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Time Travel Tuesday: Grand Theft Auto Retrospective

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With Grand Theft Auto V releasing worldwide today there’s never been a better time to take a look back at this incredibly influential franchise which evolved (and continues to evolve) the open-world genre and videogames in general in a number of important ways. The GTA series has now sold in excess of 125 million copies, making it far and away the most profitable franchise aimed at mature gamers.

The original Grand Theft Auto was developed by Scottish studio DMA Design (later Rockstar North) who found success with the Lemmings franchise from 1991. Initially named “Race’n'Chase”, Grand Theft Auto courted a fair amount of controversy when it was released in 1997 due to its focus on criminal activities and brutal acts of violence.

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While GTA and GTA2 adopted an overhead camera perspective, the Grand Theft Auto series truly became mainstream with the release of GTA III in 2001 which employed a third-person perspective and took the franchise in an exciting new direction with greater mission variety and and a more engaging plot. Over the next few years the Grand Theft Auto series was a timed PlayStation 2 exclusive and this contributed immensely to the console’s continued dominance in North America and Europe.

During this period it was an especially exciting time to be a GTA fan as each new instalment introduced game-changing elements such as motorcycles, helicopters, aeroplanes and the ability to swim. The plot of each subsequent game also became more complex, and more and more Hollywood names began to be associated with the franchise.

It’s easy to forget how revolutionary the PS2 GTA games were for their time, but one only has to look at a game like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas with its heady mix of parachutes, jet fighters, rocket packs, mountain bikes and RPG elements to realise that it was way ahead of its time and was doing things on the PS2 which many developers weren’t even brave enough to attempt on the next-generation of hardware.

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Only time will tell if GTA V is the most ambitious entry in the series yet, but while we wait for players’ verdicts to arrive, here’s an overview of the Grand Theft Auto franchise arranged in the order that each game was released:

Grand Theft Auto

- Platform: PC; PSone; GBC
- Release Date: October 1997
- Sales: > 2.32 million
- Developer: DMA Design
- Director: Gary Penn

- Synopsis:

“Experience for yourself every classic car chase ever seen. Race at breakneck speed through an immense, living city out-running and out-witting rival gang members, mercenaries, hired killers and an entire police force. Drive dozens of varied vehicles around three of America’s toughest cities. Only the best will be able to tame the fastest cars. Only the smartest will know all the short-cuts and the whereabouts of the hottest wheels. Only the toughest will be able to take on the world and finish the job like a professional…”

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Grand Theft Auto: London 1969

- Platform: PSone; PC
- Release Date: 30 April 1999
- Sales: > 0.11 million
- Developer: DMA Design
- Director: Greg Bick

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Grand Theft Auto: London 1961

- Platform: PC
- Release Date: 1 June 1999
- Sales: N/A
- Developer: DMA Design
- Director: ?

Grand Theft Auto 2

- Platform: PSone; Dreamcast; PC; GBC
- Release Date: 30 September 1999
- Sales: > 3.42 million
- Developer: DMA Design
- Director: Alex De Rakoff, Jamie King

- Synopsis:

“Grand Theft Auto is back. The cars are faster. The streets are busier. The bad guys are nastier. The police are angrier. And now, the FBI and the Army are getting involved… Seven ruthless gangs are involved in a ruthless power struggle and it is up to you to make a name for yourself.”

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Grand Theft Auto III

- Platform: PS2; Xbox; PC; Mac; PS3; iOS; Android
- Release Date: 22 October 2001
- Sales: > 13.11 million
- Developer: DMA Design
- Director: Navid Khonsari

- Synopsis:

“Crime does pay. The hugely successful, critically acclaimed Grand Theft Auto franchise moves into three dimensions in the dark and seedy underworld of Liberty City.

“With the freedom to go anywhere and jack anyone, Grand Theft Auto 3 puts the dark, intriguing and ruthless world of crime at your fingertips, if you have enough guts to take it.”

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Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

- Platform: PS2; PC; Mac; Xbox; PS3; iOS; Android
- Release Date: 27 October 2002
- Sales: > 16.17 million
- Developer: Rockstar North
- Director: Navid Khonsari

- Synopsis:

“From the decade of big hair, excess and pastel suits comes a story of one man’s rise to the top of the criminal pile. Vice City, a huge urban sprawl ranging from the beach to the swamps and the glitz to the ghetto, was one of the most varied, complete and alive digital cities ever created. Combining open-world gameplay with a character driven narrative, you arrive in a town brimming with delights and degradation and given the opportunity to take it over as you choose.”

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Grand Theft Auto Advance

- Platform: GBA
- Release Date: 25 October 2004
- Sales: > 0.24 million
- Developer: Digital Eclipse
- Writer: James Stanley

- Synopsis:

“Dodge the cops and avenge your friend’s death in this new interpretation of Rockstar’s classic crime caper! Grand Theft Auto offers an entire urban landscape for you to explore; and with a selection of vehicles like sports cars, SWAT vans and even tanks at your disposal, you’ll never grow tired of cruising Liberty City’s mean streets. Take part in hundreds of side missions, driving as a paramedic, fire fighter or taxi driver – or concentrate on the main mission and hunt down the killers who took out your buddy. GTA’s legendary open-ended gameplay puts you in the driving seat!”

