A brief history of GTA

8 min read

GTA Characters

It’s hard to believe, but Grand Theft Auto is a teenager now. What was once a bouncing little top-down sandbox game on our Pentium II knee has become a full-fledged adult that is more than willing to reenact Gouranga on our asses when it gets the keys to the car. Here’s a brief history lesson on that trouble-making franchise.

Grand Theft Auto – 1997


Development began back in 1995 for the original game, which was originally going to be released as Race ‘n Chase before Dan Houser mercifully put that title out of its misery. With a top down view, the first game in the series established the more traditional aspects of the game. Freedom, violence and consequences.

Looking to make their game stand out more, 2K hired publicist Max Clifford to help stir up some controversy. And it was a genius marketing move. Politicians felt a disturbance in the force that they could use to propel their careers with, and concerned mothers repeatedly asked for people to think about the children.

Thanks to the massive heat that this stunt generated, GTA sold ridiculously well, cementing it’s success into the genetic memory of gamers for years to come. As of December 2012, the original game has sold over 125 million copies.

Grand Theft Auto:1969 – 1999

GTA 1969

Back in my day, DLC was known as expansion packs! Following almost two years later, players got a chance to visit the swinging sixties of London. 30 new vehicles and 32 new missions made up the bulk of this expansion, which was later ported over to other consoles as well.

Grand Theft Auto:1961 – 1999

GTA 1961

Not too much had changed with the second expansion pack for GTA. Players went back even further into time, but only PC gamers got a chance to experience this extra slice of  sandbox as going back to 1961 was a strictly freeware experience back then.

Grand Theft Auto 2 – 1999


After two expansions, it was time to take the game into sequel territory. GTA 2 may not have completely rewritten the book when it came down to it, but the improved visuals, sounds and structure made it a welcome sight back in 1999.

Multiple gangs, a reputation system that had you switching allegiances more frequently than a WWE wrestler and some guilty pleasure murder-simulating rampages were just some of the more charming aspects of this sequel, before the franchise ditched 2D for 3D when a new generation of consoles arrived.

Grand Theft Auto 3 – 2001


It’s 2001, and GTA 3 hit people with the full force of a bean and cheese burrito attacking a toilet the day after. Sandbox games were in their infancy back then, with titles such as Urban Chaos and Omikron: The Nomad Soul attempting to create a larger environment within which to explore and fight.

But GTA 3 nailed the formula perfectly to make sandbox games a genre worth exploring and investing in. Going from 2D to 3D, this was an entry in the franchise that had a story worth pursuing. A new graphical engine made the game popped, professional voice actors helped carry the story and there was always something new to discover.

GTA 3 may not have been the first of its kind, but it did raise the bar to a ludicrous height as sandbox games reached a new level of immersion.

Grand Theft Auto Vice City – 2002


With GTA 3 a runaway success, Rockstar could do whatever they wanted with the franchise and still make a mint. Fortunately, they decided to keep the fun factor intact as they took players on another time warp, taking a jump to the left to the 1980s.

With Ray Liotta voicing the protagonist of Vice City, Tommy Vercetti, players had a better connection to their onscreen avatar as they paid homage to several classic films, wore pastel suits, bought property and indulged in a world that expanded upon and refined the GTA experience.

Grand Theft Auto San Andreas – 2004


Jumping back in time once again, Rockstar ditched Miami for the streets of San Andreas, a very thinly veiled version of Los Angeles. Bigger, better and bolder than ever, San Andreas had players in charge of their character in this outing.

Players had to eat, chill and work out in order to stay alive, a gameplay idea that reflected on lead character Carl Johnson. Depending on how you looked after your lethal tamagotchi, Johnson could be a maniac with muscles or a fatass with a short temper, as San Andreas raised the bar yet again for the franchise.

And then it was lowered slightly when Hot Coffee escaped into the wild.

Grand Theft Auto Advance – 2004


With PC and home consoles now a base for several games, Rockstar decided to try their hand at making a portable GTA experience. The Gameboy Advance was the console chosen, and the end result was…not exactly groundbreaking stuff.

Developer Digital Eclipse had their work cut out for them when trying to create a GTA experience on handheld, but the limitations of the GBA hardware were more than evident. Players looking for the definitive GTA experience had to wait a little bit longer for that game to arrive

Grand Theft Auto Liberty City Stories – 2005


And the wait was worth it. Liberty City Stories brought the full GTA experience to the Playstation Portable, as gamers got to walk through Liberty City once again, this time in the shoes of Italian mobster Tony Cipriani.

It was like playing the original game all over again, only this time in your hands as the trademark violence and 3D style of the franchise made a helluva splash on the PSP, before being ported over to the Playstation 2.

Grand Theft Auto Vice City Stories – 2006

gta_vice_city arsofts786

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Vice City got the handheld treatment next, and much like it’s neon-coloured predecessor did, it was another smash hit for Rockstar. A tweak here and there, a new lead character with Vince Vance taking over Vice City and players were once again living high in the city of Miami Vice.

Grand Theft Auto 4 – 2008

GTA (1)

After seven years, it was time for the franchise to take another leap forward. GTA 4 went serious this time, as Niko Bellic, a Bulgarian immigrant that




Dammit, where was I? Oh yes, GTA 4. While the sombre tone was adored by all, there was no doubting the ambitious nature of the game. Massive, gorgeous and filled with even more hidden games, missions and easter eggs than before, GTA 4 was a game that truly got the most bang out of its buck.

And at a reported budget of around $100 million, there was more than enough banging to go around. Not that kind of banging you perves.

Grand Theft Auto The Lost and the damned – 2009

GTA (2)

Deciding to experiment with episodic gameplay, Rockstar only released two such episodes of Liberty City GTA. The Lost and the damned was the first such game, an expansion that had players running around Liberty City as Johnny Klebitz, a badass biker with a shady past.

It had a few nice gameplay touches, and the biker influence extended into the gameplay itself, but a few flaws in the brotherly biker AI and other areas made this latest entry in the GTA franchise a flawed gem.

Grand Theft Auto The Ballad of Gay Tony –2009

GTA (3)

Continuing the episodic style of GTA content, the next game coming out of the GTA 4 stable would return a certain air of lunacy, craziness and all around insanity to the series. Colourful and charming, players took on missions for night club owner Gay Tony as his business partner Luis Lopez.

Rated higher than the Lost and the damned, Ballad of Gay Tony added all new activities to the game, with a storyline that allowed players to focus on having more fun for a change instead of ending on a sad note.

Grand Theft Auto Chinatown Wars – 2009

GTA (4)

The final game of the GTA 4 era, Chinatown Wars was originally a Nintendo DS exclusive, before it was eventually ported over to PSP and iOS. One of the defining games on that dual screen system, Chinatown Wars returned players to a top-down isometric perspective that also featured a rotating camera and some charming cell-shaded visuals.

Huang Lee was the man of this game, finding himself emroiled in a plot that had tangled up everyone from his family though to various Chinese Triads. Much like any other GTA game worth its salt, Chinatown Wars attracted some controversy from its drug-dealing activities, but not before it went on to earn numerous awards.

Last Updated: September 16, 2013

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