GTA 6 Timeline and Era Rumors: When Will the Game Be Set?

When will Grand Theft Auto 6 take place? Various rumors point to five distinct possibilities.

Grand Theft Auto 6
Photo: Rockstar Games

With Grand Theft Auto 6 reportedly in early development, everyone is talking about what will surely end up being one of the biggest games of the next console generation.

We’ve already talked about some of the locations we could see in Grand Theft Auto 6, but as Grand Theft Auto fans know, the timeline of a GTA game is sometimes even more important than its location or protagonist. From the infamous ’80s-inspired Grand Theft Auto: Vice City to the incredible trip back to the ’90s that Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas sent us on, some of the best Grand Theft Auto games have been defined by the era in which they were set.

What about Grand Theft Auto 6, though? While just about everything concerning GTA 6 is somewhat speculative at this point, a series of persistent rumors and reports point to five distinct timelines that could be the subject of the next Grand Theft Auto game.

Modern Day (Post-Grand Theft Auto 5)

We’ll start with what seems to be one of the most popular and persistent Grand Theft Auto 6 timeline rumors.

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The origins of this rumor are a little difficult to trace, but one of the earliest reports stems from an old “leak” that suggested Rockstar was playing with the idea of setting Grand Theft Auto 6 in modern-day Liberty City. That same report hinted at a grittier atmosphere, which was compared to The Wire, and more of a gameplay emphasis on building a criminal empire. Subsequent rumors have suggested a similar tone, but the idea that GTA 6 will be set in the modern era has died down a bit in popularity.

But a modern-day game makes sense. Grand Theft Auto 5 was an absurdly popular title that has reportedly sold over 120 million copies to date. Making Grand Theft Auto 6 a chronological follow-up to GTA 5 is a logical move that would also allow Rockstar to release a new version of Grand Theft Auto Online that doesn’t alter the existing build’s aesthetics or design too much. We’re not saying there’s much consistency to the Grand Theft Auto Online universe, but at this point, there is a sense of continuity within the confines of the content it offers.

Speaking of continuity, the mainline GTA games since Grand Theft Auto 3 have all taken place in a more modern setting. While Rockstar doesn’t seem as interested in releasing GTA “spin-offs” these days, the notable timeline jumps in the modern GTA era have typically been limited to such games.

The 1970s and 1980s

In terms of popularity, no Grand Theft Auto 6 timeline rumor is more noteworthy than the idea that it will take place sometime during the 1970s and 1980s.

This rumor dates back to one of the most widespread GTA 6 leaks, which claimed that the game was being referred to internally by Rockstar as “PROJECT AMERICAS.” That same report alleged that GTA 6 would be split between the 1970s and 1980s and would focus on the drug trade happening between Vice City and some GTA-style variation of Rio de Janeiro. That version of the game has been compared to series like Narcos and will reportedly lean heavily on the idea of things changing over time.

Honestly, we’d love nothing more than to learn that all of those rumors are true. Not only have fans been begging for Rockstar to return to Vice City (and, by extension, GTA: Vice City‘s incredible soundtrack), but setting some of the game during the 1970s and some of it in a place like Rio de Janeiro is the perfect way to mix things up while offering a bit of fan service.

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Furthermore, such a setting would allow Rockstar to embrace the slightly more serious tone of Red Dead Redemption 2 while still taking advantage of the inherent “fun” and nostalgia of that time period.

Multiple Timelines

There’s a theory that the next Grand Theft Auto game will jump between many different time periods. There is some disagreement regarding what, exactly, that means, but at a minimum, it’s been suggested that the game will include more flashback-style sequences such as what we saw at the beginning of Grand Theft Auto 5. Others have argued that the game could go so far as to feature a ton of chronological hops that span decades worth of storytelling.

Oddly enough, there is some precedent for that last idea. As Kotaku explains, the nature of Grand Theft Auto Online has basically turned Grand Theft Auto into a chronological anomaly. As we said, GTA Online‘s nature means it doesn’t really have to adhere to any kind of chronology, but the freedom of not sticking to one timeline could be very appealing to Rockstar.

Again, there’s also the possibility that Red Dead Redemption 2 was a preview of the kind of ambitious stories Rockstar wants to tell with these games. If that is the case, then we can hardly think of a more ambitious concept than telling years’ worth of crime stories.

The 1960s

An old report first suggested that Grand Theft Auto 6 could occur in London during the 1960s. While the source is somewhat sketchy, it’s hardly the only time that we’ve heard this rumor. Rockstar Games co-founder and former vice president Dan Houser indicated that the team was interested in doing a Grand Theft Auto game set in London and that GTA games weren’t necessarily tied to America. Of course, we already knew that the last part was true since Rockstar released an expansion for the original Grand Theft Auto that was not only set in London but took place during the 1960s.

Would Rockstar really return to 1960s London? That probably depends on whether or not the studio has an idea that would justify this departure. A new GTA game set in the ’60s would actually be kind of fascinating. First off, the soundtrack for a ’60s GTA game is basically guaranteed to be amazing. Second, we actually don’t see many crime stories in video games that emphasize that era (compared to other eras). Rockstar would have the opportunity to flex its creative muscles in such an environment.

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The 2000s

The final GTA 6 potential time period is based on two factors. The first is the aforementioned rumor that the next mainline GTA game will be set in the present day. The second is an old quote from a 2018 GQ UK interview in which Dan Houser suggested that it would be difficult to release a GTA game in the present day due to “intense liberal progression and intense conservatism.” He also suggested that so many things would be “straightforwardly beyond satire” and that the usual GTA references would be “out of date within two minutes” because of the speed everything is moving at.

Houser is no longer with Rockstar, but it’s possible that some of his ideas linger within the walls of the studio. If that is the case, then it’s not out of the question to suggest that Rockstar could be interested in choosing a more modern setting — such as the 2000s or the 2010s — that isn’t explicitly set in the current decade.

Granted, that’s not the most exciting idea out there, but it could allow the team to get away with more and not risk dating Grand Theft Auto 6 by trying to include tons of topical references that may be out of date by the time the game is actually released.