It’s hard to talk about modern video games without mentioning the influence of Grand Theft Auto. Rockstar’s iconic crime franchise has grown from a controversial PlayStation 1 classic to a universally recognised cultural behemoth, with its most recent entry, Grand Theft Auto 5, becoming the third best-selling game of all time.
However, the series didn’t grow into a landmark success overnight. Rockstar has been slowly building its iconic crime series for over two decades, creating hyper-immersive open worlds that players explore for years after their release. With over sixteen Grand Theft Auto games dropping since the franchise began in 1997, new players are probably wondering where to start. To help you get stuck in, we’ve listed every GTA game in chronological order so you can plot the best route through the timeline of this crime-riddled world.
- How to play in chronological order
- How to play by release order
The Grand Theft Auto Games in Chronological Order
There are a total of 16 games in the Grand Theft Auto series – eleven on home consoles, one on PC and four on handheld devices.
Before we dive into the list, it’s first worth noting an important detail about the overall continuity of Grand Theft Auto. As confirmed by Rockstar back in 2011, the GTA series is split into three unique timelines: the 2D timeline, the 3D timeline and the HD timeline. Although events in these timelines might be similar or even identical, Rockstar doesn’t consider all of them canon to each other. As such, we’ll separate the games into their respective universes.
The Grand Theft Auto 2D Timeline
Below, we’ll list the Grand Theft Auto games from the 2D universe. These blurbs contain mild spoilers for each game, including characters, settings, and story beats.
1. Grand Theft Auto: London 1961
The second expansion released for the original Grand Theft Auto, Grand Theft Auto: London 1961 is one of only two GTA releases to not hit a PlayStation console, with the DLC only available to PC players.
The mission pack acts as a prequel to Grand Theft Auto’s first expansion, Grand Theft Auto: London 1969. It follows a nameless criminal rising through the ranks of the London crime families by completing jobs for a mobster called Harold Cartwright.
2. Grand Theft Auto: London 1969
The first expansion for the original Grand Theft Auto, Grand Theft Auto: London 1969 marked the series’ first visit to London.
The tale follows a nameless British criminal who fights against various crime syndicates while building their legend on the city’s streets. These include Harold Cartwright’s gang, which the player joins forces with in Grand Theft Auto: London 1961, as well as a pair of sinister crime lords known as the Crisp Twins.
3. Grand Theft Auto
The first entry in the mainline series, Grand Theft Auto follows the adventures of a nameless protagonist as they make their mark on the criminal underworlds of three locations: Liberty City, San Andreas and Vice City.
Set in 1997, the criminal’s adventures see them complete bank heists, assassinations and getaways, building their reputation while aiding various sinister gangs. Along the way, they meet a host of high-ranking criminals, including Robert Seragliano, El Burro and Uncle Fu.
4. Grand Theft Auto 2
The second mainline entry in the series, Grand Theft Auto 2 is arguably the biggest departure for the series to date. Shifting away from the setting of the first GTA, it takes players to a nigh-on futuristic metropolis known as Anywhere City, which bears no striking resemblance to any other location in the series.
The adventure follows a criminal named Claude Speed, who works with various crime syndicates around Anywhere City to make money and earn respect. The game’s position on the timeline is tricky, mainly as in-game references allude to it taking place in both 1999 and 2013. Regardless, it’s the final game in the 2D timeline.
The Grand Theft Auto 3D Timeline
Below, we’ll list the Grand Theft Auto games from the 3D universe. These blurbs contain mild spoilers for each game, including characters, settings, and story beats.
1. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories
A prequel to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, the PSP’s Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories takes place in 1984 and follows US military soldier Victor Vance who, after being framed by his sergeant, is dishonorably discharged.
Fresh out of a job, he decides to enter Vice City’s underworld, quickly becoming the head of a crime family with the help of his brother, Lance. The pair embark on an adventure to disrupt Vice City’s crime scene, meeting and recruiting a variety of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City’s supporting characters along the way. By the time the game wraps up, Vic’s story catches up with the beginning of Vice City.
2. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
The fourth mainline iteration of the series, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City takes place in 1986; two years after Vice City Stories. It follows Tommy Verceti, a notorious gangster from Liberty City who is sent to Vice City to oversee the expansion of his boss’ drug trade after being released from jail.
Tommy lands in hot water after a supposedly simple drug deal goes horribly wrong. Losing the drugs and money exchanged in the deal, Tommy is given one last chance to make things right.
