A breakdown of the best Rockstar game makes for impossibly good reading. Over the last 23 years, this studio has built a reputation for creating some of the most important and transformative open-world action games of all-time. But there’s more to Rockstar Games than Grand Theft Auto, something we’ve tried to capture here as we rank its best ever games.
There’s never been a better time to jump into Rockstar’s library either. We know that GTA 6 is in-development, but with no release date in sight there’s plenty of time to explore some of the best single-player games and best video game stories ever made. So what are you waiting for, keep on scrolling to find our definitive ranking of the 25 best Rockstar games of all-time.
25. State of Emergency
Platform(s): PS2, Xbox
One of several games on this list that doesn’t feel all that much like a Rockstar game. Mainly because it isn’t… well, not really. Published under the Rockstar label, but developed by VIS Entertainment, this chaotic street brawler was rough around the edges in 2002, let alone 2022. Still, there is a brash charm about the sheer bedlam State of Emergency’s constant on-screen riots stir up. In that sense, it’s basically ‘Black Friday: The Game’, 15 years before the anarchy of the festive season’s most frenzied shopping day became a thing.
24. Smuggler’s Run
Platform(s): PC, PS2
If nothing else, Trevor Phillips’ outrageous drug-peddling missions in GTA 5 may never have happened without Smuggler’s Run. Years before everyone’s favorite Canadian sociopath was bombing through Sandy Shores in an ATV, this scrappy PS2 launch title made carrying illicit cargo through virtual deserts cool. So why does hardly anyone remember this deliciously down and dirty racer? Blame the game launching within a year of the medium-changing GTA 3. Still, getting lost in the critical shuffle is probably a good thing when you’re a smuggler, right?
23. The Warriors
Platform(s): PS2, PSP, Xbox
“Warriors… come out to play-ay!” We guess no one told the titular street gang of Walter Hill’s 1979 cult classic, because somehow, it took the iconic thugs 26 years to get from the multiplex to a home console. We’re just thankful Rockstar’s keenly faithful, ultra tardy tie-in is a bit quicker in ferrying the gang from the Bronx to their home turf in Coney Island. A stylish love letter to Streets of Rage that dances around the clunky melee fights of every GTA game, The Warriors was a passion project of a studio clearly besotted with cinema. At this rate, maybe we’ll get ‘Rockstar Games Presents: Serpico’ some time in 2034.
22. Red Dead Revolver
Platform(s): PS2, Xbox
In a parallel bizarro world, there’s a reality where Capcom published this love letter to spaghetti westerns, not Rockstar. Said reality probably involves Red Dead Redemption or its equally sensational sequel never becoming a thing, so thank Clint Eastwood’s last fistful of dollars the troubled Capcom production was eventually saved by Rockstar. Would John Marston and Arthur Morgan’s incredible Frontier epics gun down this slightly awkward, largely linear outlaw in a second? Sure. But such is Rockstar’s affection for Westerns, Revolver’s legacy is that of a game that inspired two of the greatest open world games of all time.
21. Manhunt 2
Platform(s): PC, PS2, PSP, Wii
Manhunt 2 might just be the most unlikely Wii game of all time. Nintendo’s sensors used to be notoriously ban-happy, so it’s some turn of events that this grizzly sequel hit the Big N’s family-friendly box. Sadly, this phoned-in follow-up lacks the sharpened satire of the original. Whereas that game felt like a deliberate attempt to probe and point fingers at voyeuristic fetishes, this feels like a mindless straight-to-DVD snuff film wannabe. But hey, at least it let Little Jimmy shake his Wiimote back and forth like he was trying to garrotte someone. That’s a back of the box selling point right there.
20. GTA: Liberty City Stories
Platform(s): PS2, PSP, iOS
It may be little more than a barebones retread of GTA 3, but come on. This is a fully functioning 3D Grand Theft Auto on a PSP! All those same seedy Liberty City corners can still be bombed around in cars – and even bikes this time around – as you go whacking wiseguy to wiseguy as GTA 3 quest-giver, Tony Cipriani. The fact Rockstar Leeds managed to squeeze Liberty City onto a shrunken down PS2 is a truly gobsmacking technical achievement.
