Best GTA games ranked: Definitive Trilogy, Grand Theft Auto 4, and more

Daniel Megarry
Posters for GTA San Andreas, GTA 4, and GTA V

As the world patiently waits for the arrival of Grand Theft Auto 6, we’re revisiting the best GTA games of all time, from the OG days to San Andreas and beyond, with a definitive ranking.

The Grand Theft Auto series is one of the most iconic, beloved, and controversial video game franchises of all time, and that means everyone has an opinion on it. As with any huge franchise, one of the biggest ongoing debates is, ‘Which GTA game is best?’

With rumors suggesting that the next installment, GTA 6, is still quite a while away, we decided it’s time to answer the big question once and for all. Join us as we take a trip down memory lane by ranking all of the mainline GTA games from worst to best.

7. Grand Theft Auto

Cars driving across the road in the original 1997 Grand Theft Auto game

The original Grand Theft Auto game may look very different from the modern GTA that gamers know and love, with a basic top-down viewpoint, clunky controls, and a far more linear structure, but it laid the building blocks for the franchise to become the cultural phenomenon that it is today, and it deserves some respect for that alone.

All of the basics are there: Stealing cars, going on killing sprees, and running from cops when your notoriety level gets too high. It’s also interesting to compare how much the series’ signature locations – Liberty City, San Andreas, and Vice City – have grown since then. In the light of the modern era, though, its flaws are are just a little too glaring to enjoy.

6. GTA 2

Cars on the road in Grand Theft Auto 2

Grand Theft Auto 2 was a sequel that largely delivered more of the same, and like its predecessor, it simply can’t hold a candle to the GTA games that followed. Sure, it’s always fun to drive around the city and leave chaos in your rearview mirror, but the lack of any real narrative or memorable characters means it’s not really worth revisiting.

Still, it did nudge the franchise towards its zanier side with its retrofuturistic Anywhere City location and improved upon the original with a few significant additions, like garages to modify cars, the ability to save midway through a level, and a respect system that allowed players to show their loyalty to one of three different syndicates by completing jobs for them.

5. GTA 3

Claude standing in the streets of GTA 3

GTA 3 marked a turning point in the Grand Theft Auto story, as it finally took the franchise into the 3D era – and what an incredible job it did. GTA 3 offered freedom in a way no game had before, letting players choose between following the main story or getting distracted by tons of side-missions, pulling off the most insane stunts in their vehicles, or simply running over innocent pedestrians to their heart’s content.

While it doesn’t hold up quite so well against the more modern entries into the series, it’s impossible to deny GTA 3’s impact on the video game industry, particularly its popularization of the open-world genre. It was also the first GTA experience for many gamers, so it packs a huge amount of nostalgia under the hood and is more than worth a revisit.

4. GTA San Andreas

CJ riding a bike in GTA San Andreas

When it was released back in 2004, the sheer size of GTA San Andreas was mind-blowing. The fan-favorite entry into the franchise built upon the already-impressive Vice City by adding more vehicles, improving elements like combat and visuals, and quite simply making everything so much bigger. With three cities to explore and a huge variety of missions to take on, it was easy to sink endless hours into the game.

San Andreas found a good balance between gritty realness and silly humor, while CJ remains one of the most memorable protagonists, bringing more complexity to the table than the silent Claude or hardened criminal Tommy Vercetti before him. San Andreas is also notable for embracing RPG elements like driving and stamina stats, as well as the ability to change CJ’s weight by visiting the gym or eating junk food. Oh, and there were jetpacks, too.

3. GTA 4

GTA 4 gameplay

As the first HD entry into the Grand Theft Auto franchise, GTA 4 helped set the standard for what a modern open-world game could look (and feel) like. It had one of the franchise’s most interesting and well-developed protagonists in Niko, introduced narrative choices that forced players to question their morality, and delivered an incredibly rich portrayal of Liberty City, the game’s take on New York City.

The tonal shift didn’t suit everyone, with some players feeling like GTA 4 lacked the franchise’s signature humor and silliness, but props are due to Rockstar for trying something different. This was also balanced out somewhat with two brilliant expansions packs, The Lost And Damned and The Ballad Of Gay Tony, which were far more than just small DLC stories and deserve their own spot in the GTA hall of fame.

2. GTA Vice City

Tommy Vercetti in Grand Theft Auto Vice City

Vice City is one of the most iconic video games of all time, and it’s easily the most memorable GTA experience for hardcore fans and casual players alike. It added bags of style to the groundworks laid by GTA 3 before it, with an effortlessly cool 1980s aesthetic and an excellent soundtrack that remains the best of the series (which is no easy achievement).

Some of our fondest video game memories involve Vice City, thanks in no small part to the wilder cheats that have since become a staple of GTA games, like codes for flying vehicles and arming hostile pedestrians with weapons. There’s a reason fans are so eager to believe the rumors that GTA 6 will mark a return for this brilliant location: It’s a video game masterpiece.

1. GTA 5

Michael De Santa running away from an explosion in GTA 5

The most recent addition to the Grand Theft Auto pantheon, GTA 5, had some incredibly huge shoes to fill, but it exceeded those expectations and then some. It’s the most ambitious game in the franchise so far, with a seemingly endless amount of content to discover, while technically improving upon its predecessors in almost every way possible, from stunning visuals to solid controls.

Whether you want to go scuba diving for shipwrecks, search for UFOs and extraterrestrial lifeforms, parachute through the mountains against the backdrop of a gorgeous sunset, or simply rob a bank and run over innocent pedestrians like the good ol’ GTA days, it’s all available here. The groundbreaking GTA Online, meanwhile, remains one of the best multiplayer sandbox experiences you can find.

Eight years on from its initial release, gamers are still regularly diving into GTA V and its addictive Online mode for their Grand Theft Auto fix. It’s hard to imagine how Rockstar is going to top this one.

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