20 Best Rockstar Games of All Time

best Rockstar games

For all of the criticisms you could level at modern gaming, especially modern AAA open-world gaming, few could find fault with the soaring ambition and peerless attention to detail which has gone on to define one of the 21st century’s most enduringly popular, successful and acclaimed studios: Rockstar Games. While some major rivals could be accused of phoning it in these days, Rockstar’s commitment to innovation, boundary-pushing and pure quality remains undiminished.

Well, unless you’re including their recent ports and remasters, in which case maybe there’s some diminishment there. 2021’s Grand Theft Audio: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition definitely felt like something of a phone in, truth be told, and then there’s the two successive re-releases of Grand Theft Auto V. But when it comes to brand new releases, Rockstar very rarely lets anyone down.

Best known for the aforementioned cultural juggernaut that is the Grand Theft Auto series, not to mention the might of the highly-acclaimed Red Dead saga, there’s a lot to unpack from a company that has helped to define the last few decades of mainstream popular culture. From public school politics to ping-pong, pistols to police procedurals, let’s dive into the best that Rockstar has to offer.

 

20. Red Dead Revolver

Red Dead Revolver

Ok, so it’s not the greatest game to bear the Red Dead stamp, but that’s no reason to skip over the title that introduced players to Rockstar’s take on the Wild, Wild West. A sort of arcade-styled rail shooter which favours more classic linear levels over a sprawling open world, Revolver retains a cult following thanks to its gung-ho tone, meaty shooting mechanics and, most likely, the subsequent popularity of the Red Dead saga as a whole.

Sure, it lacks the emotional depth of the games that would follow, with a slightly cartoonish, sometimes knockabout tone (some of the enemy death noises are absurd), but there are heaps of fun to be had zipping around the American West, burning through lead as though you’re trying to cause a national shortage as you dispatch scores of enemies with your trusty six-shooters. It also marks the introduction of the infamous Dead Eye targeting system that would become a series staple, as well as the birth of duelling as an iconic Red Dead combat mechanic.

 

19. Rockstar Table Tennis

Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis
Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis

Somewhere within the walls of Rockstars’ offices during the mid-2000s, some bright spark had the idea of ditching the virtual Kalashnikovs and bazookas in favour of a couple of red and black ping pong paddles. Maybe there was a table in the break room, maybe it was a bet, or maybe Rockstar wanted to muscle in on the sports game market without having to compete with the might of EA Sports.

Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis remains one of the few sports-oriented titles the studio ever released, not that you’d know from actually playing it. While some players criticised the game for a lack of overall depth (how deep can a ping pong sim ever truly be?), most contemporary critics were enamoured with its smooth, fluid animations, competent AI systems and addictive replayability, all of which still hold up remarkably well today.

In short, it’s ace (sorry).

 

18. Midnight Club: Los Angeles

Midnight Club Los Angeles
Midnight Club Los Angeles

It’s a shame that Rockstar seem to have (for now at least) parked the racing genre in a metaphorical underground lot, because if the Midnight Club franchise is anything to go by, they’re bloody good at it. Los Angeles holds up as one of the franchise’s standouts, famed for its exceptional levels of customisation, outstanding visuals and majestic capturing of the LA street racing scene.

Not that Rockstar couldn’t dig deeper into the nitty gritty mechanics that define whether or not a racing game lands pole position or veers off into a nearby storm drain. As an arcade racer, Midnight Club: Los Angeles remains one of the finest of its type, with smooth yet pulsating driving mechanics providing a prime platform from which to enjoy the streets of LA as it hurtles past the windows of your souped-up Ford GT.

To quote Rockstar, “The best way to see Los Angeles is at 245mph”.

 

17. Grand Theft Auto 2

GTA 2
GTA 2

It’s hard to imagine now, but in the late ‘90s, nobody knew what GTA would go on to become. The first-ever entry in the era-defining saga debuted back in 1997 to moderate critical approval accompanied by solid sales, and while 1999’s sequel built on that stable platform, the top-down crime sim hadn’t quite seen the franchise hit its straps. As we’ll get to below, 2000’s third instalment was still waiting in the wings.

