For the last twenty years, Rockstar Games has been dominating the video game industry with its open-world action games. The company’s two most notable franchises, Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption, have pushed the boundaries for world-building in video games, creating the largest open worlds to date.
While Red Dead Redemption explores those boundaries out West, the Grand Theft Auto franchise has made a name for itself by recreating the stylings and layouts of some major American cities, such as New York City, Miami, and Los Angeles. To keep the franchise fresh, Rockstar has made an effort to make each GTA distinct from the last while continually improving. Over the years, this has led to some remarkable maps, as well as some remarkably forgettable ones.
The first 3D Grand Theft Auto game came out twenty years ago and brought players to Liberty City, Rockstar’s take on the City That Never Sleeps. Liberty City is one of the three main cities introduced in the original 1997 2D Grand Theft Auto, which laid the groundwork for all of the major locales to come.
Despite Grand Theft Auto III‘s rise to popularity, the map just hasn’t aged very well. When compared to its later counterpart, the original 3D Liberty City plays as a relic of the past, albeit one that also served as an important stepping stone for the GTA franchise.
Fans often have a complicated relationship with Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. On the one hand, it is a significant step in the right direction compared to GTA III. Vice City, Rockstar’s version of Miami, is able to capture the style and climate of its setting better than any other game. It allowed for a more complex world-building by offering more stores, malls, and beaches to hang out on. It is largely agreed upon as the first classic game in the franchise.
That being said, the map leaves quite a lot to be desired. One problem is that it’s very small compared to the other maps to come. It also is laid out in a very strange way, with two entirely separate maps being connected by nothing more than a few bridges. While Vice City is a lot of fun, the map makes for slim pickings.
Grand Theft Auto IV took the Liberty City that fans knew and loved, and expanded it exponentially. Not only was the replication of New York City given more detail, but the map went on to include an entire new area known as Alderney, which bears a resemblance to Jersey City and Newark, New Jersey.
Four distinct islands make up the entirety of the fourth game’s world, a significant increase for the field of play. However, the company had yet to learn exactly how to balance all that space with the gameplay. Players were often frustrated with what felt like a lack of cohesion between the four islands, as they had to unlock portions of the map by completing the game’s story. This made it feel as if the four islands weren’t one New York City, but rather four different versions of NYC and its surrounding areas. Still, GTA IV stands out as the most successful version of Liberty City to date.