The Grand Theft Auto series started as an experiment on creating a life-like city and letting players loose to explore and have fun (with the original concept title Race ‘N Chase). Creator Dave Jones soon realized that when given that amount of freedom, people had fun in the most reckless and law-breaking ways possible: Stealing cars, setting people on fire, waiting for the ambulance to come and then stealing the ambulance became the hallmark moments for the first two top-down games in the series. Many core gameplay mechanics stayed with the series as it made the famous transition to open-world 3D, and Grand Theft Auto III can be attributed to jump starting that entire genre while selling millions of copies, being revered by gamers and reviled by politicians. With Grand Theft Auto V’s imminent release we take a look back at our favorite moments in the series.
Top Ten Grand Theft Auto Moments
10) The First Time You Used a Hooker….and Got Your Money Back (Grand Theft Auto 3)
A classic Grand Theft Auto moment if there ever was one. As early as Grand Theft Auto III women in the oldest profession were more than willing to sell you their services, for a price. But GTA was all about the freedom to have fun your way, and it didn’t take long for people to realize they could immediately murder their escort and drive off with even more money than they had spent. They were like walking ATM machines, how could we refuse?
9) Vice City’s Ending – Keep Your Friends Close…. (Grand Theft Auto: Vice City)
“I think this could be the beginning of a beautiful business relationship. After all, you’re a conniving backstabbing two-bit thief, and I’m a psychotic killer and drug dealer.”
The final mission in Vice City has right hand man Lance Vance betraying Tommy Vercetti to the mafia, and Tommy is forced to defend his own mansion and kill his former friend and business partner. Unlike Scarface Tommy never dips into his own product, successfully defends his home, and reigns as drug lord supreme in Vice City. Plus after you beat the game (and collect all 100 Hidden Packages) you get access to your very own attack helicopter, letting you rule the city from the skies with impunity.
8) Meeting Catalina and Claude (Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas)
Although GTA3 was the oldest in the PS2 generation of the series, the two sequels all took place earlier chronologically – Vice City in the 80′s and San Andreas in the early 90s. It was a huge treat for fans of the series to meet up with Catalina and Claude in a special mission in San Andreas. Fans finally learned Claude’s name, saw Catalina before she betrayed him, and generally got further justification of what a horrible person she is. Due to Catalina’s motor mouth Claude doesn’t even utter a word, true to the fact that he was a completely silent protagonist in GTA3.
7) Playing Multiplayer for the First Time (Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas)
Before Grand Theft Auto 4 and Red Dead Redemption, full multiplayer in the open world of the GTA universe was merely a twinkle in every gamer’s eye. San Andreas managed to tease us with select floating icons throughout the world where a second player could join in and cause mayhem, provided they stayed on the same screen and didn’t stray too far from where you started. It was very limited but absolutely amazing to be able to explore even a small slice of the world with a friend. Soon we will have Grand Theft Auto Online, an absolute dream come true for those of us that played two player San Andreas into the wee hours of the morning in our college dorm rooms.
6) The Final Decision (Grand Theft Auto 4)
As freeform as the gameplay in the Grand Theft Auto series is, the missions themselves are usually quite linear. It wasn’t until the end of Grand Theft Auto 4 that we were presented with our first real choice, and it was a doozy – comprise what amount of integrity Niko had left and take the money and run, or seek his revenge. As the GTA universe is anything but a cheerful place, both decisions result in the loss of a close loved one, spurring Niko into two completely different but action-packed final missions.
5) Stealing and Driving a NOOSE Tank (Grand Theft Auto 4: The Ballad of Gay Tony)
While The Ballad of Gay Tony introduced an unlikable protagonist (even for GTA’s standards) and a lackluster storyline, it did give us another hilariously memorable character in Arab playboy Yusef Amir and his endless desire to steal bigger and crazier things: A helicopter, an APC, even a subway train – while it’s still moving! While the subway train mission gets all the love, I found stealing and subsequently driving the infamous NOOSE armored car to be the most fun mission in the DLC. After dislodging the cable wires from the aircrane via a sniper rifle, you parachute out of your own chopper, land next to the tank, and proceed to leave a path of death and destruction in your wake. Sure you have to shake that four star wanted level, but what do you care, you’re in a tank!
4) Stories Intertwine in the Museum Diamond Exchange (Grand Theft Auto 4/The Lost and Damned/The Ballad of Gay Tony)
The neatest component of the two DLC adventures for Grand Theft Auto 4 – The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony – was the way the storylines perfectly intertwined with the original story and with each other. Characters and missions could be seen from different perspectives, and none more pronounced than the Diamond Heist missions that proved as a central conflict for all three of our anti-heroes. Both Johnny from The Lost and Luis, right hand man of Gay Tony are directly involved in the diamonds and all three parties are present during the action-packed exchange at the museum. It’s amazing to witness the stories weave in and out of each other, and a lot of fun to see one particular mission play out in three different perspectives. With the new mechanic of controlling three protagonists in Grand Theft Auto V, this is a concept Rockstar certainly enjoyed as well.
3) GTA Does Speed with Drunken Rockstars (Grand Theft Auto: Vice City)
“Normally I wouldn’t busy myself with driving around a bunch of drunken Scottish bisexuals, but in your case I’ll make an exception.”
Anyone that played Vice City should instantly recall the funniest mission in the entire game. Eighties hair metal band Love Fist has a Speed-style bomb strapped to their car, and it’s up to Tommy to maintain enough speed while the drunken idiots attempt to diffuse it. The classic action sequence plays well in the GTA series, but the added benefit of the hilarious drug addled Scots constantly talking and squabbling during the whole mission makes Publicity Tour one of the most memorable and delightful moments in the entire series.
2) Three Leaf Clover (Grand Theft Auto 4)
Also known as “that Heat heist mission,” Three Leaf Clover is on everyone’s list of great things to come out of the Grand Theft Auto series. Playing out like a multi-layered heist mission, you and new friends Packy and company rob a large bank in broad daylight with automatic weapons, soon drawing the ire of every cop in the city. Things don’t quite go according to plan and you’re left with one of the most difficult missions in the entire series as you race along city streets and even through subway tunnels in an attempt to escape the police. Thanks to a total lack of checkpoints Three Leaf Clover comes across as one of the most tense and drawn out action sequences in the game, but also the best.
1) Shooting Maria (Grand Theft Auto 3)
The final mission in Grand Theft Auto 3 is not all that compelling, culminating in Claude killing every member of the Colombian Cartel until finally getting his revenge on Catalina by blowing up her helicopter as she attempts to escape. The moment in question soon follows as our anti-hero rescues his new woman Maria, who happens to be a little too chatty and annoying for our silent psychopath. As the screen fades to black she continues to jabber on until a shot rings out and cuts her off. Roll credits. Still the funniest, most memorable moment in the entire series.
The Grand Theft Auto series has been one of my favorite gaming franchises since I first played the original top down games in the 90s. The jump to a crazy new open world genre in the third entry was unprecedented and paid off in a way that no one could have anticipated, and now it’s one of the best selling video game franchises and still one of the most controversial. Grand Theft Auto V is poised to be the best game in the series, and will undoubtedly create all new memorable experiences.