19. Red Dead Online
Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One
Red Dead Online is a terrific multiplayer experience, but it also reeks of unfulfilled potential. Despite wriggling free of Arthur Morgan’s lasso and becoming a standalone game in 2020, new updates have dried up. Being a Wild West bounty hunter used to swallow our evenings whole, but those prairies have since gone a little quiet. In a world where GTA Online updates are constantly churned out, it looks this outlaw came off second best next to its Blaine County cousin.
18. GTA: Vice City Stories
Platform(s): PS2, PSP
Rockstar Leeds managed to squeeze another mini marvel out of the PSP with this sun-dappled sequel. Improving Liberty City Stories targeting system, and introducing a likeable new lead in the form of Vic Vance – yes, that would be the brother of Lance – this is another winning take on portable GTA. The game’s biggest legacy is introducing a feature the series would revisit with massive success in GTA 5. That would be its ‘‘empire-building’ property system: a mechanic that let you fatten Lance’s wallet as you bought and fought to keep local businesses running.
17. GTA: Chinatown Wars
Platform(s): DS, PSP, iOS
Who said top-down GTA was old hat? If you told a kid playing Pokémon Yellow on their GBA that a few years later, they’d be gunning down felons in a GTA that had been bespokely designed for a Nintendo handheld, they’d have gotten dizzier than Pikachu mid-Volt Tackle. Not only was Chinatown Wars smartly designed, it made canny use of the DS’ unique features – like using the second screen as a map or blowing into the handheld’s mic to hail a taxi. Huang Lee’s pocket-fitting hit is a cruelly overlooked GTA gem.
16. L.A. Noire
By 2022 standards, the gurning, try-hard motion capture performances in this evocatively moody detective game haven’t aged well. Like watching Bert and Ernie attempt to wrap their Muppet lips around Hamlet, there’s something deeply strange about watching L.A. Noire’s very particular brand of overacting.
In a game where the cases are already almost impossible not to solve, having photo-realistic TV and stage actors doing ALL OF THE EMOTIONS on their faces kinda gives the gig up. Did Team Bondi’s MotionScan tech revolutionize the industry in the way Rockstar may have hoped? Nope. Yet though L.A. Noire isn’t the pioneer it set out to be, its pitch perfect 1940s Los Angeles feels grown-up and authentic in a way so few modern AAA games ever are.
15. Grand Theft Auto
Platform(s): PC, PS1
It might not technically be a Rockstar game, but there’s zero chance we could do this list without the original GTA. Developed by Scottish outfit DMA Design – whose key members would go on to form Rockstar Games – Grand Theft Auto is a living, breathing, car-jacking history lesson.
The top-down viewpoint might be old fashioned, but 1997’s GTA represents the series at its core. Brutal carnage delivered with a knowing slice of slapstick? That’s a Rockstar open world. Fun fact: other than this game’s London set of side missions, the first Grand Theft Auto introduced (and features) every GTA city that has appeared in the series since.
14. GTA: The Ballad of Gay Tony
Platform(s): PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Alright, alright! So this is a piece of DLC, not its own full-blown game. But when Tony Prince and Luis Lopez’s antics are this outrageously entertaining, exceptions on the best Rockstar games list need to be made, dammit! This is the most fun GTA has ever been. Taking GTA 4’s wonderfully detailed Liberty City and shunting aside all that lowkey misery for outright absurdity, Gay Tony’s campaign involves violent golf buggy chases, parachute shootouts, and the most glorious automatic shotgun in all of games. We adore it.
13. Midnight Club: Los Angeles
Platform(s): PC, PS3, Xbox 360
No one really talks about Midnight Club, but they should. GTA has always led the sandbox pack when it comes to responsive driving models, so it should be no surprise the one dedicated racing series Rockstar did make feels lovely to control. The last mainline entry in the series, and with over a decade without mention of a follow-up, it looks like Midnight Club’s race is run. Still, we’ll remember the final game fondly for its tight steering and thrilling cop chases through a lovingly rendered City of Angels.
