Grand Theft Auto is without a doubt one of the most recognizable video game franchises of all time. It would be hard to find a gamer these days who hasn’t played one of the GTA titles at least once. Grand Theft Auto video games refined the open-world gameplay, allowed players to enjoy an unprecedented sense of freedom and immerse into hundreds of hours of entertainment through rewarding exploration as well as possibilities to create never before seen mayhem on the sandbox city streets.

Like it often is the case with long-running gaming franchises, GTA games in order of their release don’t reflect the actual chronology of the series. That’s why we’ve decided to list all the mainline Grand Theft Auto video games in the series in accordance with the GTA timeline. Our list will focus on the major 3D Universe and HD Universe games instead of their 2D predecessors or mobile GTA spin-offs. If you want to experience the series in proper order on one of the modern platforms, this is the chronology we advise you to follow. 

GTA 3D Universe

GTA: Vice City (1986)

Looking at GTA games in order of their release, GTA: Vice City came after GTA III, but since its set in 1986, Vice City takes place much earlier in the GTA timeline. The setting and the atmosphere of the game were strongly influenced by a classic criminal film Scarface (1983) starring Al Pacino. Even the name of GTA: Vice City’s main protagonist Tommy Vercetti is a homage to Scarface’s main character Tony Montana. Vice City can be described as a fictionalized version of Miami, featuring beaches, palm trees, skyscrapers, and stunningly beautiful sunsets that still look amazing even if the graphics don’t match the modern standards.

Being the first of GTA games in order of their chronology, Grand Theft Auto Vice City starts off the saga by introducing the aforementioned Tommy Vercetti, voiced by an acclaimed Hollywood actor Ray Liotta. Interestingly enough, Tommy was the first fully-voiced protagonist in the series! In the GTA timeline, Tommy Vercetti becomes a major figure in Vice City’s criminal the same year the game is set – 1986. Even though we don’t see Tommy in subsequent games, Vice City characters like Kent Paul, Maccer, Ken Rosenberg, and a few others make a return in GTA: San Andreas.

GTA: San Andreas (1992)

Placing GTA games in order, the second game is Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, a title released in 2005. At the time of its launch, San Andreas was the largest game in the series in terms of map-size, presenting three distinct cities separated by suburban zones, forests, deserts and all of that is just scratching the surface of the full experience. GTA: SA was released after Vice City and that coincides with the GTA timeline, as San Andreas is set in 1992.

The atmosphere of the games was strongly influenced by the 1990s gangster culture, most notably gangster rap. The story follows Carl Johnson a.k.a. CJ who returns to the fictional state of San Andreas to bury his mother and seek out who’s responsible for her death. If we look at GTA games in order, the major innovations GTA: SA introduced to the series include RPG features like developing CJ’s stats or manipulating his physique through exercise and diet. It was also the first game in the series where the main character could swim and dive. Sequels further down the GTA timeline might be more technically advanced but in regards to character development, San Andreas still stands as one of the most elaborate GTA titles.

GTA III (2001)

Grand Theft Auto III started the era of three dimensional GTA games, deviating from the 2D top-down perspective that defined the earlier installments. The silent protagonist Claude Speed and his then-girlfriend Catalina both made a cameo appearance in GTA: San Andreas but observing GTA games in order of chronology, Grand Theft Auto III takes place much later in the GTA timeline. The game is set in the New York-inspired Liberty City during the early 2000s. Compared to previously discussed titles, GTA III has a rather darker aesthetic vibe, with sunlight and greenery being much more scare that in most other Grand Theft Auto video games.

The story of the game starts with the main protagonist Claude Speed getting betrayed and left for dead by his girlfriend Catalina during a bank robbery. After breaking out of jail, Claude sets out on the quest for revenge by making new contacts and completing a series of missions much like in other GTA games.  In order to track down his ex, Cloud takes jobs from some of the most powerful crime families in Liberty City, in turn, inviting the players on a journey throughout three memorable districts, all of which are gradually unlocked through the course of the campaign.

GTA HD Universe

GTA IV (2008)

By the time of GTA IV’s release in 2008, the GTA timeline breaks into two separate fictional universes – the aforementioned 3D Universe and the HD Universe. However, some elements of the setting like city names, radio stations, celebrities, and gameplay-features remain constant throughout both 3D and HD GTA games. In order to pay homage to the legacy of previous titles, Rockstar Games added multiple easter eggs that can be found throughout Liberty City but other than that the launch of Grand Theft Auto IV meant the beginning of a new era for the franchise.

Looking at the GTA timeline, the fourth installment in the series is set in the year 2008 and stars an Eastern European protagonist Niko Bellic. Invited by his cousin Roman, Niko arrives to the United States in search of a better life but soon he finds himself entangled in the criminal affairs of Liberty City. When playing through all GTA games in order, it’s easy to understand why the game was revolutionary for the series. GTA IV introduced such innovations like multiplayer, use of cell phones, an elaborate cover system, and realistic ragdoll physics – the latter of which made each unsuccessful stunt look both painful and hilarious at the same time.

GTA V (2013)

If we observe the GTA timeline, we will see that Grand Theft Auto V is set furthest into the future. Unlike 3D Universe titles, the HD Universe GTA games in order of their release properly follow the chronology of the franchise. The setting of the game brings players back to the state of San Andreas, but this time, it contains only the city of Los Santos. Of course, that doesn’t mean the map is smaller. GTA V Los Santos is the largest city featured in the franchise and it’s also surrounded by vast rural areas.

One of the innovations GTA V presented was the ability to play as three protagonists at once or switch between them during free-roaming in between missions. GTA Online could be considered its very own thing, and if we take GTA games in order and the GTA timeline into account, the multiplayer mode itself is set before, during, and after the events of the main campaign. Even seven years after the initial release of the game, GTA Online retains massive popularity and it doesn’t show any signs of stopping.

Play through the entire GTA franchise cheaper!

Now that you’ve double-checked the chronology of the series, all you have to do is decide your entry point and immerse yourself into the never-sleeping virtual cities of GTA games! Eneba store offers include all of the discussed titles and not just that! You can follow the GTA timeline by playing through all of the GTA games in order or set out on a heist – GTA Online is always waiting for new players! Visit the Cheap Grand Theft Auto (GTA) key codes collection on our webpage to discover great deals for Grand Theft Auto games and DLC expansions!