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How Grand Theft Auto 3 Set The Franchise Up for Success

Grand Theft Auto 3 is one of the most important games in its genre. Not only is it one of the first titles to truly perfect the open-world format, but the way it achieves decent storytelling, solid character development, and impressive world-building while maintaining the potential for mischief is simply revolutionary. It forged a formula that has been adopted by the likes of Saint’s Row, Simpsons: Hit and Run, and Sleeping Dogsas well as other Rockstar projects like bully and Red Dead Redemption. Grand Theft Auto started life as a top-down action-adventure series with an impressive degree of non-linearity, despite being somewhat restrictive thanks to its core game design. Later entries would prove to be far more influential.


Through its unapologetic and controversial approach to violence and mature themes as well as its revolutionary level design that pioneered the sandbox experience that so many AAA games rely on today, Grand Theft Auto 3 garnered critical and commercial acclaim, and the franchise has never looked back. Huge sales would follow suit along with many later iterations on the formula, and as grand theft auto 6 fast approaches, Rockstar will likely be more keen than ever to replicate this once again. It’d do well to remember just how Grand Theft Auto 3 ensured the franchise was set up for success, as forgetting its essential principles could be a costly mistake.

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Grand Theft Auto 3 is the Series’ True Starting Point

While it may have been improved upon in subsequent years, Grand Theft Auto 3 laid the groundwork for all future open-world titles to develop upon. Players assume the role of Claude, a silent protagonist who is wronged and spends much of the plot on the path of revenge. Along the way he gets swept up in a life of crime, misbehavior, and general corruption, which lends itself beautifully to the freedom that the game provides players to engage in mischief outside the story. Driving, jaywalking, undertaking side or main missions, and stopping off to purchase an arsenal of guns was customary for the game, and each would be essential pillars for the franchise moving forward.

Liberty City felt so unstructured, but never seemed to buckle under the weight of fans’ expectations. It was a playground, easily accommodating the most elaborate of plans that players had. Grand Theft Auto 3 clearly had a lot of time put into its story, but the way the game is designed and the freedom it grants so early on means that many didn’t even consider it an essential source of fun. just existing in Grand Theft Auto 3 was a treat, as players could project their own story onto the characters and city. grand theft auto 5 carries the same philosophy, but the cinematic storytelling is far more of a requirement than it was in 2001.

How Later Grand Theft Auto Games Evolved the Formula

Grand Theft Auto 3‘s influence is the most evident on the two PlayStation 2 titles that followed soon after. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas each released a couple of years later, and while they featured heavy inspiration from what came before, they improved upon it in so many ways. A change in location and protagonist as well as a heavier emphasis on storytelling (though it still wasn’t mandatory to enjoy the game) made each a more memorable experience, and while most players looking to rediscover GTA‘s PS2 charm will steer towards Vice City or San Andreas, that doesn’t mean that both were as important as the game that came before.

Eleven Grand Theft Auto migrated from the PlayStation 2 to newer systems, it found immediate success, but got a little more experimental. grand theft auto 4 released in 2008 and was a landmark title, feeling equally new and nostalgic as it brought players back to Liberty City, and the franchise embraced the PlayStation Portable with Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories. The latter two were a significant downgrade in quality, but allowed players to enjoy a GTA experience on the go, albeit at a fraction of the fun. In 2013, however, grand theft auto 5 became one of the highest selling games of all time, and has shown no signs of stopping almost a decade later.

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Why Fans Keep Returning to Grand Theft Auto

There are certain expectations and requirements for any great Grand Theft Auto game, and while a great story and fluid controls are welcomed, more important is the potential for unscripted fun and a gorgeous setting that’s a parody of modern American life. Red Dead Redemption may be a dramatic recreation of the wild west, but Grand Theft Auto pokes fun at the present day and does so in a humorous and often controversial way.

Players keep coming back to the franchise because it balances amusement with quality, and creates an entertaining source of escapism while also maintaining its reputation as a truly great video game franchise. Titles like Saints Row: The Third and mob 3 lean too heavily into either philosophy and don’t consistently do both at the same time. From 2001 to 2013 and (hopefully) beyond, Grand Theft Auto has changed massively but has never neglected its roots as both a daft parody of the world and a technical marvel.

Grand Theft Auto 3 is Still a Masterpiece

As the franchise has evolved, it’s easy to believe that each new entry is more important than the last. the dominance of grand theft auto 5 in the 2010s or the way Vice City expanded and evolved what came before are critical in maintaining the series’ popularity, but none would have been possible without the strides that Claude took in the streets of Liberty City. The franchise has succeeded because of the way it approached nonlinearity and player freedom, and the sandbox experience that so many other games and developers rely on is a direct result of Grand Theft Auto 3‘s achievements. It’s hard to imagine where the series would be without it, as Red Dead Redemption and Max Payne continue to prove Rockstar can forge great stories without the need of an open world.

All the essential tools of Grand Theft Auto‘s continued success can be found in its third outing. An engaging crime-driven narrative, a gorgeous New York-inspired playground for players to wreak havoc on, and replay value that can’t go unnoticed. Like Super Smash Bros or Call of Dutyeach Grand Theft Auto game is designed to be played constantly until the next entry arrives, and despite only wielding one (now small in comparison to later games) city to explore, Grand Theft Auto 3 achieves this in spades. grand theft auto 6 will look to find new ways to keep players coming back, and a suitable source of inspiration and information can be found in Liberty City.

Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – Definitive Edition is available on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Switch.

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