The market has become so oversaturated with open-world action games that it’s almost impossible to recall a time when open worlds weren’t a thing in AAA game design. But like all gaming trends, it had to start somewhere, and in this case, GTA was the driving force behind making the open-world approach as popular as it is today.
Granted, GTA was by no means the first ever open-world game, but also among the most influential ones, at least as far as action games are concerned. It had inspired dozens of games over the past two decades, some of which were derogatorily dubbed “GTA clones”, but others added their own features and innovations to the mix.
In this article, we’ll be focusing on the latter – the very best games similar to GTA, in no particular order.
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The first Mafia game came out around the same time as GTA Vice City, and it has received two sequels, titled simply Mafia II (2010) and Mafia III (2016).
The most obvious difference between the GTA and the Mafia games is the setting. While the latest “HD Universe” are set in fictional modern-day cities, the first, second, and third Mafia games take place in the 1930s, 1940s, and the 1960s, respectively.
Apart from that difference, which mainly affects the aesthetics and the narrative, Mafia plays more or less just like GTA – it features an open city to explore, various vehicles becoming of the time period, and a plethora of criminal activities to take part in. Moreover, Mafia takes itself a bit more seriously than GTA does, so it lacks the kind of humor that GTA is known for.
Sadly, the Mafia games neither became quite as popular as GTA, nor were they as well received by the fans and the critics. Truth be told, the Mafia games will mainly appeal to those who like this particular setting, as there are few good GTA-like games that take place in the 20th century America. But apart from that, Mafia doesn’t have much new to offer that you haven’t already seen in GTA.
Saints Row Series
Saints Row is essentially what you’d get if you took GTA and turned the ridiculous factor up by 1000%. At the moment, the franchise consists of five games:
- Saints Row (2006)
- Saints Row 2 (2008)
- Saints Row the Third (2011)
- Saints Row IV (2013)
- Saints Row Gat Out of Hell (2015)
The first game is easy to overlook, seeing as it was only released for the Xbox 360 and is now only playable on the Xbox One via backwards compatibility. Saints Row 2 and Saints Row the Third, as mentioned above, are pretty much just GTA but with extra absurdity added to the mix.
However, Saints Row IV is another story, as it refreshes the formula by adding various Matrix-esque superpowers, all the while Gat Out of Hell takes place in – you guessed it – hell, and gives the player wings and different arcane powers.
All in all, the Saints Row games don’t take themselves seriously at all and are pretty much just mindless fun. Saints Row 5 is reportedly in development, though there are no concrete news just yet.
Watch Dogs Series
Next up, we have Watch Dogs, which is Ubisoft’s cyberpunk-ish take on GTA that allows the player to affect the world by hacking various computer systems around them. Apart from that, it makes no major deviations from the GTA formula. The same can be said for Watch Dogs 2, although the sequel does streamline and improve upon the foundation set by the original.
But all in all, Watch Dogs 1 and 2 aren’t exactly the most standout GTA-like games out there, but they still deserve a mention, as many GTA fans are bound to have a good time with them and their interactive environments.
Sleeping Dogs is an interesting game that takes place in contemporary Hong Kong and primarily builds upon the existing GTA formula by expanding the melee combat system, allowing for more fluid and intuitive brawling which bears a lot of resemblance to the combat system of the Batman Arkham games.
In addition to the improvements made to the melee combat, Sleeping Dogs also does a good job of bringing Hong Kong to life, which plays a big part in helping the game distinguish itself from other unremarkable GTA clones.
All in all, Sleeping Dogs isn’t exactly a groundbreaking revolutionary title, but we’d say it is a must-play for GTA fans, especially if you’re a fan of the east Asian aesthetic.
Moving on, we get to the Yakuza series, which can most precisely be described as “Japanese GTA”. The series goes all the way back to 2005, and today, it spans a total of ten titles, most of which share the same core mechanics.
