Grand Theft Auto, a series that has sold over 300 million copies, stands as one of the most popular franchises in the history of video games. However, this immense success was not achieved overnight; it was the result of meticulous refinement over more than two decades. While early titles performed decently, it wasn't until the series transitioned to 3D in 2001 that it truly skyrocketed in popularity. Since then, Grand Theft Auto has continued to thrive and evolve.

Before Grand Theft Auto 3, the concept of open-world gaming was in its early stages, with only a few titles attempting ambitious approaches. However, the arrival of GTA led to a surge of imitators trying to capitalize on the emerging open-world market. The best of these GTA-inspired games have also found success in their own right.

1. Saints Row

While maintaining similarities with GTA in its core gameplay, Saints Row sets itself apart in various ways. Its eccentric humor ventures into absurd territories untouched by GTA, and its wide range of minigames and side activities provide more enjoyable distractions compared to the repetitive fetch quests seen in earlier GTA titles.

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Saints Row

Although Saints Row initially started as a GTA imitation, it has transformed into something unique and distinct. While it still has room for improvement to surpass its long-standing rival, the series has already achieved significant success over the years. Saints Row has proven itself and established its identity. It might even inspire similar games in the future. However, to achieve this, it needs to outperform its 2022 reboot, which many felt was inferior to its predecessors in almost every aspect.

2. Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs underwent multiple versions before its final release. Initially planned as part of the True Crime series under the title True Crime: Hong Kong, the game experienced a shift when Activision transferred the publishing rights to Square Enix. This transition led to the creation of an outstanding game.

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Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs preserves the excellent world-building established by the True Crime games and enhances it with remarkably polished gameplay. The combat mechanics are impressive, featuring environmental kills that result in cinematic sequences. While it might not reach the same level as Grand Theft Auto, it comes remarkably close, showcasing its high-quality gameplay and engaging features.

3. The Simpsons: Hit & Run

Springfield might not appear to be an ideal setting for a game resembling GTA, but the fusion of the two franchises surprisingly works seamlessly. While it lacks the crime and violence typically associated with Grand Theft Auto, the impact of the series on The Simpsons: Hit & Run and its predecessor is unmistakable. It leans more towards parody than outright imitation, yet there's no denying the sheer enjoyment it offers.

The Simpsons: Hit & Run

The game emphasizes exploration and maintains a coherent plot to keep players engaged. Its true strength lies in its humor, reminiscent of nineties Simpsons rather than the modern era. The game's success wasn't unexpected, but the absence of a genuine sequel to The Simpsons: Hit & Run continues to puzzle many fans.

4. Mafia

While The Godfather game was linked to an existing intellectual property, 2K's Mafia took a broader approach to organized crime. Consequently, the violence and high-energy scenes in Mafia feel more authentic because they unfold in a world of their own, unexplored and fresh. It captures the essence of organized crime that everyone appreciates but presents it in a new and distinctive light.

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While the console versions have their shortcomings, the PC edition stands out as a visual masterpiece. Its breathtaking environments are complemented by robust gameplay and a more than satisfactory storyline. Although subsequent Mafia titles couldn't quite match its success, the original game serves as a prime example of transforming a concept into a compelling gaming experience.

5. Sunset Overdrive

Whether Sunset Overdrive qualifies as a genuine GTA clone is open to debate, but many of its concepts and mechanics can be traced back to the early 3D Grand Theft Auto games. The exception, of course, being the zombies. It's the presence of zombies, combined with the game's superb map traversal mechanics, that makes it incredibly enjoyable to play.

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Sunset Overdrive

This often underestimated Xbox exclusive stands out as one of the most entertaining games for the system. It can be seen as Microsoft's closest attempt to match the excellent mobility found in Marvel's Spider-Man, although it doesn't quite reach those same impressive heights. Nevertheless, it remains a highly enjoyable action-adventure game, especially for players seeking a fun way to unwind by taking down some zombies.

6. The Godfather

In the realm of crime, The Godfather holds a status in movies similar to what GTA has in gaming. Combining the two iconic franchises should have resulted in something extraordinary. However, the 2006 release left many pondering what could have been if more careful consideration had been given to the project.

The Godfather Game
The Godfather

Nevertheless, the game did introduce some interesting concepts, such as the extortion mechanic, and provides an enjoyable gaming experience. In a world where narrative tension relies heavily on subtlety and implication, the overtly aggressive gameplay doesn't quite fit. While it stands as a decent game overall, it falls short of capturing the essence of The Godfather franchise.

7. Crackdown

While the Crackdown series had started losing momentum by its third installment, the initial two Crackdown games are widely regarded as some of the best GTA-inspired titles. This is because they aimed to expand upon the highly successful Grand Theft Auto formula instead of merely trying to copy it precisely. Admittedly, the first game lacks a strong narrative and its music doesn't match up to GTA's, but it remains a robust title.

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The most remarkable aspect of the first Crackdown game was its introduction of multiplayer, a feature that took a while to reach the GTA series. Additionally, its distinctive art style set it apart from other open-world sandbox games of the early 2000s. Instead of chasing hyper-realism, Crackdown embraced a stylized cell-shaded approach. Considering these factors, it's understandable why some people are still hopeful for a potential fourth installment of the Crackdown series.

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