GTA5 and RDR2 Rockstar Open World Feature Image
Image Source: Rockstar Games via Twinfinite

Every Open World Rockstar Game, Ranked from Worst to Best

Lands of the heinous.

Few names in gaming carry quite the same weight of expectation as Rockstar Games. Having practically invented the modern open-world game back in 2001 with Grand Theft Auto 3, the publisher has barely missed a beat since.

Recommended Videos

Ever pushing the limits of technology and good taste, Rockstar Games has brought to life some of the medium’s most iconic virtual landscapes. As we await the much-anticipated release of GTA 6, here’s our list of every open world Rockstar game, ranked from worst to best.

13. Grand Theft Auto Advance

Grand Theft Auto Advance Promo Shot
Image Source: Rockstar Games via Twinfinite

Before we kick off the list in earnest, you might notice that we’ve excluded Rockstar’s open-world racing series Midnight Club. While they’re quite well-regarded games, they’re just too different to compare to the rest of the games on this list. With that said, let’s dive in!

The tail end of this list is made up of four portable Grand Theft Auto games. While there’s a lot of technical ambition behind each one of them, there are also a lot of compromises. It might have been fun to capture a little bit of the GTA experience on the go back in the day, but with the Switch, Steam Deck, and mobiles able to play full-fledged GTA games nowadays, there’s little reason to revisit these.

A prequel to GTA 3, Grand Theft Auto Advance attempted to port Liberty City onto Nintendo’s humble Game Boy Advance. One of the final games released on the console, there’s a lot to admire in how the game merged the open-world gameplay of the 3D era with the top-down perspective of the first two games in the GTA series.

GTA Advance hasn’t been ported to any other consoles since its release, and given how frustrating it is to play, it’s unlikely it ever will be. The handheld games that remain timelessly replayable are often those that are mechanically the simplest. GTA Advance is attempting to do too much with too little to make it worthwhile tracking down.

12. Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories

Grand Theft Auto Liberty City Stories Promo Shot
Image Source: Rockstar Games via Twinfinite

The first game to bring GTA’s 3D open-world experience to a handheld console, Liberty City Stories was another prequel to Grand Theft Auto 3. Despite being released on more limited hardware, Liberty City Stories in many ways feels more modern than GTA 3.

By the time Liberty City Stories arrived on PSP in 2005, both Vice City and San Andreas were in the rearview mirror. Having learned a thing or two about how to improve the open world experience during that time, this portable entry features a lot of the quality of life features that were missing from Rockstar’s first 3D visit to Liberty City.

Following the early story of Antonio “Toni” Cipriani — one of the main characters of the original GTA 3 — might sound like a worthwhile narrative thread to pull on, but ultimately there’s not much here that’s additive to the crime saga’s overall story.

11. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

Carjacking minigame in Grand Theft Auto Chinatown Wars
Image Source: Rockstar Games

The Nintendo DS may not seem like the natural home for Grand Theft Auto, but Chinatown Wars manages to pull off a solid, albeit marginally shrunken, recreation of GTA 4’s version of Liberty City. While the game takes on the top-down perspective of the first two GTA games, Chinatown Wars has all the open-world features of the PS2 games.

Taking on the role of Triad member Huang Lee as he rises the ranks makes for a unique side story, but the scale and storytelling of Chinatown Wars are limited by the DS hardware. One of the biggest things that set this game apart is the selection of mini-games requiring you to do tasks such as assembling a sniper rifle, and most controversially, dealing drugs to the other peddlers around the city.

As was usual for the DS, many of these mini-games made use of the stylus but were changed to standard controls for the later PSP port. Because of this, we’d argue the DS offers the definitive version of Chinatown Wars, but if you prefer a slightly sharper look to the game’s cel-shaded graphics, opt for the PSP version.

10. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories

Grand Theft Auto Vice City Stories Promo Shot
Image Source: Rockstar Games via Twinfinite

Just as Vice City followed GTA 3 on the PS2, the PSP’s Liberty City Stories was followed by Vice City Stories. Mechanically there isn’t much to set apart the two games, but just as with the PS2 originals, Vice City wins out just on account of the sheer vibes of the sun-drenched, neon-lit 80s setting.

Another prequel, Vice City Stories focuses on the ascendancy of Victor “Vic” Vance. It’s not an essential story by any means, especially considering the character’s unceremonious fate in Vice City. Still, the full PS2-era GTA experience is more or less here in its entirety — shrunken down to handheld form.

