What sometimes gets lost in all the talk about the vast worlds and seemingly endless activities available in any entry in the GTA franchise is that these games tell some of the best stories in gaming. Not only that, but they're responsible for some of the most memorable moments we've ever experienced with a controller in our hands. Whether these moments are the explosive result of a beautifully orchestrated mission, the interplay between unforgettable characters, or just the pay off of a tight narrative executed really well, they stay with us for days, weeks, or years after we've played through them. So it's high time we gave the writers at Rockstar their due, and look at some of the most spectacular events to occur inside the Grand Theft Auto universe's twisted, delightful world.
5. Meet Trevor
While Grand Theft Auto V is chock full of interesting story beats, the one that stands out the most is the introduction of Trevor, everyone's favorite degenerate, psychotic meth dealer. Without getting too explicit about the details, Trevor's opening sequence captures all of the key parts of his personality: his egomania and tendency to self-aggrandize, his hyper-violent tendencies, and his deeply twisted and bizarre sense of justice. We not only get our first look at Trevor in this sequence, we also get our first glimpse of the blistered desert and trailer park wasteland he inhabits, and can instantly see that Trevor is a creature of his environment: strung out, harsh, and with a brain baked out by the sun until he's 100% over-the-top insane.
4. Niko's Choice
Much as we love the grand moments, the explosive shootouts and frenetic heists, some of the best moments in Grand Theft Auto are the quiet ones. When GTA IV introduced player choice to the franchise, it led to some of the most dramatic and affecting moments in the series, particularly when Niko has to choose which one of his childhood friends to gun down.
On one hand you have Playboy X, the ambitious, large than life gangster who rarely thinks of anything but himself but with whom Niko has had a lucrative relationship. On the other, there's the sympathetic but deeply depressed Dwayne, who's much more likable than his chatty counterpart but also seems to crave his own death. It was the first time in a Grand Theft Auto game where we found ourselves hesitant at the controls, deeply torn, debating the pros and cons of either decision. More importantly, it was the first time a GTA game genuinely made us weigh the morality and consequences of a decision, and still haunts us to this day.
3. The End of the Line
The final mission of San Andreas is in many ways the ultimate Grand Theft Auto mission in that it embodies the kitchen sink approach that the franchise as a whole has riden to success. There's SWAT, gang-bangers, arson, betrayal, chaos in the streets, massive gun battles, a car chase, a tank, a powerful death scene, deep symbolism, and truly satisfing resolution. For many fans this is THE moment, when the largest and craziest entry in the franchise wraps up in the most spectacular way possible, and it makes our list not only because it does a little bit of everything, but because almost everything it does it does extremely well, and ends up feeling like more than the sum of its parts.
2. …But your Enemies Closer
Call it rip-off or homage, Grand Theft Auto is often at it's best when it's cribbing from the cinematic classics it so clearly aspires to imitate. Such is the case in the closing moments of Vice City, when south Florida crime boss Tommy Vercetti's rags-to-riches story almost comes crashing down around him. Back against the wall, under the gun of a powerful mob boss, betrayed by his closest friend and associate, Tommy goes full Scarface, standing at the top of the stairs of his blood soaked mansion and unleashing an epic torrent of lead and explitives. The Keep your Friends Close mission is not only one of the most fun to play, but it's genuinely suprising, and one of the earliest moments we remember of a video game successfully executing a suprising betrayal.
1. The Heat Heist
Speaking of homage, the top moment on our list is a perfect example of Rockstar's ability to take some of the coolest moments on film and make them interactive. It's rare that a game is able to impart that sensation of a well crafted plan falling apart and the chaos and terror that result, but shooting our way through a horde of Liberty City's finest after a bank robbery gone sideways really made our hair stand on end. Everything, from the pounding soundtrack, the high pitched desperation in the voices of our accomplices, and the mid-heist slaying of one of our allies, built a tension that was almost unbearable, until it exploded onto the street in a massive gunfight and screaming, high speed pursuit. The Three Leaf Clover mission is the best example we can think of of a GTA game capturing the drama and intensity of some of Hollywood's most memorable action scenes, and tops our list for proving that games can put us on the edge of our seat just as effectively as film.