It would be difficult to name a more well-known and divisive video game series than Grand Theft Auto.
The games in the series date back to the late ’90s, and there are now more than a dozen in total.
We’ll be covering all three canonical GTA timelines in this comprehensive guide to the series’ entire history of games.
What’s Grand Theft Auto (GTA)?
Mike Dailly and David Jones are responsible for the Grand Theft Auto (GTA) video game series. However, Dan and Sam Houser, along with Aaron Garbut and Leslie Benzies, oversaw the development of subsequent games in the series. Rockstar Games, the parent company, commissioned the main development of the game from the British studio DMA Design (now known as Rockstar North).
The Grand Theft Auto series is known for its open world gameplay, in which the player can choose to or must complete missions to advance the story. The fact that you can branch out and do other things besides just your missions is what makes the game so unique and enjoyable.
Since it’s a gangster-themed game, you can expect to do a lot of shooting and driving, with some role-playing and stealth thrown in for good measure. Cities from the 1960s to the 2010s serve as inspiration for the GTA series’ environments. New York City (called Liberty City in the game), San Francisco (called San Andreas), and Miami (called Vice City) make up the game’s original map. Later games, however, have shifted away from focusing on all three cities and instead on a single location, which is typically one of the original three cities but with extensive additions and renovations.
The protagonist of each series is typically an up-and-comer in the criminal underworld, with varying goals depending on the book. The game’s antagonist, on the other hand, is typically a member of the antagonist’s own organization or the protagonist, or the player character’s most formidable obstacle.
Let’s jump right in and look back at the origins of the Grand Theft Auto video game franchise.
History of the Grand Theft Auto (GTA) game series
GTA (Release Date: 1997)
In 1997, Grand Theft Auto made its debut on MS-DOS and Windows PCs. Eventually, it made its way to GameBoy Colour and PlayStation.
The three major cities of San Andreas, Vice City, and Liberty City served as the backdrop for this top-down 2D game with true open-world gameplay. You could take control of Travis, Katy, Bubba, Ulrika, Nikki, Divine, Troy, or Kivlo back then. What made GTA stand out was its open-ended nature; players weren’t limited to completing missions; they could instead cause mayhem by robbing banks, stealing cars, killing innocent bystanders, and so on. Three million copies were sold of the game after it became an instant hit.
GTA II (Release Date: 1999)
Two years after the original Grand Theft Auto’s 1997 release, in 1999, GTA II was made available for players on the PC, PlayStation 2, Dreamcast, and Game Boy Color. Only two million copies were sold, compared to ten million for the first GTA.
While adding new features, Grand Theft Auto IV kept the same level of freedom that let players do whatever they wanted. The year 2013 and the city of Anywhere (a throwback to the future) serve as the backdrop for Grand Theft Auto II. The city is divided into three massive districts, and if a character wants to travel between them, they’ll need to earn enough money, which can be done in a variety of ways.
The infamous star system was introduced in GTA II; it appears when the police are chasing you and can increase or decrease depending on your actions. In the game, players could seek refuge in churches whose neon signs read “Jesus Saves.”
GTA III (Release Date: 2001)
A portion of the primary series also made its debut on PS2 and Xbox before expanding to macOS, Windows, Android, PS3, and iOS. 5 million copies of Grand Theft Auto III were sold.
The first two Grand Theft Auto games took place in a top-down perspective, but GTA III was the first in the series to transition to a 3D open world. The shift in viewpoint had a profound effect on every facet of the game, from exploration to driving.
The story of GTA III is the first in the series to focus on vengeance and advancement in the criminal ranks.
GTA: Vice City (Release Date: 2002)
The PC, PlayStation 2, and Xbox versions of Vice City have collectively sold 5 million copies. Later, versions of the game were released for macOS, Android, and Fire OS.
GTA made some adjustments in an effort to raise the quality of the series. To begin, “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City” is the first Grand Theft Auto game to include authentic street gangs like bikers, Cubans, and Haitians. It’s the first series to let you rob multiple stores at once, whether you’re after fame or cash, and the stores you can rob include jewelry shops, gun shops, and drug stores.