Yet there’s plenty to admire about Rockstar’s second bite of what would become a colossally successful, and profitable, cherry. Following the saga of a nameless ne’er-do-well tasked with performing various unsavoury missions for a range of even shadier criminal organisations, there’s certainly a sense of a franchise just starting to take shape. The retrofuturistic setting of “Anywhere” makes for an appropriately gritty backdrop, coupled with a pleasing variety of diverting missions and story points, hinting at the complexity and ambition that was to come.

 

16. Manhunt

Manhunt game

It’s quite the accolade when you share a list with (incredibly obvious spoiler alert) multiple Grand Theft Auto titles and still stand out as the most contentious entry on the entire rundown. Whatever controversies the iconic GTA saga would court, they’ve generally paled in comparison to the intense scrutiny that followed the release of 2003’s Manhunt.

It’s not hard to see where such hysteria came from. Manhunt was unapologetically grim and nasty and, despite its age, still provokes a shudder of unease and a few waves of nausea with every plastic bag-based takedown and cold-blooded execution. All that aside, the stealth mechanics are implemented with Rockstar’s signature adeptness, lending the game far more depth and replayability than its grimy exterior might initially suggest.

If you can see past the savagery, there’s a very solid stealther lying beneath the grotty surface.

 

15. Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition Remix

Midnight Club 3
Midnight Club 3

If Midnight Club: Los Angeles was a fine addition to the series, the third instalment was surely its polished apex. Set across three US cities, including the heartland of American motoring Detroit, MC: Los Angeles tasked players with distinguishing themselves as the finest street racer on the grid, all while customising their sweet rides and unlocking new vehicles in a bid to rise the metaphorical ranks of the underground circuit.

It’s pretty comparable to the best of the Need For Speed series, sharing a similar setup and sensibility with something like Most Wanted or Underground 2. We think it might outstrip the NFS franchise in a few key places, with a more challenging AI that pushes you to become the best rubber-burning, king of the streets that you can be.

Very few games – before or since – have captured the intensity and pulse-quickening majesty of the underground racing circuit, and we can’t imagine that many ever will.

 

14. Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories

Liberty City Stories
Liberty City Stories

When it revolutionised the franchise in 2001, the supreme breakout success of GTA III gave Rockstar an almighty sense of confidence that this was an IP worth pursuing. Mainline sequels would inevitably follow, but Rockstar were so buoyed by the overwhelming critical and commercial success of the third GTA title that they launched a superb spinoff in the shape of Liberty City Stories.

Set, naturally, within those towering, grimy yet electrifying alive streets so heavily inspired by New York and the urgent clamour of American urban life, Liberty City Stories took what had been great about GTA III and, rather than compromise it for a smaller console, ran with it to sublime effect. The best-selling PSP game of all time (just 11 million units sold), Liberty City Stories proved that you could capture such an enthralling open-world title on a scaled-down console.

 

13. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

Chinatown Wars
Chinatown Wars

Portable markets are rarely as well served as their bulkier mainstream contemporaries, but Rockstar really cared about handheld gaming for a while, with Chinatown Wars standing tall as the undeniable and enduring proof. Released primarily for the Nintendo DS, then later for the PSP and iOS devices, it saw Rockstar aiming to stamp the earlier top-down GTA sensibilities onto a market better known for small-scale baking sims, cutesy management titles and slimmed-down spin-offs.

Boy did they manage it. Capturing the anarchic majesty of the mainline saga in all its glory (albeit on a smaller scale), the tale of protagonist Haung Lee’s search for revenge on the streets of Liberty City truly enthrals despite its diminutive mode of delivery. If nothing else, it’s easily among the best Nintendo DS games ever made. Take that, Nintendogs.

