The Timelines of the GTA Games Explained | Games Rants
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The Timelines of the GTA Games Explained | Games Rants

Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto franchise has spanned decades across several successful releases, but the series’ timeline is split into two halves.

A legendary pillar of the video game industry for over two decades, Grand Theft Auto has captivated fans since its debut. Fans have been eagerly anticipating official news regarding the series’ upcoming sixth numbered entry, but the next game doesn’t seem to be arriving any time soon. With the rich library of Grand Theft Auto titles from over the years, however, fans of the series are still unpacking some of the most influential games of their respective generations.

Most would associate the name Grand Theft Auto with the third-person perspective seen in today’s crime simulator experience, but the GTA series actually began with more of an arcade-style isometric presentation. A familiar sight to fans of Chinatown Wars, the top-down view characterized the first few entries of the series and was known as the 2D Timeline, but the continuities modern players are familiar with didn’t begin until Grand Theft Auto 3.

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GTA’s 3D Universe Timeline

Fans are fond of making connections between the new and older titles, but the releases prior to Grand Theft Auto 4 took place in a completely separate 3D universe. Evident through the differences in the series’ depictions of Liberty City, the 3D era focused on a different world.

  • Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories (1984) – Ironically released last, the story of Vic Vance predates the rest of the series.
  • Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (1986) – Released as the follow-up to the third mainline entry, the adventures of Tommy Vercetti were set in the 80s.
  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (1992) – The classic story of CJ departed from the East Coast and provided some closure for characters from Vice City.
  • Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories (1998) – Another prequel for the PSP, the story of Toni Cipriani is an underrated gem that continued the arc of Salvatore Leone.
  • Grand Theft Auto 3 (2001) – The only title of its era to take place in the year it was released, the journey of silent protagonist Claude was a highly influential experience that laid the groundwork for all the prequels that followed.

GTA’s HD Universe Timeline

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Grand Theft Auto 4 kicked off the HD universe timeline, especially when Niko Bellic arrived in a Liberty City far different from the streets Claude previously walked. The most cinematic experience the series had ever seen, Rockstar followed it up with a concept just as removed from the chronology of the previous universe.

  • Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City (2008) – The stories of Johnny Klebitz and Luis Lopez in The Lost and the Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony respectively, the HD universe’s releases are notable for all taking place within a concurrent timeline. With points where all three protagonists meet and come into conflict, all of these titles in Liberty City are set in the same period of autumn of 2008.
  • Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (2009) – One of the few returns to the isometric perspective, the story of Huang Lee makes Chinatown Wars an underrated gem taking place in the separate world of the Triads.
  • Grand Theft Auto 5 (2013) – While this generation may have also featured three protagonists, Franklin, Michael, and Trevor all made their mark within the same game. Conveying an overarching plot that connected its cast, this game was a highly modern take on the heist genre with a tight narrative that only dips into the year 2004 once during its prologue.
  • Grand Theft Auto Online (2013-Present) – Still updated a decade later, the online component of Grand Theft Auto 5 has seemingly kept up with the timeline of reality over the course of its plethora of updates.

With Grand Theft Auto 6 apparently set in modern times once again, there’s no telling where the timeline of the series could go from here.

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