Whether or not you love gaming, you must have heard of GTA at least once in your life. Possibly from a friend who loves gaming, a colleague, the internet, or maybe you love gaming so it’s obvious you’d hear about the game. Some people know about GTA V or the GTA IV other than that, they know nothing else.
Have you ever wondered what the first GTA game was like? When it was released? Or in general things about GTA, you don’t think everyone knows about. If you have such thoughts or you have once thought about such things then you are in the right space. In today’s guide, we’ll be taking a walk down history lane to unravel the history behind the popular Grand Theft Auto (GTA) game series.
What’s Grand Theft Auto (GTA)?
Grand Theft Auto (GTA) is a series of action-adventure games that was created by Mike Dailly and David Jones. However, later titles for the game were developed under the supervision of brothers Dan and Sam Houser, Aaron Garbut, and Leslie Benzies. The game was primarily developed by the British development house DMA Design (currently known as Rockstar North) and published by Rockstar Games (its parent company).
The GTA gameplay focuses on an open world where the player is allowed to or required to play and complete missions in order to progress the overall story. What makes the game special and interesting is that you are not limited to your missions alone as you can engage in various side activities.
Since it’s a crime (gangster) related game, most of the gameplay revolves around shooting and driving and sometimes role-playing and stealth elements. The environment in the GTA series is modeled after real cities, at different points in time from the 1960s to the 2010s. The original map of the game is composed of three cities New York City (Liberty City), San Francisco (San Andreas) and Miami (Vice City). However, rather than focusing on those three cities, later titles focused on a single setting which is usually one of the original three locales, although significantly expanded and remodeled.
The main character of each series is usually a protagonist who attempts to rise through the ranks of the criminal underworld, albeit with different motives in each title. On the other hand, the antagonist of the game are usually characters who have betrayed their organization or the protagonist, or characters who have the most impact in delaying or preventing the protagonist’s progress.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the history of the Grand Theft Auto game series.
History of the Grand Theft Auto (GTA) game series
GTA (Release Date: 1997)
The very first GTA or the original GTA debuted in 1997 for MS-DOS systems and Windows PCs. It later became available for GameBoy Colour and PlayStation.
It was a top-down 2D game with true open-world gameplay spanning three big cities: San Andreas, Vice City, and Liberty City. Playable characters you could use at the time were Travis, Katy, Bubba, Ulrika, Nikki, Divine, Troy, and Kivlo. What set GTA apart at the time was the fact that you could either choose to play the game’s missions or you could do other activities like causing chaos, getting chased by the cops, hijacking cars, going on a killing spree, etc. The game quickly became popular and 3 million copies were sold.
GTA II (Release Date: 1999)
Two years after the first release of GTA in 1997, GTA II was released and it was made available for PC, PlayStation, Dreamcast, and Game Boy Colour users. Unlike the debut GTA, only two million copies were sold.
Just like its predecessor, GTA maintained the same level of freedom which allowed players to do whatever they liked while introducing new features. In GTA II, the game is set in Anywhere City (a retrofuturist city) and the year, 2013. The city is made of three sprawling districts and if a player wants to cross from one district to another, they’ll need to make enough money which can be made via any means.
The infamous star system—it appears when you are being chased by the cops; it can increase or decrease depending on your actions in the game—was first introduced in GTA II. The game had safe houses—churches with neon signs that displayed “Jesus Saves.”
GTA III (Release Date: 2001)
Also, a part of the main series premiered on PlayStation 2, and Xbox but later became available for macOS, Windows, Andriod, PlayStation 3, and iOS. GTA III sold 5 million units.
GTA and GTA II had a top-down perspective but unlike their predecessors, the GTA III was the first among the GTA series that shifted from the top-down perspective to a three-dimensional (3D) open-world title. With just the change in perspective, the entire game’s various elements including exploration and driving were impacted significantly.
GTA III is also the first in the series to feature a story about revenge and rising through the criminal ladder.