 

12. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories

GTA Vice City Stories
GTA Vice City Stories

If you hadn’t quite managed to get your fill of the drug-fulled highs of ‘80s Miami from the mainline Vice City game, Vice City Stories was the next best thing. Released for the PlayStation Portable in 2006 before enjoying a port to the PlayStation 2 in the following year, VC Stories captured the boisterous excesses and glamorous superficiality of the main game with striking confidence.

There’s no Tommy Vercetti here, with players controlling ex-army Corporal Vic Vance as he navigates the Miami drug scene in a bid to raise money for his ailing brother, who’s a major player in the original Vice City. Vic’s intentions may be reasonably pure, and while VC Stories provides a more scaled-down experience than that offered by the mainline game, it easily captures the charm and tone of Rockstar’s version of ‘80s Miami. From the neon-soaked open world to the little digital empire you can build, everything’s at your disposal to cause maximum mayhem for maximum satisfaction.

 

11. The Warriors

The Warriors
The Warriors

If you happen to have been born sometime after around 1990 (we’re assuming that’s most of our core audience), you might not have heard of the 2005 beat’em up smash The Warriors or, even less likely, the 1979 cult thriller (itself adapted from a Sol Yurick novel) upon which it’s based.

Cinematic and literary context aside, Rockstar’s slightly strange decision to adapt a movie that had come out more than 25 years previously ended up becoming one of its most satisfying and downright enjoyable offerings until that moment. Beat ‘em ups live and die on how satisfying and replayable the combat and levels end up being, and in this regard, Rockstar nailed its brief with bone-rattling aplomb.

Campy, brutal and endlessly replayable, the joy of essentially barrel-rolling into a whole pack of rival gang members never quite wears off.

 

10. L.A. Noire

LA Noire
LA Noire

It may sound like an odd thing to say about a company that has staked much of its reputation, inadvertently or otherwise, on a few mammoth franchises, but one of Rockstar’s most endearing traits has always been their desire to try something new in the hopes of a unique result. They did it with Table Tennis, they did it with The Warriors and they certainly did it with L.A. Noire.

Action-adventure police procedurals are still rather few and far between, yet detective Cole Phelps’ investigation of a drug distribution ring within 1940s Los Angeles (Rockstar sure love Los Angeles) felt like a watershed moment for audiences to realise just how engrossing such titles could be if done correctly. Open-world roaming remains, albeit in a much more restrictive form, yet L.A. Noire really builds its church around those core procedural mechanics; questioning witnesses, interrogating suspects and hunting for very subtle clues within the game’s deeply immersive virtual world.

The most impressive thing about LA Noire? Rockstar had to step in at the last minute to save it from self-inflicted development hell at Team Bondi. Without that Rockstar touch, there’s no way this is even a fraction as good.

 

9. Grand Theft Auto III

Grand Theft Auto 3
Grand Theft Auto 3

Bang. This was the true moment of genesis for Grand Theft Auto. Gone was the top-down, bird’s-eye viewpoint, replaced by a third-person perspective that continues to define the franchise today. GTA III was released just a few years after the moderate success of the second game, yet the contrast between the titles is scarcely believable.

The best-selling release of 2001 was a complete game-changer. Rarely had such immersion been captured with such authority and majesty, with Liberty City humming with the vibrant energy of the hulking metropolises (New York especially) from which it drew influence. Following small-time crime Claude’s wordless rise through the ranks of the criminal underworld, GTA III was an explosion of the elements that have gone on to define the franchise as a whole: carjackings, drive-bys, shootouts with the cops – you know, all that proper GTA stuff.

Rockstar ran with what they developed during the early 2000s and they haven’t looked back since.

 

8. Max Payne 3

Max Payne 3
Max Payne 3

Last year, we cited Max Payne 3 as one of the “Games To Play Before You Die”, and while such accolades are never handed out lightly, we’d once again urge you to consider Rockstar’s bullet-time bonanza as arguably the finest entry in the saga and one of Rockstar’s most gut-punching glories.

