came up with a definite strategy for completing a task.
The goal of stealing a plane and then flying it to the Sandy Shores landing strip is simple enough, but the surprise of foes on the landing strip as you approach can make landing difficult. That is, if you don’t plan ahead. We split our team in two and sent one team to steal the plane, and the other to secure the airfield. It was simple enough, but taking on separate objectives way across the map, and communicating our imminent landing to the ground team made for a great bit of online action, and this would carry on to several other missions in Grand Theft Auto V‘s excellent online component.
17. Publicity Tour – GTA Vice City
Fans of the movie Speed will appreciate this 80s comedy spoof. In GTA: Vice City, Tommy Vercetti meets 80s rock band, Love Fist, and in this mission he’s stuck in their limo, which has had a bomb fitted to it. If Tommy takes his foot off the accelerator, the bomb will explode. This leads to plenty of frantic driving at high speed while the band fumble their way around, trying to defuse the bomb – not something you’d usually task a drug-addled, alcohol-soaked Scottish rock band with.
It’s a tricky mission, as you can’t let up off the gas whilst avoiding heavy traffic, and you’re relying on the bomb disposal skills of some of the most ridiculous musicians you’ll ever see. Great stuff.
16. Two-faced Tanner – GTA III
Grand Theft Auto has a ton of spoofs and parodies of movies and pop culture, but it’s also taken shots at other games several times, including one if its main rivals. In GTA III, the mission Two-Faced Tanner is given by the Yakuza, who discover an informant is actually an undercover cop. Protagonist, Claude, is asked to chase Tanner down and kill him.
The mission is pretty straightforward, and is a simple car chase leading to a messy end for Tanner. However, the whole mission is actually a dig at the Driver series, which was GTA‘s main rival at the time. Tanner is clearly a reference to Driver‘s protagonist, and the Yakuza job-giver, Asuka Kasen, even mocks Tanner for being useless out of a car, referencing Driver‘s lack of any on-foot gameplay. Touche, Rockstar. Touche.
15. Friend Request – GTA V
GTA‘s level of social satire is something that’s been more and more prevalent as the series has evolved, and GTA V is, perhaps, the most successful yet in this regard. The game mocks pretty much every aspect of popular culture, including social media, and the likes of Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg.
The mission, Friend Request, is a no-holds barred dig at the social media company and its famously relaxed and casual work ethic, as well as its goal of permeating every aspect of people’s lives.
Michael is given a job by Lester to modify a new prototype phone being developed by Life Invader (the game’s take on Facebook), so he has to pose as a new tech support guy to infiltrate the office and modify the device. On his way through the office, which is full of casual employees more focused on playing air guitar and kicking around bean bags than actually coding, Michael has to erase a virus from an employee’s PC, and he then heads to the prototype room to modify the phone.
He leaves the office and heads home to watch a live presentation by company CEO, Jay Norris (an analog for Mark Zuckerberg). Lester asked Michael to call the phone during the presentation, which he does. Unaware of what he was actually doing to the device, Michael is shocked to see the phone explode, taking Jay Norris’ head with it.
The mission serves to outline just how dangerous, and unstable Lester Crest is, and that this is one nerd you really don’t want to get on the wrong side of. It also set the stage for a Lester series of hitman missions, which he gives to Franklin.
14. Black Project – GTA San Andreas
Arguably the most off-the-wall mission in San Andreas, Black Project is another mission given by The Truth, and this is where CJ actually locates and first uses the jetpack. Where does he find it? In GTA: SA‘s version of Area 51, of course. Called Area 69 in the game (Oh, Rockstar, you scamps!), this military base is a high security facility, and CJ has the option of attacking it with force, or to sneak in covertly. Whichever way you you choose, CJ eventually finds the lab where the jetpack is being stored and uses it to make his escape.
GTA has always been seen as the more gritty, realistic sandboxer, more so after Saints Row decided to go totally crazy, but missions like this show that Rockstar knows how to court the absurd, making the game even more enjoyable while it’s at it.
13. New Model Army – GTA San Andreas
All hardcore Grand Theft Auto fans will definitely have memoires of Zero’s missions in San Andreas, although they may not be the fondest of memories (more on this later). One of his missions, however, was just pure fun, and a very different style of GTA challenge.