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Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

- Platform: PS2; Xbox; PS3; PC; Mac; Xbox 360
- Release Date: 26 October 2004
- Sales: > 23.62 million
- Developer: Rockstar North
- Director: Rod Edge, John Zurhellen

- Synopsis:

“Five years ago Carl Johnson escaped from the pressures of life in Los Santos, San Andreas. Now, it’s the early 90s. Carl’s got to go home.

“On his return to the neighborhood, a couple of corrupt cops frame him for homicide. CJ is forced on a journey that takes him across the entire state of San Andreas, to save his family and to take control of the streets.”

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Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories

- Platform: PSP; PS2; PS3
- Release Date: 24 October 2005
- Sales: > 11.05 million
- Developer: Rockstar Leeds; Rockstar North
- Director: Navid Khonsari, John Zurhellen

- Synopsis:

“There are a million stories in Liberty City. This one changes everything. Once a trusted wise guy in the Leone crime family, Toni Cipriani was forced into hiding after killing a made man. Now he’s back and it’s time for things to be put right.”

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Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories

- Platform: PSP; PS2; PS3
- Release Date: 31 October 2006
- Sales: > 5.77 million
- Developer: Rockstar North; Rockstar Leeds
- Director: Rod Edge, John Zurhellen

- Synopsis:

“Vice City, 1984. Opportunity abounds in a city emerging from the swamps, its growth fuelled by the violent power struggle in a lucrative drugs trade. Construction is everywhere as a shining metropolis rises from foundations of crime and betrayal.

“As a soldier, Vic Vance has always protected his dysfunctional family, his country, himself. One bad decision later and that job is about to get much harder. Kicked out onto the streets of a city torn between glamour and gluttony, Vic is faced with a stark choice – build an empire or be crushed.”

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Grand Theft Auto IV

- Platform: PS3; Xbox 360; PC
- Release Date: 29 April 2008
- Sales: > 25 million
- Developer: Rockstar North
- Director: Rod Edge; John Zurhellen

- Synopsis:

“What does the American Dream mean today? For Niko Bellic, fresh off the boat from Europe, it is the hope he can escape his past. For his cousin, Roman, it is the vision that together they can find fortune in Liberty City, gateway to the land of opportunity. As they slip into debt and are dragged into a criminal underworld by a series of shysters, thieves and sociopaths, they discover that the reality is very different from the dream in a city that worships money and status, and is heaven for those who have them and a living nightmare for those who don’t.”

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Grand Theft Auto: The Lost and Damned

- Platform: PS3; Xbox 360; PS3
- Release Date: 17 February 2009
- Sales: N/A
- Developer: Rockstar North
- Director: Rod Edge; John Zurhellen

- Synopsis:

“Johnny is a veteran member of The Lost, a notorious biker gang. Johnny has been creating business opportunities for The Lost in Liberty City, but his first loyalty must be to the patch he wears on his back and to Billy Grey, the club’s President. However, when Billy returns from rehab hell-bent on bloodshed and debauchery, Johnny finds himself in the middle of a vicious turf war with rival gangs for control of a city torn apart by violence and corruption. Can the brotherhood survive?”

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Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

- Platform: DS; PSP; iOS
- Release Date: 17 March 2009
- Sales: > 2.24 million
- Developer: Rockstar Leeds
- Director: Adam Fowler (Technical Director)

- Synopsis:

“Left For Dead in the Worst Place in America.

“Following his father’s murder, Huang Lee has a simple mission: deliver an ancient sword to his Uncle Kenny to ensure his family retains control of the Triad gangs of Liberty City. Huang is a spoiled rich kid who expects everything to run smoothly, but his trip does not go exactly as planned. After being robbed and left to die, he will search for honor, riches and revenge in the most dangerous and morally bankrupt city in the world.”

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Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony

- Platform: PS3; Xbox 360; PC
- Release Date: 29 October 2009
- Sales: N/A
- Developer: Rockstar North
- Director: Rod Edge; John Zurhellen

- Synopsis:

“The Ballad of Gay Tony injects Liberty City with an overdose of guns, glitz, and grime. As Luis Lopez, part-time hoodlum and full-time assistant to legendary nightclub impresario Tony Prince (a.k.a. “Gay Tony”), players will struggle with the competing loyalties of family and friends, and with the uncertainty about who is real and who is fake in a world in which everyone has a price.”

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Grand Theft Auto V

- Platform: PS3; Xbox 360
- Release Date: 17 September 2013
- Sales: N/A
- Developer: Rockstar North
- Director: Rod Edge

- Synopsis:

“Los Santos: a sprawling sun-soaked metropolis full of self-help gurus, starlets and fading celebrities, once the envy of the Western world, now struggling to stay afloat in an era of economic uncertainty and cheap reality TV. Amidst the turmoil, three very different criminals plot their own chances of survival and success: Franklin, a street hustler looking for real opportunities and serious money Michael, a professional ex-con whose retirement is a lot less rosy than he hoped it would be and Trevor, a violent maniac driven by the chance of a cheap high and the next big score. Running out of options, the crew risks everything in a series of daring and dangerous heists that could set them up for life.”

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What are your most memorable moments from the Grand Theft Auto series and which game do you regard as the best entry in this groundbreaking franchise? Let us know in the comments.


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