The GTA series is one of the greatest and most successful video game series ever created, including some of the non-mainline games.
Grand Theft Auto is an iconic video game series that spans throughout 16 games. For all intents and purposes, the following count as mainline GTA games:
- Grand Theft Auto
- Grand Theft Auto 2
- Grand Theft Auto 3
- Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
- Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
- Grand Theft Auto 4
- Grand Theft Auto 5
- Grand Theft Auto Online
Every other GTA game can be considered a side title. As far as what constitutes the best non-mainline titles, it’s pretty simple.
Generally, the overall quality of the game is the most important aspect, as not all GTA games are created equally in this regard.
Five great GTA games that aren’t a mainline title
#5 – GTA Liberty City Stories
Liberty City Stories is a prime example of a good side title, but one that’s noticeably behind in quality compared to the main games. The story and characters are good, but the cutscenes are largely stiff and lacking in animations.
It’s still a good game through and through, but it’s noticeably one of the weaker GTA side titles. It’s better than the 2D universe side games and GTA Advance by a noticeable margin, but it lacks the polish the later entries have.
One could say it’s better than GTA 3, but GTA 3 is often considered to be one of the weakest mainline games.
#4 – GTA 4: The Lost and Damned
At its core, The Lost and Damned is still GTA 4, and GTA 4 is a wonderful game. It might not be as good as the original game (largely because it’s much shorter in length), but it still has its own unique twists that make it worth playing.
Here, players can see Johnny Klebtiz living out the biker lifestyle. His downfall in GTA 5, while tragic, makes perfect sense for those that played this game.
The game’s story and ending are gritty, yet exciting on their own merits.
It has new features related to the biker lifestyle that makes this game feel unique enough. Hence, players won’t feel like it’s a lazy rehash of that game.
#3 – GTA 4: The Ballad of Gay Tony
Some GTA fans would consider The Ballad of Gay Tony as the better GTA 4 expansion pack. It’s a return to GTA San Andreas-esque shenanigans, which makes the game feel more fun than the usually serious GTA 4 titles.
Of course, The Ballad of Gay Tony still shares its engine with GTA 4. It’s a great engine and world that many GTA fans love, although it also suffers the same problem The Lost and Damned has: it’s noticeably shorter than GTA 4.
It’s a much more glamorous life than what GTA players have seen in prior games, which is part of the reason The Ballad of Gay Tony is beloved.
#2 – GTA Chinatown Wars
An HD universe GTA game that plays reminiscently of the 2D games doesn’t sound like an amazing concept. However, Chinatown Wars was a great game that is unfortunately tarnished by its terrible sales.
That being said, the gameplay was solid. It felt completely different from the usual games fans were familiar with, but many critics still praised it at the time. The writing is clever, and it being a handheld GTA game had its own benefits.
Missions and general gameplay are much faster compared to GTA 4 or its episodes because of this simple change.
#1 – GTA Vice City Stories
GTA Vice City Stories is the quintessential GTA game that draws inspiration from a mainline game (GTA Vice City) and makes it better. It still takes place in Vice City, but it happens two years before the original title takes place.
Victor Vance is the starring protagonist of this game, and his journey from an honest soldier to a criminal mastermind is brilliant. Unlike other side titles, GTA Vice City Stories feels like a mainline title in many ways.
The animations and graphics are good for its time, and the game still plays in the 3D style fans know and love. There aren’t many technical compromises that make the game inferior to other titles, either.
Note: This article reflects the writer’s personal views.