The History of Grand Theft Auto - Prima Games

The History of Grand Theft Auto

by Prima Games Staff

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It’s crazy how much Grand Theft Auto has grown over the years, from its humble beginnings on Windows and PlayStation One to a game that’s even bigger and better than before.

On the cusp of Grand Theft Auto V‘s release next month, we’ve decided to look back at the history of the series, starting from its more frantic top-down offerings to its flourished 3D efforts to its more recent expansion into an online world. Join us, carjackings and all, as we take a look back.

Grand Theft Auto (1997, PS One and Windows)

Originally designed by DMA Design, the first Grand Theft Auto put the objectives into motion, requiring you to earn points throughout each of the three cities by completing tasks for the local crime syndicate. If that meant running over a few people in the process – or outrunning the law – so be it. The game was quite frantic, but good fun, and its top-down overview of the world was, at the time, innovative. Rockstar expanded upon the series with a supplementary add-on, London, 1969, which released a couple of years later.

Grand Theft Auto 2 (1999, PS One, Sega Dreamcast)

This sequel followed a similar formula to the original, but this time allowed you to confer with different gangs – seven in all – as well as the option to play during the day or night. Though most of the action is about the same, the game continued to be good criminal-oriented fun. Plus, it marked the next-gen debut of the franchise on the Sega Dreamcast.

Grand Theft Auto III (2001, PlayStation 2, Xbox)

By the time 2001 rolled around, Grand Theft Auto entered a whole new generation, introducing an elaborate 3D world – Liberty City – to players for the first time. This brought them even closer to the action than ever before, with a much bigger sense of freedom and smoother gameplay. Everything from beating thugs with a baseball bat to stealing cars worked more naturally this time around, and the graphics, for the 2000 era, were nothing short of amazing. The game also introduced a number of radio stations, featuring various music types to listen to while you were cruising around the city – or outrunning the police, whichever you prefer.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002, PlayStation, Xbox)

For the follow-up to the best-selling GTA III, Rockstar Games took a trip back in time to 1980’s Miami. There, you guided Tommy Vercetti to criminal glory, slowly building up an empire while dealing with other hoods and swindlers, mostly voiced by celebrities such as Burt Reynolds and Dennis Hopper. The game not only set a new tone for the series, but also introduced some great new gameplay quirks, including the ability to cruise around on a motorcycle. The soundtrack was perfectly fit for the era as well, with such bands as Talk Talk and Kool and the Gang blaring through the speakers.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004, PlayStation 2, Xbox)

By the time 2004 rolled around, Rockstar Games redefined its GTA series once again, this time with a more urban setting, San Andreas. The game focused on gang member Carl “CJ” Johnson, a man who has more than his fair share of troubles between corrupt cops – one of them voiced by Samuel L. Jackson, by the way – and rival gang members. San Andreas introduced a new character design dynamic, where you could make them more muscular or out of shape, depending how much you ate in the game. It also introduced other activities, including base jumping and tuning up cars. Even though it faced controversy with “Hot Coffee” – a deleted segment where the player could initiate sex with a female – the game still sold millions, guaranteeing the future of the franchise.

Grand Theft Auto Advance (2004, Game Boy Advance)

Even though the first two GTA games were released for Game Boy Color, Grand Theft Auto Advance was the first one genuinely made for the handheld front – and it was a big hit for Nintendo and Rockstar alike, with its impressively open world and criminal activities. It would lead to bigger and better things for the series on the portable front.

Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories (2005, 2006, PlayStation 2, PSP)

Though they shared the names of other GTA chapters, these side Stories actually served as full-on games with their own separate characters, as well as dozens of missions to complete, huge cities to drive around, and impressive presentations. These side stories were originally meant to be exclusives for the PlayStation Portable, but were eventually ported to PlayStation 2 as well. 

Grand Theft Auto IV (2008, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)

With Grand Theft Auto IV, Rockstar Games entered the next generation – at the time – of gaming in style, introducing players to Niko Bellic and his troubled criminal lifestyle. With a number of activities to take part in – both mission-related and leisure stuff (like dating and bowling) – there was no shortage of what you could do within the world. Plus, it introduced multiplayer, where people could compete against one another in full-blown combat, with varying modes to choose from. The game remains a Top 20 play on Xbox Live today – which really says something.

Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City (2009, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)

To keep the story going, Rockstar added two side chapters to GTA IV – the biker-related The Lost and the Damned and the enjoyable criminal chapter The Ballad of Gay Tony, which came out in 2009. Both had their own separate story to tell, with Lost and Damned taking a biker-style approach and Ballad focusing more on a troubled nightclub owner. Both had the traditional GTA storytelling style, as well as plenty of missions and activities to keep you busy.

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (2009, Nintendo DS)

Not content with letting Sony and Microsoft systems have all the GTA fun, Nintendo struck a deal with Rockstar to bring the exclusive – at the time – Chinatown Wars to the Nintendo DS. This game returned to the top-down viewpoint from the original games, while telling a completely original story surrounding a spoiled kid named Huang Lee, who finds himself thrust into the Triad family business when a cherished sword is stolen. Even with a smaller production compared to GTA IV and its spin-off chapters, Chinatown Wars was a quality entry in the series, with compelling open-world gameplay and plenty of violence. The game was also released on the iOS and PlayStation Portable platforms as well.

GTA Classics Return (2012, iOS, PlayStation Network)

The original Grand Theft Auto III found its way back into the spotlight late last year, not only as a digital re-release through the PlayStation Network for PS3, but also as an iOS download. Rockstar Games managed to squeeze all the frantic action of the original game into a mobile gaming experience, reconfiguring the controllers to work with touch-screen devices. It was a successful return for the classic, as it remained a top selling app for several weeks.

Other classics also returned, including Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, which came out for PSN and iOS earlier this year, and San Andreas debuting on the PlayStation Network as well. You can bet that the iOS releases aren’t done, as that game, along with the Stories spin-offs, will come out at some point.

Grand Theft Auto V and Online (2013, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3)

Grand Theft Auto V and its online component are set to debut in the next few weeks. This latest chapter is easily one of the most anticipated, as it introduces three main characters, compared to the usual one we’ve seen in previous releases. Its Online game is expected to be huge as well when it launches as a free download on October 1st, allowing players to join together in squads and pull off heists, take part in racing events, or have full-blown shoot-outs all over the city.

Even with the next-generation consoles looming, Grand Theft Auto V should sell significantly, and with DLC planned over the next few months – both officially from Rockstar and through user-created content – that popularity will continue for months. It only leaves you wondering…what could be next for the series?

Grand Theft Auto V releases on September 17th for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

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