The Evolution of Grand Theft Auto

April 2, 2013 | By | 4 Comments

As we near Grand Theft Auto V’s launch, anticipation is starting to hit a fever pitch. How many other games do you know that can cause crowds to gather as the official box art is painted on the side of a building?

It’s still several months away, but we’ve decided to take a look back at how far the game has come over the last 15 years. It’s grown exponentially in popularity, thanks in no small part to its graphical evolution and increasingly innovative gameplay.

Jack your favorite car* so we can get this trip down memory lane started.

*Please don’t actually hijack anyone’s car.

Grand Theft Auto (1997)


Credit to Moby Games for somehow being the only place for interesting screens of the original GTA.

This is the one that started it all, and it certainly shows. Released for MS-DOS (!) and the original PlayStation, Grand Theft Auto ending up being a cult hit. The series’ trademark humor and penchant for wanton mayhem were present even here, and its distinct top-down perspective made for a game experience unlike any other. It even took place in three different cities — Liberty City, Vice City, and San Andreas (which would expand to a full state later on).

This style of play isn’t totally absent today; the recent Retro City Rampage plays pretty much the same way with an 8-bit coat of paint, and Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars on the Nintendo DS is one of the series’ finest.

Grand Theft Auto 2 (1999)


Released on the PlayStation, Dreamcast, and Windows, Grand Theft Auto 2 didn’t do much differently than its predecessor. Its tried-and-true gameplay was intact, and that was good enough for most.

The only real differences are that players spent much of their time appealing to different crime organizations, and that it took place in a nameless city sometime in the future. As it stands, Grand Theft Auto 2 is the only game in the series without an iconic city attached to it.

Grand Theft Auto III (2001)


Here’s something you probably haven’t heard before: Grand Theft Auto III turned the entire industry on its head, and is arguably the most influential game of all time.

Grand Theft Auto III was the first great open-world sandbox, bringing the crime-laden gameplay the series was known for into a 3D perspective for the very first time. Despite its nameless and voiceless protagonist, GTA III was bursting with character, thanks in no small part to its licensed soundtrack and radio hosts. And who can forget spending way too much time trying to fly the Dodo from one end of Liberty City to the other?

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