New Model Army gave players control of a model helicopter taking part in a toy ground war, the outcome of which will decide the fate of Zero and his arch enemy, Berkley. The two have been at odds for a long time, both owning RC toy stores, and if Zero can beat him in this contest, Berkley will leave town for good. Erm, okay then.
The mission tasks CJ with picking up bombs to clear the road for Zero’s tank, so he can get to Berkley’s base. It’s a simple test, but it offered a great change-up of pace, especially after Zero’s previous mission.
12. The Exchange – GTA III
Grand Theft Auto III‘s final mission was also one of its most memorable, and it was a suitably large-scale fight against Claude’s psychotic ex-girlfirend, Catalina, who has kidnapped new love interest, Maria. Following a double-cross at the titular exchange, Claude has to fight his way to and across Cochrane Dam, taking out a small army of Colombian cartel soldiers in order to get to Catalina. She makes things more difficult however, as she boards a chopper to make her getaway. Luckily, Claude manages to blow the chopper out of the sky with a handy rocket launcher he finds on the helipad, and rescues Maria.
When the credits roll, we then hear Maria jabbering on, and a single gunshot. This obviously indicates that Claude isn’t as fond of Maria and her motor-mouth as she’d like to believe, or does it? Although this is probably true, does the gun shot signify that Catalina wasn’t actually killed and has her moment of revenge, or did Maria have more sinister plans, offing her savior? Hmmm.
11. Cop Land – GTA Vice City
When a plot to bomb a cafe in the local mall goes wrong, and cops show up to investigate the affair, Tommy and Lance are forced to subdue a couple of officers, steal their uniforms and car, and manually detonate the bomb themselves. Sounds simple enough, but in the world of GTA, we know things will soon go pear-shaped. After successfully getting the attention of the cops and stealing uniforms and a car, the two blow the cafe, but have to lose the cops when a five star wanted level is slapped on them. This leads to one of the game’s most hectic chases.
One of the great things about this mission is that the first part isn’t scripted. It’s up to you how you get a wanted level, and how you lure the cops to the garage. Then, when you think everything is going to go okay, you have one of the hardest chases of the game to that point to contend with.
10. Supply Lines – GTA San Andreas
Of all of the missions in GTA: San Andreas, perhaps the entire series, none has caused me as much rage as this. Considered by many GTA players to be one of the hardest missions in the entire series, this is also one of the most memorable, as it’s a highly unforgiving and very tough challenge, one that taunts you time and time again. When you complete it though, oh the euphoria.
The goal is to fly an armed remote control plane around San Fierro and destroy various couriers, and then return to Zero’s roof. The catch? You have a very limited amount of fuel, so the time limit is as strict as it gets. What’s more, taking out the couriers with the plane isn’t easy, and requires perfect control, planning, and timing. The plane can also be destroyed if you’re not careful.
The panic sets in quickly as your eyes stay glued to the fuel gauge, especially if you kill all the couriers and still have to get back to the rooftop with little gas left in the tank. I lost count of how many times I almost made it, only to run out of fuel. It’s a nightmare of a challenge, and as such, isn’t a mission you soon forget.
9. Caida Libre – GTA V
Grand Theft Auto has plenty of car chases, some of the best in the industry, but it’s not just when we’re involved in a typical car chase that we find ourselves full of adrenaline when in control of a vehicle. This mission from GTA V is a good example of this. After Michael successfully shoots down a plane using a remote control sniper rifle (The Jackal, anyone?), we switch to Trevor who has to chase the plane using a dirt bike as it tries to perform a controlled landing.
Trevor has to race cross country, avoiding traffic, wildlife, and other obstacles, including a jump over a speeding train, whilst keeping the plane in sight. There are plenty of jumps and tight moments, and it’s all brilliantly put together. The train jump was even used in the game’s promo trailers. Top stuff.
8. The Holland Play – GTA IV
Morality isn’t something we usually associate with Grand Theft Auto, as we’re usually the ones breaking the law and mowing down innocents with our reckless driving. However, the series does occasionally force you to make some tough decisions, and this choice from GTA IV is one of the most memorable.
