It’s been almost four years since launch, and Grand Theft Auto 5 still consistently ranks in the top ten best-selling games on a weekly basis. In other words, a lot of people are still playing and buying Grand Theft Auto – and why wouldn’t they? Rockstar’s groundbreaking franchise has commanded influence over the open-world crime genre since the late ‘90s, and dozens of games have found inspiration from the high-ranking standards set by the studio. If you’re looking for something to scratch that Grand Theft Auto itch, but want to avoid binging out on Rockstar games until Red Dead Redemption 2 arrives later this year, the following titles should have you covered.
Just Cause 3 (2015 – Xbox One / PS4)
The Just Cause series is essentially what Grand Theft Auto would look like if it were on a sugar rush. Just Cause 3, especially, delights in unprecedented levels of chaos, by taking the insanity that derives from player freedom in open-world games and notching it up to 11. 12 in some instances. If you were amused by the ragdoll physics of Grand Theft Auto 5, just wait till you see what you can achieve in The Republic of Medici. To be clear, Just Cause 3 holds none of the storytelling class or mechanical polish of Rockstar’s signature franchise, but it instead excels with its (literally) sky high approach to choreographing carnage on a massive scale. With the added bonuses of a wingsuit and a tethering grapple hook, it’s worth bearing through Just Cause 3’s off-putting load times for the sake of revelling in the pandemonium that can be wrought when playing as professional revolutionary Rico Rodriguez.
Buy Just Cause 3 now on Amazon
Saints Row (2003 – Xbox 360 / PS3)
Future Saints Row sequels went on to distance themselves more confidently from Grand Theft Auto by doubling down on their surrealist and satirical tone, but the first game very much remains dripped in the stylings of its biggest influence. That’s not to say that Saints Row is a hackneyed clone of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, though, as this actually manages to improve upon Rockstar’s open-world formula in a couple of interesting ways. The in-game GPS, for example, was ahead of its time as a navigational tool, allowing players to easily locate missions or points of interest throughout Stillwater. SR was even one of the first of its kind to introduce online multiplayer to the genre. To be honest, Saints Row hasn’t aged all that well since its original 2006 release, but it remains as a fun trip down memory lane to a time when the series wasn’t so ridiculous.
Want to play Saints Row now? Check out Saints Row: Gat Outta Hell on Amazon
Watch Dogs 2 (2016 – Xbox One / PS4)
The original Watch Dogs was such a po-faced and sour-hearted affair that Aiden Pearce’s tale of revenge becomes almost unbearable by the end of it, but Ubisoft took that criticism to heart for the sequel. As such, the studio’s follow-up eschews much more closely to the sentiments and tone of contemporary Grand Theft Auto titles, by using its setting as the stage for biting satire. Remember the “Life Invader” mission from Grand Theft Auto 5? Watch Dogs 2 is essentially that, but blown up to the scale of an entire game. Rockstar’s parody of Silicon Valley still packs a little more punch than Ubisoft’s, but Watch Dogs 2 regardless holds plenty of laughs for anyone who’s had to sit through an Apple conference or a Facebook commercial.
Buy Watch Dogs 2 now on Amazon
Yakuza 0 (2017 – PS4)
Grand Theft Auto has always been celebrated for the way it brings cities to life, cramming its virtual worlds with dozens of side activities to enjoy outside of the main campaign. Yakuza 0 takes this design philosophy and goes to town on it. Where Grand Theft Auto 5 has tennis, yoga and stock brokering, Yakuza 0 offers up karaoke, pool, arcades, wrestling, bowling, dancing, gambling and… uh, awkwardly viewing some explicit material in the back of a video store. As that last one can attest to, not all of the side activities are tastefully made, but the sheer volume and diversity of things to do in Tokyo is staggering. Yakuza 0 raises the bar for open-world games, and it’ll be interesting to see how Rockstar responds with the inevitable Grand Theft Auto 6.
Buy Yakuza 0 now on Amazon
Red Dead Redemption (2010 – PS3 / Xbox 360)
You can probably guess why this one’s one here – it is made by the same studio, after all. Despite the early 20th century setting, Red Dead Redemption is the game which feels closest to Rockstar’s seminal franchise when compared to other titles in the studio’s portfolio. The open-world setting is larger and more expansive than something like Bully, and the freedom of the Wild West means that players aren’t limited in the same way they are with L.A. Noire. While the similarities aren’t exactly as simple as ‘Grand Theft Auto with horses’, Red Dead Redemption is further proof of Rockstar’s genius when it comes to open-world design.