GTA: Double Pack (Release Date: 2003)
The “GTA: Double Pack” is a two-console set for the PS2 and the Xbox. Both Grand Theft Auto III and Vice City were part of the two-game bundle. But neither of the two titles was revised or updated in any way.
GTA: San Andreas (Release Date: 2004)
Also a part of the main series, this installment has sold 5 million copies across multiple platforms and console generations.
The action unfolded in the fictional state of San Andreas, which was home to the three major cities of Las Venturas, San Fierro, and Los Santos. San Andreas’ city map is only surpassed in size by GTA V’s. The conflict between the Crisps and the Bloods is the main plot point.
What changed in San Andreas was that instead of the usual criminal activities, there were more prominent cutscenes that advanced the story. Swimming, climbing walls, shopping for clothes, piloting a plane, and working out were all possible in San Andreas.
Paranormal elements such as visits from the spirits of the deceased and alien sightings were introduced in San Andreas, adding to the game’s already entertaining components.
GTA Advance (Release Date: 2004)
The GTA Advanced is a spinoff of the main series, and it has sold over 24 million copies on the Game Boy Advance.
Seven years after its initial release in 1997, GTA Advance marked the series’ return to its roots. The game’s new protagonist, Liberty City setting, and top-down view made up for the lack of 3D. After the preceding two titles, the name “Advance” seems rather unimaginative. Despite the dreary moniker, it featured fresh content like search-and-rescue, street racing, cab, and firefighting missions.
GTA: Liberty City Stories (Release Date: 2005)
There have been 11 million copies of the spinoff The Liberty City Stories sold across PlayStation Portable, PlayStation 2, and mobile devices.
Many players consider Liberty City Stories an incremental step forward from Grand Theft Auto III. It’s the first game in the series in which a nonplayable character is the star of their own story. Despite being a minor upgrade to GTA III, Liverpool City Stores added a number of new features, including more indoor environments, bikes, and refined camera controls.
GTA Trilogy (Release Date: 2005)
The Grand Theft Auto Trilogy is a collection that can be played on the Xbox, PS2, and PC. Included in this set are three of the most well-known Grand Theft Auto games: San Andreas, Vice City, and GTA III.
GTA: Vice City Stories (Release Date: 2006)
The spin-off The Vice City Stories has sold 6 million copies across PSP, PS2, and PS3.
Vice City Stories, like its predecessor Liberty City Stories, is essentially a rehash of the original series’ name but with new content. The story is set in 1984, there’s a new protagonist, and this is the final Grand Theft Auto game to use the RenderWare engine. In addition, you’ll be able to buy a store and improve it in Vice City Stories for the first time ever thanks to the game’s innovative building mechanics.
GTA IV (Release Date: 2008)
Part of the main series, Grand Theft Auto IV debuted on PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3, has sold over 25 million copies, and has received new DLC in the form of The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony.
The protagonist of GTA IV, Niko Bellic (Eastern European War Veteran), is a fan favorite and brought players back to Liberty City. The Rockstar Advanced Game Engine (RAGE) debuted with Grand Theft Auto IV. While previous Grand Theft Auto games have also placed an emphasis on narrative, this is the first GTA game to include branching paths and multiple possible conclusions.
GTA IV has vastly improved gameplay. Driving, third-person shooting, police AI, enhanced enemy AI, and the number of weapons at your disposal have all seen significant upgrades.
GTA: Episodes from Liberty City (Release Date: 2009)
Three million copies of the Episodes from Liberty City bundle were sold in its first week on PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3.
The GTA IV add-ons, The Lost and the Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony, are included in this collection and can be played independently of the main game. The former is centered on a story of a biker gang member, while the latter is about a mafia gang member and takes place primarily at night.
GTA: Chinatown Wars (Released Date: 2009)
Two million copies of this offshoot of the main series have been sold on the Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable.
If you didn’t already know, this is the second Grand Theft Auto game made specifically for portable systems. Chinatown Wars broke new ground by breaking several GTA tropes for the first time. To begin, it has a top-down perspective that can be rotated at will, opening up a variety of previously unavailable viewpoints. Cell-shaded graphics give it a comic book feel, setting it apart from the rest of the series.