To redeem himself, he dives into the seedy underbelly of Vice City, allying with Lance Vance to take on its various crime families and find the drugs and money stolen from him. As he becomes a bigger name around Vice City, he slowly creates a growing criminal empire, which doesn’t go unnoticed by his former employers.
3. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
The fifth mainline iteration of the series, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas tells the story of Carl ‘CJ’ Johnson and the Grove Street Families.
Set in 1992, San Andreas follows CJ as he returns to Los Santos after his mother is killed in a drive-by meant to assassinate his brother. Reuniting with his friends, family and local gang, The Grove Street Families, it doesn’t take long for CJ to get stuck back into the criminal underworld, vowing to get revenge on the gang that murdered his mother.
While CJ attempts to rebuild the Grove Street gang’s former glory, it becomes clear that something shady is happening behind the scenes. Pursued by a crooked cop named Officer Tenpenny, CJ deals with betrayal, corrupt law enforcement and the various factions vying for control of Los Santos and the neighboring cities of San Fierro and Las Venturas.
4. Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories
Set in 1998, Liberty City Stories acts as a prequel to Grand Theft Auto 3 and follows a gangster working for Salvatore Leone named Toni Cipriani. Returning to Liberty City after fleeing to Italy to escape the repercussions of assassinating a member of the mafia, Toni gets stuck back in working for his former boss.
Along the way, he meets several high-level mafia contacts and climbs through the ranks of Sal’s gang, murdering rival crime lords and assisting Leone’s attempts to gain political sway with the mayor. The story concludes with Salvatore Leone’s family standing as one the most powerful crime syndicates in Liberty City, setting up the events of Grand Theft Auto 3.
5. Grand Theft Auto Advance
Taking place in 2000, Grand Theft Auto Advance was a Grand Theft Auto 3 prequel released on the Gameboy Advance. It follows a criminal named Mike as he attempts to get revenge for the death of his partner, Vinnie.
Deciding to leave Liberty City and find new opportunities elsewhere, the story begins with Mike and Vinnie completing jobs for the mafia in an attempt to tie up loose ends and fund their escape. However, the plan falls apart when Vinnie is killed with a car bomb, driving Mike to find and kill his murderers. In pursuit of vengeance, Mike teams with various Grand Theft Auto 3 characters, including 8-Ball and Asuka Kasen.
6. Grand Theft Auto 3
The final entry in the timeline but the first game of the 3D era by release date, Grand Theft Auto 3 takes place in 2001 and follows a new Claude, a bank robber that’s shot and left for dead by his girlfriend, Catalina, during a heist.
Claude survives but is arrested and sentenced to life in jail. However, while en route to prison, Claude manages to escape after the Columbian Cartel raided his convoy in search of another prisoner. Fleeing the scene, Claude is soon inducted into the criminal underworld of Liberty City, working with the mafia, the yakuza and various other syndicates.
Although he rises to become one of the city’s most notorious gangsters, Claude’s goal quickly becomes one of vengeance, as his path eventually crosses with Catalina, setting up an inevitable confrontation between the former couple.
The Grand Theft Auto HD Timeline
Below, we’ll list the Grand Theft Auto games from the HD universe. These blurbs contain mild spoilers for each game, including characters, settings, and story beats.
1. Grand Theft Auto 4
The first game of the HD era, Grand Theft Auto 4 takes place in 2008 and follows an Eastern European ex-soldier named Niko Bellic as he makes his way to Liberty City. Coming to America to reunite with his cousin, Roman Bellic, who has allegedly found fortune after moving to Liberty City, Niko is shocked to find Roman is actually broke, living in a cockroach-infested apartment and running a failing business.
It doesn’t take long for Niko to find work and amass cash through less-than-legal means, meeting and befriending an arms dealer named Little Jacob and working off Roman’s debts with a Russian loan shark named Vlad Glebov. However, after discovering that Vlad has been sleeping with Roman’s girlfriend, Niko kills him, sparking a chain of events which puts him and Roman in the sights of the Russian mafia.
To survive, Niko allies with the crime families of Liberty City, where he becomes tangled in their politics and becomes one of the city’s most feared criminals. All the while, Niko has an ulterior motive, wanting to track down and murder a former comrade from his days in the military that double-crossed him and his squad.
2. Grand Theft Auto: The Lost and The Damned
Set during the events of Grand Theft Auto 4, The Lost and the Damned was GTA 4’s first expansion. It follows Johnny Klebitz, the Vice President of a revered motorcycle gang called The Lost MC.