12. Rockstar Games Presents: Table Tennis
Platform(s): Xbox 360, Wii
Available on: Xbox 360, Wii
How the hell did this happen? The only explanation for this thoroughly odd but equally awesome passion project is someone at Rockstar must have watched that scene from Forrest Gump 173 times. Casually dropping the GOAT of all ping pong games on the Xbox 360, Table Tennis is a wonderfully light, ferociously focused game. With zero bloat on its rangy frame, this stealth vehicle for GTA 4’s RAGE physics engine serves up hyper-elastic thrills for a sport that, in retrospect, deserves more video game love.
Or ‘Canis Canem Edit’ to our UK readers. A newspaper-riling phenomen when it hit store shelves a couple of years removed from GTA: San Andreas, few recent AAA games have courted controversy quite like Bully. A virtual playground sim that lets you dish out wedgies faster than the school canteen can plate lunch, the tale of juvenile delinquent Jimmy Hopkins is GTA… with pimples.
The stripclubs and headshots might have been given detention until the end of time, but Bully’s slingshot-firing, kiss-stealing, chaos-causing action delivers the wickedly playful sandbox formula you’d expect from Rockstar. In retrospect, we do feel a teensy bit guilty about shoving that kid who helped us with Jimmy’s homework into a bin 17 times in one school week.
Platform(s): PC, PS2, Xbox
Would Manhunt be made today? Probably not. Taking a perverse but knowing glee in the on-screen carnage it forces you to unleash as an escaped Carcer City inmate, Manhunt is truly repellent. Oh, and utterly, utterly compelling. This is video game violence that actually has something interesting to say. A pre-Succession Brian Cox coaxes you at every juncture, in a chillingly lowkey performance. Compared to the Scottish actor’s famously cold ‘f*ck offs’ in Succession, the snuff film director he plays in Manhunt makes Logan Roy look like Santa Claus. Disgusting, yet always must-play, they really don’t make ‘em like this anymore. And maybe that’s for the best.
9. Max Payne 3
Platform(s): PC, PS3, Xbox 360
This is not Remedy’s Max Payne. Ditching the machete-sharp cheekbones of series creator Sam Lake, the burned out ex-op we meet slumming it on the streets of Rio is as relatable as this iconic character has ever been. Rockstar finally (and wisely) bases Max’s appearance on longtime voice actor James McCaffery, with the newly bloated former law enforcer proving he can still go toe to toe with Neo when it comes to gravity-defying shootouts. Payne’s action may be one note, but when said note is as spectacularly high as the gleefully cinematic Bullet Time gun battles on offer here, we say: “Play it again, Max.”
8. GTA Online
C’mon, it’s absolutely its own game at this point. There must be millions of players out there who can barely recall the terrible trio of Michael, Franklin, and Trevor, but who play GTA Online every single damn day of their lives. With univiting menus and constant, slightly hard to keep track of updates, GTA Online has always been a bit of a hot mess.
Yet it’s also literally the most successful hot mess of all time. Stack every physical copy of GTA 5 that’s ever been sold, and that pile would probably stretch to the Moon. Thrown on the countless wads Rockstar has made through GTAO Shark Cards, and said stack would reach to Mars and back. That a game of such stratospheric sales success remains a thoroughly enjoyable online open world is testament to the amazing driving and shooting mechanics Rockstar cooked up back in 2013.
7. GTA 3
People wax on about the importance of Pong and Pac-Man, but there’s a good chance Grand Theft Auto 3 is the most influential video game of all time. Did 3D worlds exist before Rockstar’s breakout smash? Of course. But did a single one of them – with the possible exception of 1996’s Tomb Raider – get within a hundred country miles of its cultural impact? Not even close. Essentially creating the modern 3D open world template as we know it, if it wasn’t for GTA 3’s transformative, if janky cop chases and shootouts, would Ubisoft as the sandbox-obsessed entity it is even exist today? The most important game on this list… and it ain’t close.
6. GTA: San Andreas
Considering it launched in 2004, GTA: San Andreas is a game of almost obscene scale. Vastly bigger than both GTA 3 and Vice City combined, Rockstar managed to cram an entire US State onto PS2. A twisted take on California, featuring Rockstar’s down and dirty representations of L.A., San Francisco, and Las Vegas, it’s absurd a game of this size and ambition was ever squeezed onto a PS2 disc.
