GTA Games Explained: From GTA Vice City to GTA V Every Major Games from Rockstar In Chronological Order

The GTA franchise has had a stranglehold on the industry over the decades in a way that perhaps no other franchise in the history of games has. From the moment the Houser brothers came on the scene with 2 unabashedly violent and almost exhibitionistic games in Grand Theft Auto 1 and 2, the industry was on the alert.

While the first few games didn’t quite have the shine or quality to stand the test of time, Rockstar Games would prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were here to stay as they made a great statement with GTA III. Since then, Rockstar has gone from strength to strength, releasing an incredibly successful series of games, which rarely faltered in their two-decade run.

The publisher has confirmed that GTA 6 is in development, and while we wait for the next game to come out sometime in the next few years, it’s time to check out each feature in the series and see what makes each one special.

Every Mainline GTA Game Explained

GTA 1 and 2

The first two games in the series, developed by DMA Design (later renamed Rockstar North), did just well enough for Rockstar and their publishers and parent company, Take-Two Interactive, to give the green light for a sequel. The games themselves aren’t quite that polished, and coming back to them now only solidifies how much the franchise has grown beyond its limited scope and scale.

The first game featured six levels spread over 3 major cities: San Andreas, Liberty City, and Vice City. This would be the foundation of the series moving forward and appears to have been the game’s biggest contribution to the franchise. Both games have a very skeletal plot that only serves as a way to advance the game and introduce new levels to the player.

The gameplay here consists of simply running and shooting around the city and occasionally jumping into vehicles and causing all sorts of general chaos in the city. The games were criticized for their reckless abandon in their approach to violence and graphic content in games. While the games themselves weren’t all that great, the media storm they unleashed would give Rockstar all sorts of exposure that allowed them to push the boundaries even further and earn a place in the mainstream.


The game that really set the world on fire and had crowds of players queuing for a copy of the game outside stores, Grand Theft Auto III couldn’t have made a more powerful statement upon arrival. Grand Theft Auto III dropped the perspective from above and had a fairly large 3D open world that hadn’t been seen before. Also new to the franchise was an actual plot that followed our protagonist’s criminal life in Liberty City.

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The game begins with our protagonist, Claude, committing a robbery with his girlfriend, Catalina. As the pair escaped, Claude is shot and betrayed by Catalina, leaving him for dead while the police arrest him. On the way to prison, the transport is attacked by members of the Colombian cartel, allowing Claude and his new friend, 8-Ball, to escape.

After the escape, Claude finds an alliance with the Leone Mafia family as he completes various jobs for them in the city, including beatings, robberies and extortion. In his time as a mob gun, he earns the respect of Don Salvatore Leone, who enlists him in a war against the Triads and the Colombian cartel. Leone’s wife, Maria, eventually convinces Leone of an affair between her and Claude, prompting Leone to send hitmen after the couple.

The pair escape and are threatened by three rival factions: the Mafia, the Yakuza and the Cartel, now led by Catalina, Claude’s former girlfriend. Claude narrowly escapes death and retaliates against Catalina by shooting her and freeing a captive Maria. The game ends with the couple running away while Maria complains about the kidnapping.

GTA Vice City

The next game in the series was not a numbered title, but was in fact a full-fledged sequel to 2001’s GTA III. Vice City was a game set in the 1980s, years before the events of Grand Theft Auto III. This time, the game followed a brand new protagonist, Tommy Vercetti, as he tries to climb the criminal ladder in Vice City, a fictionalized version of Miami.

The gameplay was a significant step up from the 2001 game and featured a number of improvements to movement and traversal that made a big impression on fans. While the battles remained as awkward as ever, fans appreciated the significant improvement in presentation and story quality.

The story begins with our main character, Tommy Vercetti, who has just come out of prison and is sent to Vice City to make a drug deal. Unbeknownst to Tommy, his sole purpose in Vice City is to lay the groundwork for the Forelli family in Vice City and eventually make way for Sonny Forelli, the head of the crime family to take his place. However, the deal goes horribly wrong as both the money and merchandise are stolen.

This leaves Tommy to track down the parties behind the scheme – which leads him to Ricardio Diaz, a local drug lord. Tommy enlists the help of Lance Vance, someone who has also been afflicted by Diaz, and the pair hatch a plan to take out Diaz and take his place as Vice City’s linchpin. The pair are successful, but as Tommy grows in power, Lance grows increasingly hated on Tommy.

