- The Grand Theft Auto series is what brought videogames to the mainstream. It's a bold claim, albeit one that's undeniably true - sure, Lara Croft made the cover of The Face, but if you were to ask an audience of non-gaming types what modern games they've heard of, a good percentage of them are bound to reference Grand Theft Auto in one way or another, whether it's one of the original top-down 2D games or a more recent 3D offering.
Why? Whether it's for the right reasons (gaining critical acclaim for being, you know, actually good) or because the game was caught up in controversy on more than one occasion, the GTA series is popular - whether distant or close - amongst people of all ages.
Grand Theft Auto - PlayStation
The first game in the series was released on the PlayStation in '98 following its '97 PC release and was instantly recognised for being something special. Not that we need to back up this fact, but the cover of our copy of the game contains a sticker with a 91 percent rating from PlayStation Plus, nine out of ten from Official PlayStation Magazine, and 92 percent from Play... this speaks for itself.
Many have looked at the original Grand Theft Auto as being a much more arcade-led affair. You answer payphones and set out to complete the mission you've been given, and are awarded points for completing them, along with doing other activities. In order to advance to the next level you have to accumulate a great number of points which became, at times, largely time-consuming.
The people who played the game didn't care, though. At its core, GTA was a game like no other, and consumers were pleased about that. The game's three cities, Liberty City, Vice City and San Andreas (sound familiar?) are all large and contain tons to do - like with all games in the series, as much fun can be derived from jacking police cars and moving down pedestrians as it can by actually completing the missions and working your way up the criminal ladder.
Grand Theft Auto: London - PlayStation
Known on the box as Mission Pack #1: London 1969, GTA: London was, as the back cover chimed, an innovation in gaming. What do you do when you're bored on Guitar Hero III? Well, a lot of us buy downloadable track packs with new songs to play. GTA: London was similar in that sense, and one of the first 'updates' to a game.
Instead of being offered in a microtransaction, though, it was on a disc like any other PlayStation game, and released in April '99. To play it, you'd insert the disc into the console and then swap it with the original GTA disc (which you have to own in order to play it).
As the title suggests, GTA: London is set in England's capital in the late '60s. The game is very much similar to GTA before it, using the same engine with the story emphasis on a criminal looking to hit it big time. In stereotypical English Cockney slang, instead of being 'busted', you get 'nicked', and instead of being 'wasted' you are, in fact, 'brown bread'.
While still critically acclaimed, GTA: London didn't receive the same level of media attention for whatever reason - it had been done before, and this wasn't a full sequel.
Grand Theft Auto 2 - PlayStation
GTA 2 is the first proper sequel to the original game released in October '99. Set in an unspecified - though clearly near-future - time, it's the first GTA to really do things differently, and this was obvious as soon as you picked it up. Other than being visually superior, GTA 2 introduced working for gangs as a hireable gun.
One gang is present in all levels while the other two change depending on what level you're playing, and how it affected the gameplay was truly innovative. For example, by working for the Redneck faction (and, let's say, having a mission to kill some members of the rival SRS gang) you would sour your working relationship with the opposing gangs. Respect is displayed in the top left hand corner of the screen and watching it closely was always essential.
Adding to the list of improvements was a better save system that operated inside a church - if you entered with $50,000 in tow, a voice would inform you that the game had been saved. This was an improvement because in the first game, you'd only be able to save when completing a city. Furthermore, over 120 vehicles were available in GTA 2 compared to the lesser number from GTA and 30 more from GTA: London.
Grand Theft Auto III - PlayStation 2
With the release of GTA III came the evolution of a new generation in gaming, being the first 3D GTA, and one with a third-person viewpoint. Liberty City is the setting for this game, based on New York, where the main - unnamed and unspeaking - character is betrayed by his girlfriend in a bank robbery. Now, this is a Grand Theft Auto game, so what do you expect? That's right, you have to work your way up the criminal ladder again, then find her and kick some ass!
Along with the obvious changes that will come in a leap from 2D to 3D, GTA III was a very different game for other reasons. The level of freedom on show was never so apparent, with a huge map to explore and all the time to explore it in. It's hard to explain how revolutionary GTA III was without rewinding time to just before its release, but given the majority of those reading this will have played it already, we'll leave it down to you to interpret the effect is had on the games industry.
So many new things were introduced, but chiefly was the furthered non-linear gameplay on show - it was up to you when to take on story and side missions, and that's what made the game more accessible overall. At the same time, you can avoid almost every mission and go about your business of stealing cars and causing havoc wherever you step.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City - PlayStation 2
Contrary to popular belief, Vice City and San Andreas were only really updates to GTA III - sure, they were set in new locations and introduced many new things, but they used the same engine and were not truly revolutionary. Not that it matters, you understand - Vice City is our favourite GTA game thus far for whatever reason.
