Every Open World Rockstar Game, Ranked from Worst to Best
Rockstar has recently released Red Dead Redemption 2, their first new game of this console generation, and it’s phenomenal. How does it rank amongst their other open world efforts, though? Well, we’ve ranked them all to see.
12. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories
Acting as a prequel to Vice City, Vice City Stories originally released on PSP, before coming to PS2. While it’s at the bottom of this list, it’s still a top quality open world experience. Victor “Vic” Vance is a corporal in the US Army, stationed in the game’s fictional recreation of Miami, and he becomes mixed up in the drug dealing exploits of his Sergeant. Load times were and issue on PSP, on the console version was criticised for not improving on the handheld version, but Vice City Stories was still a solid spin-off for the GTA series.
11. Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories
Another PSP spin-off Grand Theft Auto that is solid but not up to the standard of the main line and console games, Liberty City Stories is a prequel to the third numbered entry in the series. Following Antonio “Toni” Cipriani, who returns to Liberty City, the game is very similar to the third game in terms of world design, but it takes advantage of the expanded gameplay of the PS2 spin-offs that released before and after it. The familiarity resulted in a GTA that, while still fun, didn’t capture hearts in the way San Andreas and Vice City did.
10. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
Initially released for the Nintendo DS in March 2009 to make the most of the handheld’s huge player base, Chinatown Wars did it’s best to bring the open world gameplay to small devices. By making some important changes, an introducing a compelling spin-off story, the game proved that the series could succeed in a smaller package.
While the basics remained the same, the camera was reverted back to one that was similar to the original games’ top down presentation. Also, the visuals used a cel-shaded style, which looked excellent on handheld devices and differentiated it from the core GTA games. Chinatown Wars also later came to PSP and mobile devices, losing the art style for the mobile version, but the Chinese Triad based game remained a worthwhile spin-off.
9. L.A Noire
L.A. Noire is one of Rockstar’s few open world titles that aren’t in the Grand Theft Auto of Red Dead franchises. While you’re still exploring a city, interacting with characters and driving about, you’re on the side of the law, rather than trying to outrun them.
You play as Cole Phelps, an up and comer in the L.A Police Department, and you make your way up the ranks and through the individual departments by solving cases throughout the city. The game stands out due to its unique interaction mechanics. As you interrogate suspects, you can see tells in their faces due to the facial capture technology used.
It’s not always the smoothest or most subtle, and the game’s version of L.A. is a little empty, but the story and case structure are excellent, giving variety to the third person gameplay Rockstar’s games are defined by.
Bully is undoubtedly Rockstar’s most unique game, and its a favourite of many for that exact reason. Rather than stealing cars and killing strangers, you play as James Hopkins as he climbs the ranks of the high-school social circles. You’re far from innocent, though, being as rebellious as the game will let you. There’s slingshots and melee weapons to fight other students with, and there are clear similarities with GTA, such as the wanted level like trouble meter. You can explore freely, completing missions as you like, and the school setting is cleverly written and very well integrated. It’d be interesting to see how Rockstar handled a sequel based on modern school life.
7. Grand Theft Auto 3
Number 3, the game that introduced a truly open world to the series, is widely regarded as one of the most influential games of all time. Initially released in 2001 for the PlayStation 2, it moved the series on dramatically, in terms of design, quality, and popularity.
Now, it doesn’t hold up phenomenally now, with the gameplay being even clunkier than it is in modern GTAs, but it was revolutionary at the time. It introduced 3D graphics to the series, working well in tandem with the open world design. At the time, the design of Liberty City, the characters, and the cars, was phenomenal, creating a living and impressive setting. The subsequent games have continued to build on what GTA 3 introduced, leading to what we see from Rockstar’s games now.
6. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Our introduction to Rockstar’s version of Miami, Vice City was the next game to release after Grand Theft Auto 3. Set in the 1980s, the game followed Tommy Vercetti, who was played by Ray Liotta, who is released from prison after 15 years. However, he quickly becomes wrapped up in the drug dealings of his family, the Forellis.
