1. Grand Theft Auto V/ GTA Online (Original Release: 2013, Xbox 360 & PS3)
Full stop, GTA V is the best GTA game ever made.
GTA V is easily the best-looking and best-playing game in the entire franchise, and a large part of that has to do with Rockstar’s attention to detail. You can knock over traffic cones, watch animals in the woods, and read labels on cereal boxes. Hell, you can watch TV or even surf a totally fictional in-game internet. It’s wild.
GTA V is also a joy to play, and in a single session you can alternate between the chaos of blowing up a train or robbing a bank to the beauty of parachuting over the desert at night. It’s wonderful.
Then you have GTA Online. Yes, some of the pricing is ridiculous, and the grinding to get the newest and coolest toys can take forever. But GTA Online is still a playground that I’ve lost hundreds of hours in. Driving around the mountains, doing missions, racing cars, starting large firefights with the police—these are all things you’ve done in GTA before, but being able to do it all with friends revitalizes the experience.
The best part is, every few months or so, there’s a new vehicle or mode to play around with. GTA Online is constantly changing, and these updates—which are free—add entirely new gameplay systems. All these years after the release of GTA Online and I’m still playing the game; it still feels fresh.
Fun fact: While GTA fans have spent years looking for UFOs, ghosts, and Bigfoot across multiple games, most of those searches haven’t turned up much. Rockstar seems to have noticed this was a trend because they included all three of those things in GTA V. That inclusion helps explain why the legend of Mt. Chiliad was so powerful in motivating people to look for a fabled jetpack.
Putting nostalgia aside, as someone who has put an embarrassing number of hours into all GTA games, GTA V is the pinnacle of the series.