Sleeping Dogs (2014 – Xbox One / PS4)
Very much sticking to its name by turning into a sleeper hit back in 2012, Sleeping Dogs brings the likes of martial arts and B-movie stunt action to the conventions of the open-world crime genre. The result feels like a Grand Theft Auto game dressed in the garb of a classic Bruce Lee film, and it’s fantastic. Sadly the sequel, which apparently included a co-op campaign, got canned while still in the early stages of development, making Sleeping Dogs a rare gem that deserves more appreciation for the new ideas it brought to the table. The game even re-released on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in 2014, so there’s really no excuse to let Sleeping Dogs lie on the store shelf anymore (sorry).
Buy Sleeping Dogs now on Amazon
Mafia 3 (2016 – Xbox One / PS4)
There is yet to exist a Grand Theft Auto game which doesn’t include a run-in with the Mafia in some measure, which naturally leaves 2K’s Mafia series as a good starting point for open-world enthusiasts with a taste for organized crime. These games’ come across as more grounded than their contemporaries, but you can easily see the echoes of titles like San Andreas and Grand Theft Auto 4 shining through their design. Mafia 3, the series’ most recent release from studio Hangar 13, hews more closely to the likes of Rockstar with a focus on side activities and a story centred around a war veteran trying to escape the demons of his past (Niko Bellic, anyone?). That said, the meaty, slow-burning narrative is as much inspired by the likes of The Godfather and Goodfellas as it is Grand Theft Auto, written so effectively that you’ll sometimes forget you’re playing a video game and not watching a Scorsese flick.
Buy Mafia 3 now on Amazon
Lego City Undercover (2017 – Nintendo Switch)
There’s a good reason that almost every Grand Theft Auto game has been labelled as intended for mature audiences only, but what about those of us who want to enjoy cops and robbers without the sex, drugs or rock and roll? Luckily, TT Games came up with the next best thing in 2013. ‘Lego Grand Theft Auto’ is a cliched but nevertheless effective pitch for Lego City Undercover, but this adorable open-world platformer hides much more up its plastic sleeve than mere imitation. The brick-based visuals are delightful, the litany of side-quests and collectables are deceptively well polished, and the pop culture reference-laden story is a hoot. For those who are able to pick up the recent re-release of the game, Lego City Undercover can now also be enjoyed as a co-op experience, or even a travel-handy one with the Nintendo Switch.
Buy Lego City Undercover now on Amazon
Payday 2 (2015 – Xbox One / PS4)
If you’re someone who particularly enjoyed Grand Theft Auto 4’s infamous ‘Three Leaf Clover’ mission or Grand Theft Auto 5’s heists, Payday 2 is going to be right up your alley. Overkill Software’s multiplayer co-op romp lets players loose on a series of high-stakes break-ins and robberies, but it’s not as simple as grabbing the money and legging it. Similar to the capers of Michael, Trevor and Franklin, Payday 2 encourages players to strategize their game plan down to every minute detail, even letting them scope out the place before committing the deed later on that same day. The focus on online co-operative squad-play also brings to mind the multiplayer heists introduced to Grand Theft Auto Online in 2013, but Payday 2 luckily comes without those painstaking loading times.
Buy Payday 2 now on Amazon
The Simpsons Hit & Run (2003 – PS2 / Xbox)
A popular animated sit-com isn’t the first setting that comes to mind for a GTA-style video game, but Radical Entertainment achieved the unimaginable with this cult-classic hit from 2003. Homer and the gang aren’t able to commit atrocities on the same level as someone like Niko or Trevor, of course, but you can still cause all manner of mayhem across Springfield by kicking and punching to your heart’s content. The Simpsons: Hit & Run is as much a game for Simpsons fans as it is for Grand Theft Auto veterans, as the game smartly peppers references to its serialised namesake across the entirety of the campaign. Truth be told, Simpsons Hit and Run is generally agreed to be one of, if not the best Simpsons video game of all time, right up there with Krusty’s Fun House and Simpsons Tapped Out.