Numerous titles in the series have received ports to mobile devices. Chinatown Wars was released for iOS in 2010 and for Android and Fire OS in 2014. For their tenth anniversaries, Grand Theft Auto III and Vice City were both re-released for iOS and Android in 2011 and 2012, respectively. In 2013, San Andreas was ported to iOS, Android and Windows Phone and RT; the mobile port was later re-released for Xbox 360 in 2014, the year of the game's tenth anniversary, and the following year for PlayStation 3. In 2015, Liberty City Stories was ported to iOS, Android and Fire OS.
Each game in this series allows the player to take on the role of a criminal in the big city, typically an individual who plans to rise through the ranks of organised crime through the course of the game. The player is given various missions by kingpins and major idols in the city underworld which must be completed to progress through the storyline. Assassinations and other violent crimes are featured regularly. Occasionally taxi driving, firefighting, street racing, bus driving, or learning to fly helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft are also involved in the game.
The Grand Theft Auto series belongs to a genre of free-roaming role-playing video games called open world games, and grants a large amount of freedom to the player. Traditional action games are structured as a single track series of levels with linear gameplay, but in Grand Theft Auto the player can determine the missions that they want to undertake, and their relationship with various characters are changed based on these choices. Influenced by the earlier game Turbo Esprit, the cities of the games can be roamed freely at any point in the game, and are examples of open world video game environments which offer accessible buildings with minor missions in addition to the main storyline. There are exceptions: missions follow a linear, overarching plot. These missions are required to complete in order to unlock new areas in the game.
The use of vehicles in an explorable urban environment provides a basic simulation of a working city, complete with pedestrians who generally obey traffic signals. Further details are used to flesh out an open-ended atmosphere that has been used in several other games, such as The Simpsons: Hit & Run, which has less emphasis on crime or violence, and Lego City Undercover, which reverses the roles of police officer and criminal, although the player goes undercover in gangs for a portion of the game.
A redesigned version of Liberty City was introduced in Grand Theft Auto III (set in 2001). This iteration is only loosely based on New York, and incorporates elements from other U.S. cities, such as Philadelphia, Detroit, Boston, Chicago, and Baltimore. The city encompassess three main islands, which are gradually unlocked as the game's storyline progresses: Portland (based on the industrial areas of Brooklyn and Queens, with additional elements from Manhattan and Long Island), Staunton Island (based mostly on Manhattan), and Shoreside Vale (loosely based on North Jersey, The Bronx, Staten Island, and Upstate New York). The islands are connected by road bridges and an underground tunnel system. A tunnel leading out of Liberty City can be found in Shoreside Vale, but it is impassable by the player. This particular version of Liberty City returned in the prequels Grand Theft Auto Advance (set in 2000) and Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories (set in 1998), albeit with several changes to reflect the different time periods. The city was also mentioned in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and was the setting of a mission in the latter.
A reimagined version of San Andreas was featured in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (set in 1992), as a state rather than a city. Based on California and Nevada, the state encompasses two landmasses, separated by a river and surrounded by a large body of water. The southern portion of the map features the cities of Los Santos (based on Los Angeles) and San Fierro (San Francisco), separated by vast forest and mountain areas. By contrast, the northern portion is one large desert region and incorporates only one city, Las Venturas (Las Vegas). Both landmasses feature additional rural settlements, which are less inhabited than the three major cities. The cities are connected by a train track system, and each one features an airport, which can be used to fast travel from a city to another. At the beginning of the game, players only have access to Los Santos, with the rest of the map being gradually unlocked as the story progresses.
A third version of San Andreas appeared in Grand Theft Auto V (set in 2013), again imagined as a state. The game features only the southern portion of the state, which is depicted as a large island. The southern portion of the island is occupied mostly by the city of Los Santos (which resembles Los Angeles much more closely than its San Andreas counterpart), while the northern portion, known as Blaine County, is less inhabited, featuring vast areas of desert, forest, and mountain, and only a few small towns. This version of San Andreas is currently the only setting in the series that doesn't feature any map limitations, allowing players to explore the entire island at the beginning of the game. Los Angeles was extensively researched for Grand Theft Auto V. The team organised field research trips with tour guides and architectural historians and captured around 250,000 photos and hours of video footage during these visits. Since the release of the game, hundreds of in-game buildings have been identified as being based on real-world landmarks. The New Yorker's Sam Sweet notes that, with sales of the game reaching thirteen million copies, "there will be more people living in the imaginary state of Los Santos than in the real city on which it was modelled."
Vice City, based on Miami, is one of the three original cities introduced in Grand Theft Auto. It is the third setting available to the player. The city encompasses one large landmass, divided into eight districts which form the city's core, and a smaller island, Vice Beach, in the northeast. Like its real-life counterpart, Vice City is depicted as a tropical city, easily distinguished from the other two in the game by its beaches and palm trees.
A redesigned version of Vice City was introduced in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (set in 1986). The city consists of two main landmasses, Vice City Beach and Vice City Mainland, separated by a large body of water and connected to each other and to two smaller islands, Starfish Island and Prawn Island, by a series of road bridges. At the beginning of the game, the player only has access to Vice City Beach, with the rest of the city being gradually unlocked as the story progresses. The same setting would be later used in the prequel Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories (set in 1984), albeit with several changes to reflect the different time period.
The London 1969 and London 1961 expansion packs for Grand Theft Auto take place within a fictionalised version of London during the 1960s. As such, they are the only games in the series to be set outside of the United States. The portion of the city used in the games is based on Central London, although heavily condensed and mostly geographically inaccurate. It consists of two landmasses, separated by the River Thames and connected by several road bridges. A fictionalised version of Manchester is also featured in the games.
There has been some controversy over a drug dealing minigame along with comments that some Nintendo games are being aimed at children (despite the fact that the game was rated Mature). The drug dealing mini-game allows players to peddle six types of drugs around the city, but the profit the player makes depends on market conditions, which will be based on the area in which they deal, and the level of regular service this area receives from them.
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