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Published on September 17th, 2013 | by Don Parsons


Question of the Week: The Best Grand Theft Auto Game

Welcome to Critically Sane’s Question of the Week, where we do our best to answer an inquiry posed to us by the community. Have your own question? Tweet it to us @criticallysane or put it in the comments below! 

Save for GTA V, what was the best Grand Theft Auto Game?

Oh how I loved the Grand Theft Auto games on Playstation 2. Raw, random carnage at your fingertips with the freedom to do almost anything: those are the fundamental building blocks for Grand Theft Auto games. The first two games, while they certainly got the series pushing in the right direction and off its feet, are not going to be mentioned except in this paragraph. For simplicities sake, I’m also going to exclude Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars and the other few spin-offs. I personally love Chinatown Wars, and want a sequel, but the console versions are the meat and potatoes of this discussion. Which is ironic, because I had meat and potatoes for dinner.


Grand Theft Auto IV would cross many gamers’ minds as the best GTA game. I thought it was an awkward title for Rockstar because, while it played similar to past GTA games, it was those similarities that hurt the game the most. Shooters were in a “coming of age” era and racing games hadn’t fully transitioned to using the right triggers for controlling acceleration. Driving in GTA IV was awkward. What it laid the foundations for, however, was what has me very interested in Grand Theft Auto 5: the online play. But because of the character disconnect and previously-mentioned issues I had with the game, it’s hard to consider GTA IV “the best”.

The GTA game released before previously, San Andreas, was an odd duck in the series. Instead of taking the mob approach, it hit the “gangsta” side of the streets. What I really liked about this entry in the franchise was the large, open world and the leveling mechanic. Sure, you could run around and level up certain attributes by grinding instead of doing it organically, but it was a fun feature nonetheless. The gang wars were also great, until they took them away for most of the game during mid-game. But the excessive language (even by my standards, which is almost absurd to compare anything to) makes this one take a backseat to…


I have to mention the one title that truly shaped the series and took the leap from “cool, top-down, 2D sandbox” to “awesome, 3D sandbox”. Grand Theft Auto 3 was the one that really kicked this franchise off. There are a lot of reasons I feel this one is inferior to most of the rest of the series, but it should still be recognized for what it started.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, though, is the gem that did everything right. Even if it did rip the plot straight out of Scarface, it did everything so well. The 80’s theme was brilliant, and the music and radio stations made me actually enjoy driving around in Vice City. The talk radio stations were particularly hilarious.The story was engaging, especially since I had not seen Scarface at that point in time, but even a few years later it was still just as good a second time through. It was very much Grand Theft Auto 3.5, but ditched the modern setting and changed locations. But that was all it took to make a stellar and memorable game that will remain one of that generation’s best games, and the best in the series.


Having a lot of things to do while goofing off in GTA is a great thing, but characters and plot are still a keystone in the overall enjoyment of a sandbox game. If I don’t care about the narrative or the characters, why am I going to continue playing the main story? Worse, parts of the map and items are usually locked behind story progress. Vice City makes an example of this, but hopefully Grand Theft Auto 5 will do what the past few GTA games has failed to do: captivate me with storytelling, while letting me screw around whenever I feel like it.

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About the Author

got into podcasting in 2007, and transitioned into writing in late 2008. In late 2011, he went from blogging to writing for a small site called Vagary.tv. Don attended E3 for Vagary.tv in 2012. Now, Don is one-fourth of the foundation of Critically Sane.

  • Chris Scott

    For once, I don’t disagree with you. 🙂

  • Napoleon1066

    I’m going to be in the minority here, but… GTA IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony is the best. You get all the good parts of 4 combined with the craziness of the earlier games in the series.

    • Chris Scott

      Are we talking best piece of GTA content or GTA game in general? I only ask because I’ve heard great things about Gay Tony but it’s a piece of GTA IV DLC right?

      In anycase, is it worth going back and playing it even though GTA V is out and in my 360? I have it on PC but never got around to playing it there.

      • Napoleon1066

        The Ballad of Gay Tony is a full-sized game on its own.

        It’s worth it for the exploding shotgun…

  • Wolf

    I’ve only played the core games (including GTA 1 and 2), so my thoughts on each title:

    I’ve beaten GTA3 4+ times, at like %80, so thats way up there for me in the charts. While the smallest world, it felt like there was little waste. Like having a model city, but using every bit of it. ShoresideV didn’t work as well, but I still liked the whole game. I liked the music the most, (still love RISE FM). and For being a silent protagonist, Claude Speed is still one of my favorites. I know its partly out of nostalgia, but GTA3 is one of my favorites.

    I beat Vice City twice, and while I’ll agree its got one of the best realized worlds, it isn’t my favorite world. Physically it felt cramped in a way that the other games haven’t to me. I think it had the best use of properties mechanically. Some of the best characters, not too many, and all with their own motivations. I’d mark this as my favorite story.

    SA: only beat it once, it was too big for me to invest time and energy to complete a second play through. I love a long and enjoyable experience, but the epic was just too much! Excellent story, but it wasn’t one I was able to invest as much into. All that said, I think it was the culmination of Generation 6, bringing the best of the previous two games to the series.

    4, A lot of awesome game, but felt like a testing ground for mechanics that weren’t realized in the game, so it felt strangely incomplete. I also got tired of the darkness/depressing side of the story. It wore me out. That said, here is the first HD game going against the previous generation which was well into its maturity.

    Leaving GTA5 alone till I finish with it, I’m going to say that GTA3 is my favorite to date. Compact experience that has everything I want, and didn’t ever wear me out. Its the one that I still think about playing again, jsut to enjoy the experiences one more time.

    • Wolf

      I’d almost put in Red Dead in with the GTA games too. and It would be a close second for me.

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