While the gameplay is what you’d expect from a early 2000s GTA game, Vice City’s story and world made it stand out. Full of references to the culture and media of 1980s Miami, Vice City felt like a living, breathing city that was an phenomenally accurate representation of the time. Also, it was in stark contrast to the location of 3, giving players a more vibrant world to explore and cause chaos in.
5. Grand Theft Auto IV
Grand Theft Auto IV is another of Rockstar’s games that, at the time of its release, was step forward for the entire open world action game genre. In terms of visuals and gameplay, it has since been surpassed by big and better entries, but GTA IV still stands tall as one of the best Grand Theft Auto stories.
Following Niko Bellic, who quickly gets wrapped up in the seedy underworld of a redesigned version of Liberty City after travelling over from Eastern Europe, you complete a variety of missions and explore as you have always done in the franchise, by stealing vehicles and causing chaos. Through the main story, and the excellent DLC expansions, GTA IV is up there with Rockstar’s best due to the story and wonderful world design.
4. Red Dead Redemption
Now more than eight years old, Red Dead Redemption introduced us to the Van de Linde gang and John Marston. Telling a wonderful story in the Wild West, the game’s world was full of things to see and do, much like the Grand Theft Auto game. However, it was the setting, moving away from iterations on modern cities, that made it such a compelling experience. We’d never seen a Western game on such a large scale, with such beautiful design and compelling characters. It came as no surprise, then, that excitement for the sequel was extraordinarily high.
3. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
San Andreas is many GTA fans’ favorite game in the series. While it pales in insignificance to recent titles, San Andreas was so important when it released due to the sheer amount of content that was on offer. While there were some graphical issues, and little has been refined in the two years since Vice City, San Andreas’ was huge and offered so much for you to do.
The story, which followed Carl “CJ” Johnson as he returns to Los Santos from Liberty City the murder of his mother, was compelling and full of excellent characters, almost any ridiculous thing you could imagine was possible in the game’s world, and the fictional location (based on California and Nevada) was a joy to explore by any means. Then, with cheats at your disposal, it was easy to spend countless hours simply messing around and running from the cops.
2. Grand Theft Auto V
Now one of the most popular games of all time, much of Grand Theft Auto V’s success is down to quality and variety. Los Santos is a near perfect open world sandbox, allowing you to do almost whatever you want to. Then, the story mode, which sees you switch between three compelling characters, is over-the top, fun, and well paced.
However, its GTA Online that elevates GTA V beyond the rest of the series and has made it the astronomical success it is today. The frequent new content drops, the ability to heist or mess around with your friends, and the creation tools keep pulling players back, and it’s all built around the already excellent gameplay and world design. It’s proved so lucrative that the game’s remained near the top of the charts since it released more than five years ago, and Rockstar has slowed down how often they released games. It’s difficult to imagine what GTA 6 will look like.
1. Red Dead Redemption 2
Red Dead Redemption 2 may have only just released, but it’s undoubtedly a masterclass in open-world game design. Never has a game’s world felt so alive and deep, much of which is down to the detail paid to the game’s NPCs. With more than half a million lines of dialogue, almost everyone you meet can be interacted with in a realistic way. The overarching story, telling the tale of the Van de Linde gang we came to know in the original game, is equally excellent.
Also, while Arthur can be control awkwardly, the shooting and horse riding are fun, making the variety of quests a joy to play through. There’s also an incredible amount of side content, including fishing, dominoes, and all kinds of robbing you can think of.
On top of everything, though, Red Dead Redemption 2 is arguably the most beautiful game ever released, and not just by Rockstar. Simply existing in the world they’ve created is one of the best experiences in gaming, and that makes it the greatest Rockstar has ever released.
12. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories
Acting as a prequel to Vice City, Vice City Stories originally released on PSP, before coming to PS2. While it's at the bottom of this list, it's still a top quality open world experience. Victor "Vic" Vance is a corporal in the US Army, stationed in the game's fictional recreation of Miami, and he becomes mixed up in the drug dealing exploits of his Sergeant. Load times were and issue on PSP, and the console version was criticized for not improving on the handheld version, but Vice City Stories was still a solid spin-off for the GTA series.