GTA: Vice City (Release Date: 2002)
Vice City which is a part of the main series, is available on PC, PlayStation 2, and Xbox, with 5 million units sold. The game later debuted for macOS, Android, and Fire OS.
In GTA’s attempt to elevate the series, they made a few changes. First of all, “GTA: Vice City” is the first GTA title to feature real-life gangs such as bikers, Cubans, and Haitians. It’s the first series that made it possible to commit robberies in several establishments such as jewellery, gun, or drug stores to either increase your notoriety or steal money.
GTA: Double Pack (Release Date: 2003)
The “GTA: Double Pack” is a bundle that’s available on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. The two-game bundle included GTA III and GTA: Vice City. However, no changes were made to any of the two titles nor were any improvements made.
GTA: San Andreas (Release Date: 2004)
Also a part of the main series, available on Windows, Mac, PlayStation 2, 3, 4, Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and on mobile devices with 5 million units sold.
The plot took place in San Andreas, a fictional state that had three metropolitan areas namely: Las Venturas, San Fierro, and Los Santos. The city map in San Andreas is so big that it’s second only to GTA V. The game centres around the gang rivalry between the Crisp and Bloods.
What happened in San Andreas was, that Rockstar decided to emphasize the game’s narrative and thus added more prominent cutscenes—scenes that develop the storyline—to the usual criminal activities. In San Andreas, it was possible to carry out lots of fun activities like swimming, climbing walls, buying clothes, flying a plane, and even exercising.
In addition to the already then fun features, San Andreas Also introduced some supernatural elements like the ghosts of dead relatives and alien sightings.
GTA Advance (Release Date: 2004)
The GTA Advanced is a spin-off of the main series, available on Game Boy Advance with over 24 million units sold.
GTA Advance was finally able to see GTA return to its roots for the first time after 7 years (it was last seen in 1997). However, the game featured a top-down perspective (it wasn’t 3D), a plot set in Liberty City, and a new protagonist. The name “Advance” seems basic when compared to the two titles before it. Despite the unappealing name, it introduced new events and missions such as rescue service, street racing, taxi, and fire department missions.
GTA: Liberty City Stories (Release Date: 2005)
The Liberty City Stories is a spin-off available on PlayStation Portable, PlayStation 2, and mobile devices with 11 million units sold.
Liberty City Stories is often seen by gamers as a minor improvement over the GTA III. It’s the first game in the series where an NPC was turned into the protagonist of their own show. Even though Liverpool City Stores was a minor improvement to the GTA III, it still had more inside locales, bikes, improved camera movements, and several other features.
GTA Trilogy (Release Date: 2005)
The GTA Trilogy is a bundle that’s available on Xbox, PlayStation 2, and PC. This bundle comes packed together with three of the most prominent GTA titles, GTA III, San Andreas, and Vice City.
GTA: Vice City Stories (Release Date: 2006)
The Vice City Stories is a spin-off that’s available on PSP, PlayStation 2, and PlayStation 3 with 6 million units sold.
Just like the Liberty City Stories, the Vice City Stories is basically a replica of the main series title but with new stories and activities. The plot takes place in 1984, features a new protagonist and is also the last game in the GTA series to use the RenderWare engine used on all 3D GTA games till that point. Additionally, Vice City Stories is the first game to feature building mechanics (i.e., you’ll be allowed to purchase a store and perform construction on it).
GTA IV (Release Date: 2008)
The GTA IV is a part of the main series, debuted on PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3, with 25 million units sold and new expansions (The Lost and Damned, The Ballad of Gay Tony).
GTA IV took everyone back to Liberty City and the protagonist this time is Niko Bellic (Eastern European War Veteran), one of the most loved among fans. GTA IV is the first title that was built on the new Rockstar Advanced Game Engine (RAGE). Just like its predecessors, this GTA title focuses on storytelling but unlike its predecessors, it’s the first GTA title to feature decisions that can impact the overall outcome of the game leading to three different endings.