Chinatown Wars is a handheld game, but it still has a ton of content, including over 100 missions and many of the staple activities from Grand Theft Auto. Fun fact: it’s the first Grand Theft Auto game since GTA III to not include a helicopter.
GTA V (Release Date: 2013)
The Grand Theft Auto V PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S versions have collectively sold over 140 million copies worldwide.
Based on the number of copies sold, Grand Theft Auto V is one of the most successful video game franchises of all time. Even though it was released nearly a decade ago, Grand Theft Auto V (GTA V) remains one of the most popular video games of all time. At an estimated 265 million dollars, Grand Theft Auto V is one of the most costly video games ever developed.
How about the game play, though? It’s the first Grand Theft Auto game with three main characters, and the story and setting are given more attention than in previous entries in the series. The fact that you can switch between the game’s three main characters at any time without disrupting their individual stories is one of GTA V’s many impressive features. The story’s ultimate message is one of unwavering loyalty and unbreakable friendship.
The new visual engine used in Grand Theft Auto V improves the driving systems, allows for more player interaction with the environment, and provides a fantastic third-person shooting experience.
GTA Online (Release Date: 2013)
Currently, there are over 220,000 peak concurrent players on Steam for GTA Online, an online spinoff of Grand Theft Auto V that is playable on PC, PlayStation 3, 4, 5, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.
Following a live-service model, updates have been made regularly to the game ever since its release in 2013. There is no set plot in GTA Online, but you can play it solo or with friends. Participating in various criminal activities, such as vehicle robberies, bank heists, illegal Street racing, etc., and completing various in-game missions are all possible in this game.
The game’s advancement is based on a Reputation Point system that raises your character’s status and skill level. GTA Online is a popular game that has become increasingly popular in recent years.
GTA: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition (Release Date: 2021)
There have been 10 million copies of The Trilogy sold across PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Nintendo Switch.
The Grand Theft Auto III, San Andreas, and Vice City remasters are included in this bundle, as they have been in every other release of this type. This collection enhances the visuals, controls, and lighting of the aforementioned games, in addition to porting them to a modern console. Despite their best efforts, it suffered from technical difficulties and had shoddy visuals. Since then, Rockstar has patched The Trilogy in an attempt to address its problems.
In the first, all the 2D Grand Theft Auto games belong together. Compared to the narrative-heavy games that came later, these are played from an overhead perspective and place less emphasis on storytelling.
Grand Theft Auto, Grand Theft Auto: London 1969, Grand Theft Auto: London 1961, and Grand Theft Auto II were the four games that made up the 2D universe, which was active from 1997 to 1999.
Grand Theft Auto
Originally published on October 21, 1997
PlayStation, Game Boy Color, MS-DOS, and Windows are the supported platforms.
The groundwork for future installments in the series was laid in the original game. There had been a lot of changes made to Grand Theft Auto while it was in development. The original concept for Grand Theft Auto was a more “sandboxy” title called Race’n’Chase, a simple racing game.
Gameplay elements such as free-roaming, a wide variety of missions, and a seamless transition between driving and walking were all introduced in the first Grand Theft Auto and have since become series staples. Furthermore, a competitive online multiplayer mode was included.
Grand Theft Auto: London 1969
Date of Publication: March 31, 1999
PlayStation, MicroSoft Disk Operating System, and Microsoft Windows
The setting of the second Grand Theft Auto game was London in 1969, as suggested by the name.
It’s the first of two add-on packs for the original GTA that take place in London and use the same engine and most of the same gameplay mechanics.
Grand Theft Auto: London 1961
Publication date: June 1, 1999
Operating Systems: MS-DOS and Windows
The second GTA expansion takes place in London, like London 1969, but in the early 2000s.
The visual style and gameplay are identical to the original release. However, it added to the multiplayer features by introducing new multiplayer game modes and the drive-by mechanic, both of which had previously been absent from the GTA series. It was made available for free on PCs only.
Grand Theft Auto 2
Date of publication: September 30th, 1999
Sony Playstation, Sega Dreamcast, Nintendo Game Boy Color, and Microsoft Windows
As a proper follow-up to the first Grand Theft Auto, GTA 2 enhanced its visuals and gameplay in a few key ways.