Vice City Stories was later ported over to the PlayStation 2 and is a better experience for the extra juice the console offers over the PSP. Ultimately however the Stories games were designed around the joy of being able to get the GTA thrill on the go. If you’re looking for the full experience on home consoles you’re much better sticking with the games in the main trilogy.

9. L.A. Noire

Cole Phelps showing badge in LA Noire
Image Source: Rockstar Games

Before we get into the weeds of Rockstar’s megahits, let’s take a look at a couple of anomalies from the publisher’s history of open-world games. L.A. Noire is a detective game that’s full of innovation but doesn’t quite come together in the same way that Rockstar games are renowned for.

L.A. Noire has you stepping into the shoes of Cole Phelps, a former marine now working his way up the ladder of the L.A. Police Department. Rather than committing crimes, here you’re in charge of solving them. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the good guy though. This version of 1947 Los Angeles is brimming with slimy, loathsome characters on both sides of the law.

The game’s impressive, if not entirely successful, facial capture may be what L.A. Noire is remembered for most, but there’s enough atmosphere and unexpected story beats here to make it still worth playing. A mixed critical reception and studio drama meant that hopes for a potential L.A. Noire franchise were squashed out of the gate.

8. Bully

Playground scene in Bully
Image Source: Rockstar Games

When you’ve made a name for yourself courting controversy with games that have you mowing down pedestrians and rising to the top of your own criminal empire, where can you go next in the quest for bad taste? Bully answers that question in glorious fashion, as you enroll at Bullworth Academy to beat and harass your fellow classmates.

There aren’t many games out there that let you pummel children with your bare knuckles, but Bully dares to tread where other games don’t. If the Harry Potter franchise had you longing for a little less rose-tinted perspective on school life, Bully has your back as you take on the role of playground delinquent Jimmy Hopkins.

Sandwiched between the infamous Hot Coffee fiasco and the release of the luridly violent Manhunt 2, Bully is another instance of Rockstar at its controversial peak. With quests that involve you capturing candid photos of your female classmates, taking a school trip to a freak show, and putting an explosive device inside a training football, Bully doesn’t just toe the line, but merrily skips right over it.

7. Grand Theft Auto 3

Claude with rifle in Grand Theft Auto 3
Image Source: Rockstar Games

If this was a list of the most influential video games of all time, Grand Theft Auto 3 might very well be sitting pretty in the number one spot. Moving the series beyond the confines of its top-down perspective and into a 3D open world changed the entire industry when GTA 3 was released in 2001.

The Grand Theft Auto games that followed it improved and added to the open-world experience, but what might be most remarkable about GTA 3 is how much it got right the first time around. Liberty City is such a dour and oppressive setting, and the pall of fog hanging over the game out of necessity to the PS2’s hardware only enhances the atmosphere.

GTA 3 might come off as being the most generic of the PlayStation 2 trilogy, but that’s selling the game way short. There may be more satisfying Grand Theft Auto experiences out there, but tracking down this original version of the game and playing it on original hardware is an opportunity to step back in time to a turning point in videogame history.

6. Grand Theft Auto 4

Niko Bellic in Grand Theft Auto 4
Image Source: Rockstar Games

It’s fitting that Grand Theft Auto 4 — the first game in the series to be released on then-next-gen consoles, PS3 and Xbox 360 — was a return to the bleak setting of Liberty City that kicked off the PS2 era.

In GTA 4 you play as Eastern European emigre Niko Bellic as he attempts to make a new start in the promised land of America. Drawing more heavily from Scarface than Goodfellas, GTA 4 is probably the most darkly cynical entry in the series. Where GTA 3’s Liberty City felt gloomy, GTA 4’s feels deep-down grubby.

That’s not to say that there isn’t still plenty of levity to keep the game sinking into a complete festival of misery. A phone call from your cousin — “Niko, it’s Roman. Let’s go bowling” — is never far away, usually at the most inopportune moment. 2 episodic DLCs arrived later, both offering perfect little slices of life in Liberty City that are happening just on the periphery of Niko’s life of crime.

5. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

Tommy on a motorbike in Grand Theft Auto Vice City
Image Source: Rockstar Games

While GTA 4 worked off of Scarface’s themes and moral lessons, Vice City cribbed the film’s sublime Miami imagery. After spending time in rainy Liberty City, a trip back to the 80s was just what the franchise needed.

The late Ray Liotta helped imbue the game’s protagonist, Tommy Vercetti, with a dose of cool that wouldn’t have belonged in Liberty City. The oceanfront landscape of Vice City was vibrant and fun. Sure the story was great, but more than anything, this game just made you want to hop in an open-top car, stick on some 80s power pop, and race it into the sunset.