Rockstar didn’t have developmental control of the first two instalments in the Max Payne saga, taking the reins proper for the threequel to blistering effect. Gunplay feels meaty, satisfying and varied, while the added weight and dare we say “realism” added to diving about in slow-mo bullet time lends a greater sense of punch and gravity to proceedings. Add to this the raw, gonzo-style VHS visual tone which defines the game’s hard-edged aesthetic, and you’ve got a recipe for blood-soaked success.

Max himself might be as acerbic and rough around the edges as he’s ever been, but this feels like the apex for protagonist and series alike.

 

7. Bully (AKA Canis Canem Edit)

Bully

What a game Bully is. Falling happily into the category of “cited as underrated so often that it’s no longer underrated at all,” there remains a fundamental lack of understanding surrounding one of Rockstar’s ballsiest, most innovative and downright enjoyable releases ever. Crammed with content and boasting one of the best open-world settings we can think of, it’s possibly the only way to go back to school and actually have a good time.

Set within the dog-eat-dog Bullworth Academy (quite literally their motto, obscured only slightly in arcane Latin), Bully has a sharp satirical eye as it takes on the ruthless brutality of those snobbish, elitist institutions, bringing many of the mechanics and trappings of the GTA series and transplanting them into a far more incongruous, and subversive, setting.

Schools shouldn’t mirror ruthless corporate institutions or the street-level urban hierarchies by pitting students against one another in a gritty struggle for respect gained through violence, intimidation, conniving and conspiracy, yet that’s just what you’ll do as you guide gold-hearted, stone-fisted protagonist Jimmy Hopkins through the cliquey world of the American boarding school.

 

6. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

Vice City
Vice City

There’s no question that Vice City is not only many gamers’ favourite GTA instalment ever, but it’s also quite a few peoples’ favourite open-world titles of all time. Sharply plotted, gloriously immersive, packed with life and often very funny thanks to its gleefully parodic lens, Vice City feels like a franchise really beginning to hit its stride.

The true pleasure of Vice City lies within the streets of its eponymous setting. There’s nothing like cruising the Miami beachfront in your Predator two-seater, illuminated by the enchanting soak of neon lights and accompanied by those tangy tones of Wang Chung’s ‘Dance Hall Days’ or Yes’ ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’. If you can create a game in which simply existing within the open world is a sufficient reason to boot up your console or flip open your laptop, you’ve succeeded in your mission as far as we’re concerned.

Few moments in gaming history will ever top hopping into an open-topped roadster and hearing Billie Jean blaring out for the first time. Glorious.

 

5. Red Dead Redemption

Red Dead Redemption
Red Dead Redemption

It perhaps seemed inconceivable to a keen gamer in 2010 that there would one day be a game, and a protagonist to go with, that would oust the rootin’ tootin’ splendour of the original Red Dead Redemption. Essentially the narrative sequel to the second prequel title (is that a confusing way to view it?), it’s astonishing to look back at the first game and realise just how neatly and effectively Rockstar tied the elements of the two titles together following the Van der Linde gang’s disintegration and John Marston’s quest for a better life.

Man, is it a good time. Even after you’ve experienced the polished, next-gen (now old-gen) majesty of the 2018 prequel, John Marston’s standalone adventure still stands up a masterpiece in its own regard, packed with fully-rounded characters, a riveting central narrative and a brutal, unforgiving landscape that just hooks into something deep within your subconscious and refuses to let go.

Oh, and let’s not forget Undead Nightmare, the zombie-flavoured expansion pack that could have ended up as an exploitative bolt-on but now holds up as one of the finest DLCs in recent memory, possibly of all time.

 

4. Grand Theft Auto IV

GTA 4
GTA 4

If Vice City was all about evoking the heady, cocaine-fuelled excesses of the 1980s and GTA V eked out its satirical dividends from an era increasingly defined by social media, celebrity worship and a sort of vapid, superficial cultural malaise, GTA IV was all about picking apart the illusions of the American Dream and leaving them in tatters upon the muddy turf.