It’s the first Grand Theft Auto game to use 3D models, which raised the bar for visual quality even as the game maintained the series’ trademark bird’s-eye perspective.
In terms of game mechanics, it implemented a reputation system that changed how the player was viewed by the city’s criminal organizations. Additionally, it introduced several new varieties of foe and a plethora of new weapons.
The series’ popularity and critical acclaim skyrocketed once it transitioned to the 3D universe. Full 3D environments were introduced, as the name suggests, and a premium was placed on storytelling, leading to the birth of some of gaming’s most enduring characters.
Six games were released in the 3D universe between 2001 and 2006: Grand Theft Auto III, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Grand Theft Auto Advance, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories, and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories.
Grand Theft Auto III
Date of Publication: October 22, 2001
PS2, PS3, PS4, Xbox, Windows, OS X, iOS, Android, and Fire OS are all supported platforms.
The first Grand Theft Auto game to be released in 3D, and the first to feature a freely-rotatable third-person camera instead of the series’ signature overhead perspective was 2001’s GTA 3. This makes Liberty City seem more lived-in and explorable than any other city in the series’ history.
It also introduced a new control scheme and gameplay mechanics, most of which would reappear in subsequent games with this new camera angle.
The PlayStation 2 version debuted first, followed by PC and Xbox versions in 2002 and 2003, respectively. Later, in 2010, it made its way to OS X, and in 2011, it hit iOS and Android. Finally, in 2014, it made its way to Amazon’s Fire OS.
The PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 versions of the game were released in 2012 and 2014, respectively.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Date of Publication: October 29, 2002
Multiple PlayStation consoles, Microsoft Windows, Apple macOS, iOS, Android, and Amazon’s Fire OS are supported.
Almost exactly one year after the release of Grand Theft Auto 3, Vice City gave players the chance to explore a fictionalized version of Miami called Vice City. Some visual upgrades were included, but otherwise the game is very similar to Grand Theft Auto 3. In the end, it stands as one of the series’ most recognizable installments.
The PlayStation 2 version of Vice City was the first to be released in 2002, with the PC and Xbox versions following the following year. The OS X, iOS, Android, and Fire OS versions were released between 2010 and 2013. Finally, in 2013, it was released for the PS3, and in 2015, it was released for the PS4.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Date of publication: October 26, 2004
Playable on: PS2, PS3, PS4, XBox, XBox 360, XBox One, Windows, OS X, iOS, Android, Fire OS, Windows Phone, and more!
One of the best Grand Theft Auto games ever made, San Andreas set a new standard for the size and variety of a GTA game’s world. In addition, it provided a level of character customization that was difficult for later games to match.
The fictional cities of Los Santos, San Fierro, and Las Venturas were all included in the San Andreas region. These locations were meant to evoke the real-world cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Las Vegas, respectively. It also included a number of smaller rural towns and a sizeable stretch of wilderness between the three major urban centers.
As can be seen from the list above, the game has been made available on a wide range of platforms, including three generations of consoles, Windows, OS X, and virtually every major mobile OS. It was also released for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4, and thanks to backwards compatibility, Xbox One owners can enjoy it as well.
Grand Theft Auto Advance
Oct. 26, 2004 — Official Publication Date
System Requirements: Game Boy Advance
Advance, which was originally titled “Grand Theft Auto,” is a peculiar game and, in my opinion, the least impressive in the series. Along with San Andreas, it was released exclusively for the Game Boy Advance and serves as a sort of prologue to Grand Theft Auto 3.
GTA Advance is the only 3D universe game to use 2D graphics and the traditional overhead perspective of the 2D universe GTA games due to technical limitations of the Game Boy Advance. As a result, rather than the refined and intricate mechanics of GTA 3, Vice City, and San Andreas, it heavily repurposes those of the original 2D games.
Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories
Date of publication: October 24, 2005
PS2, PS3, PSP, iOS, Android, Kindle Fire OS, and Fire TV OS are all supported platforms.