The gameplay on the GTA IV is greatly improved. A lot of improvements can be seen in the driving, third-person shooting, police AI, enhanced enemy AI, as well as the available number of weapons you can use.
GTA: Episodes from Liberty City (Release Date: 2009)
The Episodes from Liberty City is a bundle that debuted on PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 with 3 million units sold.
This bundle packages GTA IV’s extensions (i.e., The Lost and the Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony) as standalone titles (since they do not require the GTA IV copy to run). While the former is about a story of a biker gang member, the latter is centred around a mafia gang member and mainly took place at night.
GTA: Chinatown Wars (Released Date: 2009)
It’s a spin-off of the main series that’s available on Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable, with 2 million units sold.
You probably might have guessed it but if you didn’t, it’s the second portable exclusive title in all of the GTA series. Chinatown Wars was the first GTA title to deviate from several conventions. First of all, it features a top-down view that could be rotated at will, thereby enabling new camera angles. Unlike others in the series, it uses cell-shaded graphics which gives off a comic book style vibe.
Even though Chinatown Wars is a handheld game, it still came with tons of content spawning over 100 missions and also featured a slew of GTA staple activities. As a fun fact, it’s the first GTA game that didn’t feature a helicopter since GTA III.
GTA V (Release Date: 2013)
The GTA V is a part of the main series, available on PC, PlayStation 3, 4, 5, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S with 140 million units sold.
Among all the series released thus far, the GTA V is by far one of the most successful GTA games considering the margin of the units sold to other GTA titles. GTA V is one of the biggest games of all time and despite being launched almost a decade ago, it’s still relevant today. The GTA V is considered to be one of the most expensive games to be made in history with an estimated 265 million dollar budget.
What about the gameplay? It’s the first GTA game to feature three protagonists and focuses on world-building and the narrative more than its predecessors. What’s particularly impressive about the GTA V is how all the three main character stories are interconnected even though you can change the player at any time. In the end, it’s a story that’s deeply rooted in loyalty and friendship.
GTA V makes use of a new graphical engine that grants improved driving systems, interactivity with the world, and a great third-person shooter experience.
GTA Online (Release Date: 2013)
GTA Online is an online spin-off of the GTA V, available on PC, PlayStation 3, 4, 5, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S with 220 thousand peak concurrent players on Steam.
The game follows a live-service model and since its launch in 2013, new content has been continuously added to it. There’s no specific story in GTA Online but you can choose to play the game solo or in co-op. In the game, it’s possible to take part in several criminal activities like vehicle robberies, bank heists, illegal Street racing, etc., and there are also in-game missions you can complete as well.
Progression in the game is based on a Reputation Points system that allows your character to improve both rank and stats. In today’s world, GTA Online is one of the most played games.
GTA: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition (Release Date: 2021)
The Trilogy is a bundle, that’s available on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Nintendo Switch with 10 million units sold.
Just like every other bundle released, this bundle comes with the GTA III, San Andreas, and Vice City, aimed at remastering these three classic titles. Asides from bringing those games to the modern console, this bundle improves the visuals, controls, and lighting. Despite their efforts to make it better, it still faced some technical issues and gas poor-quality visuals. Rockstar has since tried to fix The Trilogy issues through patching.
Playing GTA is fun, exciting, and interesting. However, if you are looking forward to breezing through all the missions and chapters you’d realize that it’s easier said than done. This is because the game is made to mimic real-life circumstances and as such, some missions can be very difficult and frustrating. However these days, there are things like GTA Modded Accounts—game accounts that are packed with special items such as money, improved ranks, unlocks, etc.—that make the gameplay easier.
As a little inside information, Rockstar is currently developing GTA VI, when it’ll be released is still unknown but Rockstar has confirmed it’ll be released in 2022 but they haven’t confirmed if it’ll be named GTA VI yet.