The Yakuza games place a big focus on melee combat, and seeing as we’re talking about Japanese games, you already know that you can expect to see a lot of over-the-top martial arts action and flashing numbers, as well as a very distinctly Japanese aesthetic and presentation style.
That said, when it comes to Japanese games, you either love them or you hate them. So, if you’re in the former team, one of the newer Yakuza games such as Yakuza 0, Yakuza 6, Yakuza Kiwami, or Yakuza Kiwami 2 might be just what you’re looking for. If not, then it’s best to give this series a pass.
GTA games and GTA-inspired games almost always have you playing the role of a criminal, but in contrast, Rockstar’s own L.A. Noire puts you in the shoes of a detective in the 1940s America. The game takes a step back from car chases and shootouts in order to deliver a somewhat slower, more narrative-focused experience.
The most brilliant thing about L.A. Noire is the game’s use of MotionScan technology that delivered some of the most realistically animated faces in the history of gaming, something that plays an important part in interrogations. Apart from reading NPCs facial expressions in order to assert whether they’re lying or not, the player has to collect evidence from crime scenes and solve progressively more complex cases, all the while the main story slowly unfolds.
But of course, L.A. Noire isn’t a point & click adventure game, and players will inevitably come across criminals who will try to run away or fight back, which opens the door for chases, melee brawls, and shootouts.
With the above in mind, L.A. Noire is both different and not-so-different from your usual GTA game. You cannot just skip through the dialogues and cutscenes in order to get to the action faster, but once you do get to the action, it’s going to be very familiar, for better or for worse. In any case, it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.
An old but beloved Rockstar game, Bully is a unique experience that doesn’t put the player in the role of a criminal or a police officer but that of a teenager in a private boarding school.
Obviously, Bully is smaller in scope and is not as violent as most GTA-like games, which is not really a bad thing. This is precisely what helps Bully stand out and makes it so unique and distinct in a sea of GTA clones. The established GTA formula is still there, so the game is just as engaging on the gameplay front.
The only downside to Bully is that it was originally released in 2006 as a PlayStation 2 title and was remastered in 2008 for the Xbox 360 and Windows, so as you might expect, the graphics are far from 2020 level. But if you don’t mind the dated graphics and the lack of overly graphic violence, Bully is definitely a game worth playing.
Red Dead Redemption 1 & 2
Given the popularity of the recently released Red Dead Redemption 2, you’ve probably heard of Rockstar’s GTA-like Western. Considering the setting, cars are obviously not part of the mix this time around, but Red Dead Redemption 2 is probably one of the best open-world action games out there in general. It is beautiful, detail-heavy, extremely immersive, featuring a vast open world ripe for exploration, and it is an unforgettable gaming experience through-and-through.
The first Red Dead Redemption from 2010, while a great game in its own right, isn’t quite on the sequel’s level due to technological limitations, and it is sadly still confined to the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360, so the only way to play it on modern hardware is with the Xbox One’s backward compatibility feature.
There’s also Red Dead Revolver, which was the first game in the series, but seeing as it’s a 2004 game that is still available only on the PlayStation 2 and the original Xbox that has received middling reviews from critics, you can imagine why you have never heard of it, compared to the immensely more popular sequels.
Just Cause Series
Just Cause is perhaps more similar to Saints Row than to GTA due to how over-the-top its action sequences can be. The player is very mobile, equipped with a grappling hook-parachute combo (and later, a wingsuit) that allow for fast environment traversal and make the combat encounters more dynamic than what you’re used to seeing in GTA.
Sadly, the storyline isn’t one of the games’ strong suits, so when it comes to Just Cause, the gameplay is the main selling point. The franchise is currently comprised of four games (Just Cause 1-4), but only the newest two are playable on 8th-gen systems.
And that would be our selection of the very best games that are similar to GTA! As we’ve already mentioned, there are many more GTA-like games out there and we couldn’t include them all, but if you feel that there are some games/game franchises that deserve a mention on the list, feel free to let us know in the comments and we’ll see about expanding the article in the future.