Liberty City Stories, a game made primarily for the PSP, is a prequel to Grand Theft Auto 3 set in, you guessed it, Liberty City. Graphically, it’s very close to Grand Theft Auto 3, and it maintains a very similar version of Liberty City. Some of the new features from games released after GTA 3 are included, and the gameplay itself has been simplified.
Like the other games in the 3D Universe series, Liberty City Stories was ported to iOS, Android, and Fire OS in late 2015 and early 2016, about a year after it was released for the PSP.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories
Dissemination Begins on October 31, 2006
Consoles: PS2, PS3, and PS Portable
Vice City Stories, the final game in the 3D universe, is a prequel in the same vein as Liberty City Stories, but set in the Vice City universe. It uses the same visual style and implements the same gameplay mechanics as its “parent” game, albeit with a more refined feel.
The only other 3D universe game not ported to modern smartphones is GTA Advance, but Vice City Stories has never been updated for modern mobile platforms. It was released for PSP, PS2, and the PS3 via the PlayStation Network in 2013.
The HD universe, the third and ongoing GTA canon universe, kicked off in 2008. The massive technological developments that allowed for more complex and visually immersive video games to be made were largely responsible for this shift, hence the name.
Grand Theft Auto IV, Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony, and the most successful game in the series to date, Grand Theft Auto V, are all part of the HD universe.
Grand Theft Auto IV
Date of publication: April 29th, 2008
System Requirements: PS3, Xbox 360, and PC
GTA IV ushered in a new era for the series and once again raised the bar for what a Grand Theft Auto game was capable of technically. The game had the most realistic recreation of Liberty City seen in a GTA game to that point, as well as the highest-quality graphics ever seen in a GTA game, a brand-new physics engine, and the cover system, a staple of third-person shooters at the time.
The game debuted in April 2008 for the PS3 and Xbox 360, and in December of the same year, it arrived on Windows. Although the Xbox 360 version can be played on the Xbox One thanks to the console’s backward compatibility, the game has not yet been remastered.
Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned
Date of publication: February 17, 2009
System Requirements: PS3, Xbox 360, and PC
First of GTA IV’s two DLC packs, The Lost and Damned introduces a new protagonist and storyline centered on a motorcycle club previously encountered by the player in the main game. As such, it is mechanically similar to Grand Theft Auto IV with a few tweaks and some new mission varieties.
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
Publication date is March 17, 2009.
PlayStation Vita, Nintendo DS, iOS, Android, and Fire OS are all supported.
As a handheld offshoot of Grand Theft Auto IV, Chinatown Wars follows the exploits of the Liberty City Triad. Its gameplay is about what you’d expect from a 2009 handheld title, and its semi-adjustable camera strikes a good balance between the overhead view of the classic 2D universe games and the fully adjustable camera of the 3D and HD universe ones.
The game was designed from the ground up for the Nintendo DS and features full support for the system’s dual screens. A few months later, a PSP version was released, and it had different controls and better visuals. The game is also available in mobile versions that are optimized for use with a touchscreen.
Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony
Date of publication: October 29th, 2009
Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360
The Ballad of Gay Tony, the game’s second and final expansion, expands on Liberty City’s criminal underworld in a similar vein to the previous add-on, Vice City Stories. This time, however, it’s discos rather than motorcycles that take center stage. Again, the expansion focuses on the story and adds some new weapons and vehicles without significantly altering the gameplay.
Grand Theft Auto V
Date of publication: September 17th, 2013
Xbox 360, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch
Several awards have been given to Grand Theft Auto V. It has sold 95 million copies, making it the third best-selling game of all time, and its development cost 265 million dollars, making it the second most expensive game ever made.
It’s built on the same engine as GTA IV, but the visuals and level of detail have been greatly enhanced. Taking place in and around Los Santos, the player is given complete freedom to switch between three playable characters.
The game was initially released in 2013 for the PS3 and Xbox 360, and was ported to the 8th generation PS4 and Xbox One the following year, with a Windows release following in 2015.
That concludes the catalogue of Grand Theft Auto games available to date. Even though Grand Theft Auto VI has not yet been confirmed, the popularity of the series suggests that this list will continue to grow.
With the release of Red Dead Redemption 2, however, Rockstar is likely to return to their flagship series.