Such subject matter has proved popular within the heady, lofty halls of the literary sphere (see Steinbeck, McCarthy and Miller, to name a few), yet few mainstream games possessed the temerity to tackle such weighty subjects. Enter Niko Belic, arguably GTA’s greatest standalone protagonist, as he trudges the sidewalks of Liberty City, reborn for the seventh generation of consoles and dripping with the grime, filth and moral decay that fans had come to love and expect.

There’s no glamour to be found as Niko forges his future in this ruthless new-world melting pot, but boy is there a lot of polish to be found behind the scenes. From the highly-developed AI controlling the patrolling police cars to the unparalleled immersion evoked by the jam-packed cityscape to the fact that you can ragdoll basically across the city during a car crash, GTA IV took the franchise to astonishing new heights, even as its protagonist was often forced to plumb desperate new depths.

 

3. Grand Theft Auto V

GTA 5 mods
GTA 5

An absolute colossus if ever there was one. GTA V is by far and away one of the most successful games of all time, and the game’s online mode has grown into an enduring success that continues to enjoy a bulging fanbase after more than ten years (ten!) since it opened its servers.

What remains clear is that, however you experience it, players simply cannot get enough of GTA V and its unfathomably vibrant, varied and detailed open world. Los Santos pulses with life and a sense of scope and scale, so much so that you could spend every day of your waking life pounding its virtual streets and still find new ways to find mischief and mayhem.

The three-person narrative which flits between hot-headed Trevor, streetwise Franklin and retired con Michael, stands up as one of the finest and most involving GTA stories ever constructed, and when coupled with smoother, more involved core mechanics and a polished open world, GTA V blossoms into a AAA titan of breathtaking depth and scope.

It’s a shame that we never got the single-player DLC that the game deserved, but a sequel is finally on its way in 2025 in the shape of the hugely-anticipated GTA 6. For tiding you over until that happy moment, though, GTA V remains more than up to the task.

 

2. Red Dead Redemption 2

Red Dead Redemption 2

In many ways, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a deeply flawed work. Its level design can be repetitive, its narrative themes are well-worn and it is exorbitantly, ludicrously long – few games could get away with putting in a feature-length coda that would challenge most standalone offerings for depth and scale. It’s relentlessly macho, overwhelmingly enormous and occasionally cursed by a touch of the cliché. No one could ever call Red Dead 2 a perfect game.

And yet it is undeniably, unequivocally and irrefutably a masterpiece. A towering testament to Rockstar’s unrelenting endeavour and boundary-pushing ambition, the prequel tale of Arthur Morgan and his band of ever-fading gunslingers has left a mark that few pieces of media, let alone merely rival games, have come close to impressing upon the countless millions who scooped up a copy upon release.

Breathtakingly beautiful, staggeringly detailed, richly complex and replete with a heartrending, elegiac emotional spirit, Read Dead 2 won’t be considered a great game in a few years – it already is.

 

1. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

GTA San Andreas
GTA San Andreas

The best PS2 game of all time? Surely. The greatest thing that Rockstar has produced thus far? There’s certainly a case to be made.

It’s easy to look at San Andreas now and, with the hindsight of more polished titles, view it as increasingly antiquated, even absurd. There’s an undeniably cartoonish aspect that the urban title shares with the likes of Vice City and GTA III, apparent within the overdone physical animations and larger-than-life inhabitants of the San Andreas backstreets.

That, of course, is part of the joy. San Andreas creates a world that, both then and now, can be impossible to tear yourself away from, such is its consistently rewarding dynamism and astonishing depth of content. Gamers had rarely seen a release that harboured the endless depth and ambition of San Andreas, a game bulging with side missions, customisation options, easter eggs and other miscellaneous activities. One minute you’re sitting in the barbers pondering whether to go for dreads or a high top, the next you’re comically BMX-ing around the local skatepark trying to become the hood’s answer to Mat Hoffman, all before cruising down to the gym to pump some iron in preparation for your latest cab driving assignment.

Add to this the endlessly memeable monster main narrative, a blisteringly good licensed soundtrack and some exceptionally diverse mission types and you have the makings of an undisputed genre classic, as well as Rockstar’s absolute apex.

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