Tommy Vercetti eliminates all threats to his empire and in the process becomes the most dangerous man in all of Vice City. Towards the end, he is betrayed by Lance when Sonny enters town to take Tommy’s place. In a Scarface-esque showdown at Tommy’s mansion, our protagonist comes out on top and eliminates Sonny and Lance’s troops.

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Also read: GTA Vice City Cheats and Codes: All GTA Vice City Cheat Codes for PC, PS, Xbox Console

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

Perhaps the most beloved entry in the series, Grand Theft Auto San Andreas featured arguably the most ambitious open world in franchise history—everything else that came blowing out of the water before. The game featured not one, but three cities in the state of San Andreas: Los Santos, Las Venturas, and San Fierro.

The game featured a variety of new mechanics, including a new RPG-style system of stats such as Muscle, Stamina, and Fat. This introduced a slew of new sideline activities such as the gym, fast food restaurants, and even dating. The game is still the best-selling game on the PS2 and it’s easy enough to see why. The game’s ambitious open world, polished mechanics, and ever-hilarious and wacky story made for some of the best moments ever.

The story follows our protagonist, Carl “CJ” Johnson, who returns to his hometown, Los Santos, for his mother’s funeral. He learns that his mother’s death was the result of a gang drive-by when he discovers that his former gang, Grove Street Families, is in complete disarray and directionless. CJ reluctantly comes into contact with a corrupt CRASH officer, Officer Tenpenny (voiced by Samuel L Jackson) as he performs various assignments for him.

Along the way, he discovers the true culprits behind the attack on his mother while discovering that his childhood friends and gangmates, “Big Smoke” and “Ryder” were behind the attack. After an expansive adventure through the 3 cities of all kinds of craziness with the Triads and government agencies, CJ emerges victorious when he takes down Big Smoke, Ryder and Officer Tenpenny.

Also read: GTA San Andreas Cheat Codes 2022: List Of All GTA San Andreas Game Cheats For PC, Xbox & PS


Grand Theft Auto IV is a major outlier in the franchise and a major difference from the rest of the series. To this day, Grand Theft Auto IV is by far the darkest installment in the series, and its rich, deep undertones of commentary and satire continue to impress fans. The game came out in 2008 and is still the highest-rated game in the series.

The game was not without detractors as many still criticize the game for its sluggish pace and lack of mission variety. GTA IV may not have been the most “exciting” game in the series, given its dark storyline – it is still held in high esteem by the player for its dedication to storytelling.

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The game begins with Eastern European immigrant Niko Belic arriving on the coast of Liberty City to reunite with his cousin and help him in his “thriving” business. Later, he is confronted with the truth that his nephew’s business is going bankrupt and Niko will have to dip his toes back into a life of crime he had long abandoned.

His struggle to survive in Liberty City leads him to work for the Russian mafia in LC and somehow find a way to keep himself and his brother alive. The game quickly takes a dark turn when it is revealed that Niko has arrived in LC with the sole purpose of exacting revenge as he hunts down his former commander from his time in the military. In this cold-blooded revenge story, Niko takes on some of the most powerful people in LC as he tries to keep things together.

Also read: GTA 4 Cheats: Complete List of All GTA IV Game Cheat Codes for PC, Xbox and PlayStation


The final installment in the series was in many ways the magnum opus that Rockstar had been working towards with previous titles. The game featured not one, but three main protagonists – Michael, Trevor, and Franklin. All three characters had unique personalities, and each game brought a whole new perspective to the story.

Players could freely switch between the 3 characters, which made for a refreshing change of pace. The game is built on the latest version of the RAGE engine, which produced one of the best looking games of its generation. The polished cover system and gunplay have made GTA V one of the best games of all time, which is reflected in its position as one of the best-selling games of all time.

The story initially followed Michael De Santa, formerly known as Michael Townley, who faked his death during a bank robbery to escape the clutches of the law by making a deal with an FIB agent. Several years later, a retired Michael is attacked by Franklin, who attempts to “take back” a vehicle from Michael’s house. Michael then accompanies Franklin as he teaches him the methods of robbery and the two become a formidable pair.

The news that Michael is committing robberies reaches Trevor, a raging drug lord, who reconnects with Michael in LS. The trio then commit several heists in Los Santos in an attempt to stay alive and get rich while doing so. The trio is hunted by various crime groups, including a mercenary group and government agencies.

Also read: GTA 5 Cheats & Codes: Complete List of All GTA V Cheat Codes for PC, PS and Xbox, Enter

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