Released from a long stint in rehab, the story opens with The Lost MC’s President, Billy Grey, returning to the gang and reassuming his position as its leader. During his time away, Johnny led The Lost MC, forming a truce with the gang’s main rivals, The Angels of Death. Once reinstated, Billy and Johnny begin to clash after Billy orders The Lost to break the truce with the Angels of Death, starting a ruthless gang war.
As the two gangs battle it out, Billy begins to lead The Lost down a self-destructive path, guiding his brothers into increasingly dangerous situations. With civil war brewing in the group, Johnny is forced to consider where his loyalty lies.
3. Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony
The second of GTA 4’s expansions, The Ballad of Gay Tony also takes place alongside the core Grand Theft Auto campaign. The story follows bodyguard Luis Lopez as he tries to save the life of his boss and legendary nightclub owner, Tony Prince.
Although Tony is a fixture of Liberty City’s nightlife scene, his businesses are failing. To make matters worse, he’s also in debt to the Ancelotti crime family, who are ready to collect what they’re owed. Swearing to help his boss, Luis tries to square Tony’s debts, helping out his various criminal acquaintances.
It all crescendos with a risky plan from Tony, who decides to acquire millions of dollars worth of smuggled diamonds and exchange them in a deal. However, the plan falls apart, leading Luis on a wild goose chase around Liberty City in an attempt to retrieve the diamonds and keep Tony’s debts from catching up with him.
4. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
Taking place in 2009, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars tells the story of Huang Lee, the son of a murdered Triad leader who is tasked with flying to Liberty City to deliver an ancient sword to his uncle.
After arriving in Liberty City, Huang is ambushed, with his attackers stealing the sword and shooting Huang. Believing him dead, they dump his body, allowing Huang to escape alive. Reuniting with his uncle, Huang embarks on an adventure to track down the sword and deliver it back to the Triads. Along the way, he works with various gangs and the FIB, learning that the sword’s theft may have been an inside job.
5. Grand Theft Auto Online
Although it’s difficult to judge where exactly it falls on the timeline, Grand Theft Auto Online begins shortly before Grand Theft Auto 5 and has, over the course of ten years of updates, shifted to a period of time long after the game’s main campaign.
The core story follows a player-created criminal that heads to Los Santos to find fortune, reputation and fame, creating factions, buying property and taking part in criminal ventures. The story has evolved over the years, with one of the latest updates revisiting the character of Franklin years after the events of Grand Theft Auto V, as he tasks the player with helping him in his business ventures.
6. Grand Theft Auto 5
Set in 2013, Grand Theft Auto 5 follows the story of three criminals: Franklin, Michael and Trevor. After staging his death during a bank robbery in the small town of North Yankton, Michael Townley enters a witness protection programme, moving to the sunny city of Los Santos to live a life of luxury in a giant mansion with his family.
However, he’s lured out of retirement when he meets Franklin Clinton, an ambitious small-time criminal sent to repossess Michael’s son’s car. Forming a friendship, Michael begins to mentor Franklin, eventually leading the pair to rob a jewelry store to pay off a local crime lord. However, the act doesn’t go unnoticed.
On the outskirts of Los Santos, Michael’s former friend and criminal associate, Trevor Phillips, watches a clip of the heist on the news. Realizing that his seemingly dead partner is still alive in Los Santos, Trevor heads to the city, joining Michael and Franklin to stage various elaborate heists. However, Trevor’s animosity towards Michael’s betrayal begins to drive a wedge between the group, as tensions rise and the truth behind the pair’s past comes to light.
How to Play the Grand Theft Auto games by Release Date
- Grand Theft Auto (1997)
- Grand Theft Auto: London 1969 (1999)
- Grand Theft Auto: London 1961 (1999)
- Grand Theft Auto 2 (1999)
- Grand Theft Auto 3 (2000)
- Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002)
- Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004)
- Grand Theft Auto Advance (2004)
- Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories (2005)
- Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories (2006)
- Grand Theft Auto 4 (2008)
- Grand Theft Auto: The Lost and The Damned (2009)
- Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (2009)
- Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony (2009)
- Grand Theft Auto 5 (2013)
- Grand Theft Auto Online (2013)
What’s Next for Grand Theft Auto?
Rockstar has officially confirmed that it is developing GTA 6. Little else has officially been confirmed by the developer, although a significant leak last year showed early gameplay from the title and appeared to reveal that the game will be set in Vice City.
It seemingly also confirmed that the game will follow two protagonists named Lucia and Jason. However, this information is still yet to be confirmed and is gleaned from an early build of the game, meaning any details could be subject to change. Grand Theft Auto’s next entry currently has no release date.