GTA is a surprisingly big franchise, with the first entry of the series released back in 1997. However, it wasn't really a popular franchise until the release of GTA 3 in 2001... and because of that, the older games are usually ignored. In this article, we are going to list out all GTA games in order to figure out which is the best way to enjoy the franchise.
Table of Contents
All GTA games in order of release date
Overall, despite some games being prequels to others in the storyline of GTA, playing GTA games in chronological order (release date) is still the best way to enjoy the franchise. We recommend skipping GTA 1 and 2 titles, as they are just too different from the usual GTA experience. It is sufficient to just watch a playthrough on YouTube.
Below is the full list of GTA games by year of release for your reference.
1. Grand Theft Auto - 1997
The gameplay of the original GTA or GTA 1 is pretty simple. It is a top-down action RPG in which players travel around the city doing quests for the criminal mobs. As it is essentially a 2D game, newer fans probably won't be able to recognize the 1997 title as a GTA game.
However, in this game, you get to visit all three cities in the GTA franchise: Vice City, Liberty City and San Andreas. This creates a foundation for all later games in the series.
The first GTA game has two expansions Grand Theft Auto: London 1969 and Grand Theft Auto: London 1961, which just swaps the American cities for British ones.
2. Grand Theft Auto 2 - 1999
GTA 2 is probably the least successful entry in the franchise. It literally lifted the gameplay from GTA without any changes. Furthermore, it might not even be part of the GTA timeline, as GTA 2 is set within a retrofuturistic metropolis known as "Anywhere City". This location has never been mentioned in any other GTA games.
3. Grand Theft Auto III - 2001
GTA III is the first title of the 3D universe. It is considered by many to be one of the most significant landmark games in the open-world genre. The game focuses on the silent protagonist Claude's adventure in Liberty City, GTA's version of New York.
Two prequel spinoffs were made for GTA III: Advance and Liberty City Stories. They were released in October 2004 and October 2005, respectively.
4. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City - 2002
GTA Vice City is the fourth main entry of the series. It sets in 1986 within the fictional Vice City (based on Miami). The story follows mobster Tommy Vercetti's rise to power after being released from prison and becoming caught up in an ambushed drug deal.
Overall, Vice City has the most unique style amongst the 3D trilogy games. Unlike the rest of the GTA games that are based on modern settings, Vice City is set in the 80s. Its spinoff, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories, is a prequel set in 1984.
5. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas - 2004
GTA: SA is the final game in the 3D trilogy, with the overall best gameplay amongst the trio. The story follows former gangster Carl "CJ" Johnson, who returns home following his mother's murder and is drawn back into a life of crime once again.
San Andreas is also the biggest and most ambitious game amongst the three. It includes three major cities in the area: Los Santos (inspired by Los Angeles), San Fierro (San Francisco) and Las Venturas (Las Vegas). Not even GTA 5 is that expansive.
>>> You may want to check: List Of GTA San Andreas Voice Actors For All Characters
6. Grand Theft Auto IV - 2008
The franchise once again comes back to the fictional Liberty City. In GTA IV, players follow Niko Bellic, an Eastern European war veteran in his attempt to escape his past and make a new life. Players can roam the islands of Liberty City and the neighboring state of Alderney.
GTA IV has two expansions: The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony. They focus on side characters that appear in GTA IV. The latter is generally considered one of the best expansions of all time.
Furthermore, GTA IV also has a spin-off title called Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. This is a rather disconnected story following a triad member on his journey of revenge.
7. Grand Theft Auto V - 2013
The biggest and most popular GTA game to date, V is the first game with three protagonists instead of one. In GTA V, players control street gangster Franklin Clinton, retired bank robber Michael De Santa, and drug dealer and gunrunner Trevor Philips. In the course of the game, they will commit heists while under pressure from powerful criminals and a corrupt government agency.
In summary, here's the list of all GTA games in order of release:
|Grand Theft Auto||October 21, 1997|
|Grand Theft Auto 2||September 30, 1999|
|Grand Theft Auto 3||October 22, 2001|
|Grand Theft Auto: Vice City||October 27, 2002|
|Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas||October 26, 2004|
|Grand Theft Auto IV||April 28, 2008|
|Grand Theft Auto V||September 17, 2013|
Other than these original GTA games, players can also enjoy the latest GTA trilogy remastered with enhanced features, which will be released later this year.
GTA games in order of story
Besides the chronological order in terms of release date, playing GTA games in order of story is another great way to enjoy this world. Below is a complete timeline of GTA games in order of story, from oldest to the most modern.
|Game||In-game story settings|
|Grand Theft Auto: London 1961||London, 1961|
|Grand Theft Auto: London 1969||London, 1969|
|Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories||Vice City, 1984|
|Grand Theft Auto: Vice City||Vice City, 1986|
|Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas||San Andreas, 1992|
|Grand Theft Auto||Liberty City, San Andreas & Vice City, 1997|
|Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories||Liberty City, 1998|
|Grand Theft Auto 2||Anywhere City, 1999|
|Grand Theft Auto Advance||Liberty City, 2000|
|Grand Theft Auto 3||Liberty City, 2001|
|Grand Theft Auto 4 + 2 Expansions||Liberty City, 2008|
|Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars||Liberty City, 2009|
|Grand Theft Auto 5||San Andreas, 2013|
>>> Detailed stories and settings are available at: All GTA Games In Order Of Story | Timeline Of GTA Game Settings
Overall, there are just so many GTA games with varying gameplay and story. While Rockstar usually places the spinoff titles a year or two before the main title, it's best to play the main title first to not be spoiled story-wise. Since release, some of the GTA games have also been ported to Android.
GTA Games ranked from best to worst
If you don't have enough time to experience all GTA series, you may pick the best ones to try first. Based on the Metacritic score, here is a list of all GTA games ranking from best to worst. In the case that two titles have the same score, the ones with the bigger voting base would take the top spot.
|1||Grand Theft Auto IV (2008)||98|
|2||Grand Theft Auto V (2013)||97|
|3||Grand Theft Auto III (2001)||97|
|4||Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004)||95|
|5||Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002)||95|
|6||Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (2009)||90|
|7||Grand Theft Auto: The Lost And The Damned (2009)||88|
|8||Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories (2005)||88|
|9||Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad Of Gay Tony (2009)||87|
|10||Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories (2006)||86|
|11||Grand Theft Auto (1997) + 2 Expansions||80|
|12||Grand Theft Auto 2 (1999)||70|
|13||Grand Theft Auto Advance (2004)||68|
It is generally agreed that GTA IV was the peak of GTA storytelling, with the two large story expansions improving the experience.