Neither as innovative as GTA 3, nor as refined and expansive as San Andreas, Vice City remains perhaps the most beloved entry in the franchise. Long rumored as the setting for the upcoming GTA 6, a return to Vice City is long overdue.

4. Red Dead Redemption

John Marston holding a rifle in Red Dead Redemption
Image Source: Rockstar Games

Having thoroughly deconstructed the modern American dream, Rockstar turned their gaze to the past with their open-world cowboy-em-up Red Dead Redemption. Westerns had long been home to some of the most epic tales in cinema, and now here was a videogame you could place alongside them.

As you make your way through the dying days of the Wild West, you play as John Marston, a gunslinger out to save his family. After years of thrashing cars and motorbikes around America’s concrete jungles, this title offered the opportunity to make your way across vast, natural environments on horseback.

Retaining Rockstar’s cynical outlook, the RDR franchise allowed for a more contemplative approach to the themes of violence and power that had permeated the GTA franchise. Naturally, the only way to follow this would be with an expansion chock-full of zombies roaming the frontier, and that’s exactly what Rockstar did with the equally terrific Undead Nightmare expansion.

3. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

Character pulling a wheelie in Grand Theft Auto San Andreas
Image Source: Rockstar Games

In many ways, San Andreas is the ultimate Grand Theft Auto game. Overwhelming in both size and scope, the story of CJ from Grove Street remains one of gaming’s truest expressions of open-world freedom.

With a bigger map, more vehicles, and more side missions than any other GTA before it, San Andreas offered near-endless replayability. A story ranking among Rockstar’s best, and a surprisingly deep character customization system made the gang life that CJ contends with more relatable than the previous game’s mob dramas.

Sure, there’s still a fair amount of glitches and bugs, but that’s to be expected with a game this big. If anything it only adds to the fun of these games. Dial in some cheats to grant yourself infinite wealth and weaponry and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a gaming experience that rivals the open-world fun and hilarity that San Andreas offers.

2. Grand Theft Auto 5

Michael De Santa on cell phone in Grand Theft Auto 5
Image Source: Rockstar Games

The game that just refuses to die, Grand Theft Auto 5 — to date, the latest entry in the franchise — came out all the way back in 2013. Widely regarded as one of the biggest entertainment releases of all time, Rockstar has been milking the game — along with the wildly popular GTA Online — ever since.

Returning to the state of San Andreas, GTA 5’s story allowed players to take on three very different protagonists for the first time. A proper crime epic in every sense, this is where Rockstar nailed the more cinematic experience that they had attempted in GTA 4.

While GTA 5’s single-player mode might be a masterpiece, it’s GTA Online that’s cemented the game as a cornerstone of the medium. Turns out people really like being able to create their own character and take it online to race around the city causing mayhem with their friends. Millions of players have done just that, and Rockstar has happily provided them with absolutely heaps of new content in the years since.

1. Red Dead Redemption 2

Arthur Morgan in Red Dead Redemption 2
Image Source: Rockstar Games

Widely hailed as one of the greatest games ever made, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a stone-cold masterpiece. Combining the freedom of San Andreas, the cinematic qualities of GTA 5, and the heart of the original Red Dead Redemption, this is truly the quintessential Rockstar experience.

Arthur Morgan’s story is timeless, destined to live on in the minds of its players for years after. Taking place just before the first RDR, Rockstar gives players more impactful choices to make, with a wider cast of characters than in any other game they’ve made before.

The American frontier is realized in its full beauty too. Whether you’re in a saloon brawl or sitting on your horse watching the sunset, few game worlds can rival RDR2’s immersive power. If you’re only ever going to play one open-world Rockstar game, it simply has to be Red Dead Redemption 2.

That’s it for our list of every open world Rockstar game, ranked from worst to best. Can GTA 6 be the next big evolution in open-world games when it eventually releases? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Twinfinite is supported by our audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more
related content
Read Article The Alters Hands-On Preview – A Pleasant Surprise
Jan Dolski running towards his spaceship in The Alters.
Read Article EA FC 24: Best Teams
EA FC 24 File Size for PC & Consoles
Read Article Assassin’s Creed Shadows Trailer Breakdown: Setting, Gameplay, Characters, & Release Date
Related Content
Read Article The Alters Hands-On Preview – A Pleasant Surprise
Jan Dolski running towards his spaceship in The Alters.
Read Article EA FC 24: Best Teams
EA FC 24 File Size for PC & Consoles
Read Article Assassin’s Creed Shadows Trailer Breakdown: Setting, Gameplay, Characters, & Release Date
James Crosby
James was a freelance writer for Twinfinite, typically covering new releases.