But it’s not just the scale of San Andreas that made it special. Wisely settling for another period piece after the success of Vice City, this early ‘90s adventure taps into the spirit of classics like Boyz in the Hood, as it tells the tale of CJ, a gang member with a heart and a side serving of self-deprecation.
5. GTA 4
Even if the series reaches GTA 54, we doubt Rockstar will ever nail its take on New York quite like this again. In Niko Bellic’s dry-witted, downbeat Liberty City, the studio has its ultimate Rotten Apple. Completely reworking the original trilogy’s car handling and shootouts to feel weighty and authentic for the PS3 and Xbox 360 generation, GTA 4 focuses on scintillating detail in its recreation of the most famous city on the planet. San Andreas has its spellbinding scale, no doubt. But every time Bellic accidentally ragdolls a pedestrian with a passive-aggressive shove on a Broker sidewalk thanks to that electrifying RAGE engine, you can feel the city’s sardonic soul. A truly amazing (if slightly miserable) Grand Theft Auto.
4. GTA: Vice City
If there’s ever to be one last time capsule to encompass all that humanity ever was, we really hope E.T. and fam find Vice City buried under the soil. The ultimate blend of style and substance, GTA will never land on a more perfect setting. The Miami of Tubbs and Crockett-style sleeves and endless sunshine, Vice City is as welcoming and warm as it is wicked. This is GTA at its most glamorous and gauche. With the best soundtrack in history and Ray Liotta delivering a killer, Goodfellas-aping turn as Tommy Verecetti, there’s a reason Vice City remains the timeless standout in last year’s otherwise shaky GTA Trilogy remaster.
3. Red Dead Redemption
Platform(s): PS3, Xbox 360
There’s an argument to be made that Red Dead Redemption is the best story Rockstar has ever told. Finally unshackled from the relentless cynicism and satire of GTA, Rockstar was bold enough to tell an emotionally grounded tale of a decent but flawed man looking for a second chance in the dying days of the Old West.
This is a phenomenal, fabulously realised version of Sergio Leone’s Wild West – one that you can appreciate in 4K on Xbox One X or Series X/S thanks to the sterling work of Microsoft’s back compat team. Vast, funny, while often sad, this cowboy sandbox produces shootouts sharper than any GTA, while the story is far more subtle and heartfelt. In John Marston’s astonishingly bold three-hour epilogue, Rockstar delivers what many would argue to be the boldest and best ever ending to a AAA video game. John, you’re (very almost) the best in the West.
2. Red Dead Redemption 2
Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One
Perhaps the prettiest AAA game of all time is also one of the all-time great open worlds. In a dimension where the game below and The Witcher 3 don’t exist, this is the GOAT of GOATs. Telling an affecting story of servitude, misplaced loyalty, and fittingly, of a redemptive arch that takes just a little too long, this is hands-down the best yarn Rockstar has ever spun.
It’s also an immaculate video game. Red Dead Redemption 2 is not only good at, but great at everything it tries its hand to. The feel of your horse as it trots across the vast prairies? Best in class. The six-barrel, incredibly impactful shootouts? Never bettered. The wealth of detail across a gargantuan world that wouldn’t be out of place in a far more focused Naughty Dog game? That’s Red Dead Redemption 2 for you. West is best. Well…
1. GTA 5
Available on: PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PS5
In an incredibly subjective medium, there are so few games that deserve to be considered the greatest of all time. When you factor in sales and critical success, two outstanding contenders usually stand tall. And seeing this is not a best list of Mojang games/or Minecraft expansions, it’s pretty clear what the GOAT of this list is.
GTA 5 is a breathtaking video game. An inventive, devilish and awesome open world that plays out like a tongue-in-cheek version of Michael Mann’s Heat, this is arguably the best game ever made. Whether completing the incredibly paced Jewel Store job on a 720p, 32-inch screen on Xbox 360 back in the day, or being privileged enough to play Franklin and co’s criminal hijinx at 4K/120fps on a colossal OLED TV courtesy of a high-end PC, this is probably the best open world game of all time. Unless you’re a big Geralt fan…