In The Holland Play you’re asked by Playboy X to kill his old friend, Dwayne. It’s a simple task, but one you have to mull over, as you can choose to kill Playboy instead. You decide by heading to the mission marker for each.
Killing Dwayne is easy, as he puts up no fight, but the result is unfortunate. Playboy has a change of heart, calling you cold, and never speaks to you again. All you get is $25,000, and nothing more.
On the other hand, killing Playboy, who is obviously the bad guy of the two, relatively speaking, is the better option. It’s more difficult as he puts up a fight with his various guards and tries to escape, but the effort is worth it. You get Playboy’s apartment, Claude’s outfit from GTA III, Playboy’s gun, and Dwayne becomes a friend. Dwayne’s ability is also very useful, as he can send a couple of men to help you when you need it. You can also look at yourself in the mirror again.
7. The Paleto Score – GTA V
Although our trio of thieves’ plan is to take on a small-town rural bank, the task in The Paleto Score soon ramps up when they discover that the local police are far more effective than they expected. Instead of a simple robbery, Michael and Trevor don armoured suits, and Trevor pulls out a mini gun to make their escape after robbing the bank. What follows can only be described as a Trevor-pocalypse, as an army of police are cut to ribbons, cars are blown sky high, and choppers are brought own in flames. The chaos soon escalates even more when the Army gets called in.
Franklin, as the getaway driver, is forced to rescue the other two, and uses a bulldozer as a makeshift armoured vehicle, before getting the others and himself to a local mill, where the three fight their way to the train tracks and escape on a train.
It’s just one of many missions in Grand Theft Auto V that make good use of the character-switching function, and it’s certainly one of the most memorable GTA firefights, thanks to Trevor and his overkill ways.
6. Breaking the Bank at Caligula’s – GTA San Andreas
This was another multi-stage heist, spanning a selection of missions where CJ sets up one of the largest robberies in GTA history – robbing Caligula’s casino in Las Venturas. Taking plenty of inspiration from movies, and Vice City‘s bank job mission, this was a great example of San Andreas‘ more involved and varied missions.
Undercover as a casino employee, CJ manages to enter the restricted areas of the casino so he can gas the guards in the garage whilst Zero detonates bombs CJ planted at the hydro-electric dam to black out the building. Using a forklift to open the back door, CJ’s Yakuza team arrives and they shoot their way to the vault.
After grabbing the money, Zero’s old rival, Berkley alerts the Mafia, and a whole army of them show up, so the group shoot their way back to the garage and make their escape in an armoured van, with stolen police bikes as escorts. Meanwhile, CJ, acting as a decoy, fights to the roof of the casino where he jumps and parachutes to an opposite roof where a chopper is waiting. The mission ends when CJ makes it to the safe house at the airstrip.
It’s a long, tense mission filled with gun fights and various goals, and it’s a definite precursor to GTA V‘s heists. Gassing guards, stealing transport, arranging getaways, it all returns in GTA V. Zero is even a very similar character to GTA V‘s Lester.
5. Just Business – GTA San Andreas
This is one of the best missions in GTA: SA, and one of the most memorable in the series as it showed that Rockstar really was pulling out the stops for the game. It begins when Big Smoke gets into a fire fight with Russian Mafia during a shady deal, and CJ has to rescue him. The two then have to make their escape in a motorbike.
Big Smoke drives the bike, whilst CJ rides shotgun, having to fend off Russian attacks. Although it’s an on-rails mission, it’s memorable as it’s one of the most impressive chases in the series, certainly up to that point. It even has a scene that replicates the famous truck chase from Terminator 2, where the T-1000 crashes the truck off a bridge into the LA river to chase John Connor.
4. The Big Score – GTA V
It’s the last heist in Grand Theft Auto V, and so it is the most large-scale and extravagant. As with all the heists in the game, you can choose to approach the robbery of the Union Depository in two ways: subtle or obvious. Whichever you choose, this is a great way to end the game’s series of heists, and it involves a lot of planning and acquisition of assets.