You play as Tommy Vercetti (voiced by Ray Liotta of Goodfellas fame), a drug dealer involved in a deal that gets ambushed. As a result, you owe your 'employee' money, and set out to get it through making contacts in the self-titled city, until a turn of events that we won't spoil in case you're not fortunate enough to have played this piece of gaming gold.
New this time round - at least, from GTA III - were motorbikes, but that wasn't what made it so successful. The story was compelling, and it was arguably a more solid experience down to several factors. For example, as you gained notoriety you were rewarded with new properties and the ability to invest in successful businesses, such as the Cherry Popper Ice Cream Factory (which spawned a side mission of dealing drugs while driving the van around Vice City) and Sunshine Autos, a car dealership that brings in revenue regularly. Overall, it's not just our favourite GTA, but also one of our all-time favourite games.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas - PlayStation 2
While Vice City takes you to the beaches of the '80s, San Andreas advances to a decade later. You play Carl Johnson (known as CJ on the 'street') and your mum is dead, but as you go back to pay your respects, you remember why life was so great in the 'hood. The story was easily the longest so far, but as with all the games, that's barely breaking the surface.
So many things were introduced in San Andreas - multiplayer (on the same console, mind you), mini-games, BMXs, planes and the ability to swim, further freedom because of the size of San Andreas and advancements, and tons more besides. Many have called San Andreas the best in the series, and while we don't necessarily agree (see Vice City) we're happy to admit that it's a great addition to the series - it just didn't really connect with us in the same way that Vice City did. Just take a look at reviews of the game in print or online, though, and you'll see why most people love it, with few reviews scoring it below nine out of ten, or the equivalent.
Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories - PlayStation Portable/PlayStation 2
First released on the PSP in October '05 (in North America, November 4 in the United Kingdom) and the PS2 later on in June '06, Liberty City Stories impressed the industry and gamers simply because it was possible. This was the game to show what the PSP could do when it had been launched, and it did just that - most expected a watered-down version of the series we've come to love, but if anything, it raised the technological bar. It was a step down from San Andreas, that's for sure (to expect to see anything of that scale on a handheld would be stupid) but mighty fine nonetheless.
Liberty City Stories went back to Liberty City from GTA III as you might have guessed, where Tony Cipriani is back in the city after several years of hanging around, probably eating Pot Noodles and stuffing his face with chocolate muffins as we do at weekends! So, what's new in the first PSP version of the game? A ferry now transports you from Portland Island to Staunton Island, while the tunnel connecting the two locations in GTA III hasn't been built yet (what with this game being set in '98 and all that).
Also, motorbikes were introduced again - this is of note as they were absent from GTA III. How does Rockstar explain the complete lack of two-wheeled beauties? They were banned by the time GTA III began, of course! This version of GTA is also the first to feature multiplayer that's not local as well, thanks to the PSP's wireless Ad Hoc capabilities. The PS2 version of the game lacked this multiplayer, we'd like to add.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories - PlayStation Portable
Again released on the PSP (October and November '06) and PS2 (March '07), Vice City Stories is another follow-up to the previous game that featured the same city. You play as Victor Vance, a soldier in the US Army who is introduced to drug trafficking by his sergeant Jerry Martinez. Later on your brother Lance (remember him from Vice City?) joins you - Victor survives this game until he is later gunned down in the failed drug deal depicted in Vice City (set later on chronologically).
Like Liberty City Stories this game has multiplayer, again not found in the later PS2 version of the game. Elsewhere, vehicle missions (paramedics, cops, taxi driver) are now less of a frustration since the game saves every time you advance by five levels. There are more of them, too, with air ambulance, fire chopper and coastguard jobs waiting for you. Revenue collected at your empires is automatically given to you at a certain time every day, which saves time spent driving around to collect it.
The future of Grand Theft Auto...
With a game-by-game breakdown out of the way, what does the future hold for the phenomenal series? We know Grand Theft Auto IV is coming out on April 29 (don't miss it) and it will no doubt do for the games industry what GTA III did back when the previous generation of consoles were released. Check out our preview for more on that.
We're not fans of conjecture, but sometimes it's justified, and we predict the release of another GTA title for the PSP, probably titled San Andreas Stories. However, if a next-gen PSP is on its way soon as it has been suggested, maybe another revolution will unfold as we watch in awe at how a handheld can handle such detail. We'll see...
More screenshots can be seen at the link at the top of this news article!