GTA is best known as a free-roaming crime simulator where stealing cars is at the centre of the game play experience. It gives the players the freedom and tools to wreak havoc in its numerous cities, and lets us experience the rise to the top of the criminal food-chain. It's a tribute to classic crime fiction, and a satire of the modern west in equal parts. There really is no other video game franchise like it. We're going to examine the game's evolution through the main console entries of GTA
Grand Theft Auto (1997)
The first GTA introduced us to the series' core game play mechanics. It was developed by DMA Design, which would later become Rockstar North. Played from an overhead perspective, you could free-roam and commit random crimes and acts of violence. There were three primary settings available; Liberty City, Vice City, and San Andreas, which were all inspired by real world locales, and all of them were to be reimagined in future games in the series. To complete each level you needed to reach a certain amount of points. You could go about this anyway you wanted, causing random mayhem, completing missions for crime lords, earning multipliers for running over people using police vehicles, or through other bonus activities. What set the game apart from other games at the time was not only the violent nature of it, but also the freedom it allowed in completing your objectives. An awesome game that set the stage for something truly great.
Grand Theft Auto 2 (1999)
The second instalment of GTA retained the look and feel of the original while adding a heap of new features. Set in a metropolis referred only to as "Anywhere USA" the game played similarily as in you still strived to rack up enough points in order to complete levels, and you accepted jobs from payphones around the map. The game's graphics were improved with more detailed models, crisper textures, and awesome lighting effects. Each level featured three rival gangs that you could do missions for, and gaining favor with one gang could mean that another would attack you on sight. A number of new side-missions were introduced; driving taxis and buses for cash, collecting hidden packages, and carrying out kill-frenzies. NPC AI was improved with cops and gangs engaging in shootouts, pedestrian reacting in more varied ways, and there were rival carjackers and muggers that would pester you. GTA2 was a bigger and badder version of the original, and paved the way for the first 3D GTA title.
Grand Theft Auto III (2001)
GTA's 3D debut was by far the biggest production of the series at the time, and is regarded as a landmark in video games - its influence reaching far and wide in the industry. It really put GTA on the map, and introduced us to the series as we know it today. While the game inherited the core game play mechanics from the first two GTA's, the new 3D engine let us experience GTA in a completely new way. Liberty City was a bustling metropolis where you could cause mayhem like never before. The storytelling was overhauled to make for a cutscene driven experience that set the bar for future entries. The cast was fully voiced (save for the mute protagonist; Claude) and allowed for a story and characters that payed tribute to a variety of classic gangster flicks. While not the first game to offer a large 3D world that combined driving and shooting game play, the open-ended game design of GTA III gave us a game world full of detail and freedom like we had never seen before at the time. The game was a huge success and made GTA a household name, stirring up a maelstrom of controversy for its violent and "immoral" nature.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002)
A mere year after the hugely popular GTA III, we were treated to GTA: Vice City. This was the first game to be developed under the Rockstar North banner, and following the success of GTA III it quickly became the best-selling PS2 game of all time (up until 2006). Running on a tweaked version of the GTA III engine, Vice City told the story of Tommy Vercetti and his exploits in the titular Vice City. While the game introduced new elements, weapons and vehicles, it was very close to its predecessor in terms of game play. The big change was the setting and mood of the game, swapping out the grey and foggy Liberty City for the sunny and neon-lit 1980's Vice City made for a more upbeat and lighthearted experience. A rise-to-power story largely based on Scarface, Carlito's Way, and Goodfellas with countless references to American 80's pop-culture, all set to a booming soundtrack - made this a series favourite for many fans, yours truly included.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004)
After their rendition of crime in 1986 Florida, Rockstar North brought us an adventure set in the year 1992 in California/Nevada with San Andreas. Based on multiple real-life events in Los Angeles such as the crack epidemic, the Bloods and Crips gang rivalry, and the 1992 LA riots, San Andreas delivered the biggest and craziest GTA experience to date. The Game map was expansive, incorporating 3 whole cities; Los Santos (based on LA), San Fierro (based on San Fransisco), and Las Venturas (based on Las Vegas), as well as big desert and rural areas. The game world wasn't the only thing that was bigger, as there was more of everything from weapons, vehicles, and side-activities, to character & vehicle customizations, and pimping and burglar missions. San Andreas is one of the biggest sandbox playgrounds for wanton destruction gaming has ever seen, and remains one of GTA's most cherished instalments
Grand Theft Auto IV (2008)
The next numbered entry in the series saw GTA debut on the seventh generation of consoles, presenting a reimagined Liberty City. While most of the game play mechanics in GTA IV had become staples of the series by the time it was released, it also introduced new elements. A bit more reserved than the expansive San Andreas, it offered a more condensed GTA experience. We saw a new-generation vision of Liberty City that was brought to life with vast amounts of detail, the physics of the new Euphoria engine, and the bleak and tragic story of protagonist Niko Bellic. Because of it not being as zany and fun-centric as San Andreas and other GTA's, the game is not as big a fan-favorite - but it's a remarkable game in the series nonetheless
Grand Theft Auto V (2013)
Probably one of the most eagerly anticipated games of the last generation (and perhaps of all-time, aside from Half-Life 3) was the fifth numbered entry of GTA. The game saw a return to the sunny west-coast in a reimagining of San Adreas. The game built on all the fun and successful elements of the series up to this point, and introduced a lot of new things as well. The game was a lot more lighthearted and upbeat than GTA IV, introducing three playable protagonists that are all criminally insane to a varying degree. Visually the game is incredibly impressive considering the amount of content, and attention to detail it has crammed into it, despite running on consoles that are on the brink of their life-cycle. GTA V also saw the dawn of GTA Online, which is a beast that will continue to evolve in the coming years. Breaking industry sales records, it currently holds the record for the fastest selling entertainment product in history. Continuing to raise the bar for open-world games, GTA V is a testament to how big and influential the series has become throughout the years.
Grand Theft Auto is just one of those game's that will continue to push the envelope in terms of what open-world games are capable of, and it will inevitably keep stirring up controversy in the wake of each new release. We can't wait to see what the future holds for GTA Online, and we certainly can't wait to see a next-gen iteration of GTA. Grand Theft Auto has not only evolved itself, but has helped shape the whole industry as a whole, and it will hopefully continue to do so in the future. GTA - we love you!