Personally, I prefer the subtle approach here, partly as that’s more my play style, and also as it channels The Italian Job, replacing Minis with muscles cars. Whichever approach you choose, though, this is a long, multi-section heist that really does play as a worthy finale, even if it’s not quite the end of the game. It ends with a whole lot of cash and a real dilemma for Franklin, leading to a three-way choice for the player.
3. Keep your friends close – GTA Vice City
The final mission of GTA: Vice City is not only a tough one, but it’s just a great wrap up to a great game, and it sees protagonist Tommy, come full circle as he finally gets his chance to become the boss.
He’s betrayed by Lance Vance, who sides with mob boss, Sonny Forelli, and it’s revealed that Tommy spent 15 years in jail for Sonny and the family because Sonny orchestrated events in the first place. None too happy, Tommy takes it upon himself to single-handedly take out the entire army of mobsters, including Lance, whom he tackles on the roof of the mansion. He then returns to the main hall to kill Sonny and his guards. Afterwards, Tommy and Ken Rosenberg are the new mob bosses.
The Lance’s betrayals was a great touch for this final mission, as Lance had always been loyal and by Tommy’s side throughout much of the game. What’s more, Tommy reason for being in Vice City was to take over the area for the Forelli family, and he ended up taking it over for himself, as well as killing Sonny, the source of his past troubles. All the ends were nicely tied up, and there was a lot of fighting to boot.
2. End of the Line – GTA San Andreas
I love stories that cleverly end where it all began, and after a tale that takes us throughout the entire state of San Andreas, this one ends right in the middle of Grove Street, where it all started.
The last mission of GTA: SA is another long, tough, and multi-part finale. It begins with CJ and Sweet having to fight their way through the city riots to find Big Smoke’s crack palace. When they do, CJ smashes through the wall with a SWAT tank, and heads up through the building to face Big Smoke. The two fight, and when Smoke is dead, Officer Tenpenny arrives and orders CJ to give him Smoke’s money. Obviously, CJ gives no quarter, and the two end up at odds. Tenpenny runs, and escapes in a fire truck, with CJ and Sweet in pursuit.
The chase is filled with shooting, and ends as Tenpenny crashes the fire truck off the bridge that runs over Grove Street. Tenpenny dies right in the middle of the Grove, as Sweet puts it, killing himself in an accident.
This whole mission hangs together very well, and has all sorts of small features that make it more memorable. Having to travel during the midst of the riot, looking for the SWAT tank to breach the building, needing to use a fire extinguisher to get past the fire when escaping the building, and the need to use night vision at one point are just a few of the reasons this mission works so well. CJ’s sad reaction to Smoke’s death is also well-handed, further highlighting CJ’s more humane nature. The ending is the icing on the cake, and has to be my favourite of any of the GTA games.
1. Three Leaf Clover – GTA IV
There was no doubt that this superb mission from Grand Theft Auto IV had to take the top spot. As good as many of the other heists are, including the ones seen in GTA V, Three Leaf Clover takes it as it’s just a masterpiece.
The mission sees Niko and the McReary brothers rob the Bank of Liberty in the middle of Algonquin during the day, leading to a brilliant sequence that many have compared to the classic Michael Mann film, Heat. The heist itself goes awry when the crews bickering leads to the death of one of them, and the remaining trio then need to fight legions of cops as they try to escape through the streets and alleyways of the city.
Eventually, they retreat into the subway, and fight their way through the tunnels and back to street level, where Niko finds a car and they make their getaway. It’s a big-time shoot out, and the whole sequence is brilliant, offering a good mix of vehicle and on-foot action.
However, as with many missions, it’s the little things that shine through, and here it’s the way the mission actually brings all three threads of the GTA IV trilogy together. Who’s that in the queue in the bank? Yes, it’s Luis, the protagonist from The Ballad of Gay Tony. Both he and Niko were involved in the diamond robbery, and it’s this story thread that Johnny, the player character from Lost and Damned, would get involved in.
Unlike most of the missions in GTA IV, which many considered to be much more low key than previous games in the series, this is far more action-packed and ambitious, and it not only makes it the best mission in the game, but also the most memorable in the series, at least, in my opinion.