The Grand Theft Auto series is one of the most popular and controversial video game franchises of all-time. The original installment, which utilized a top-down perspective, arrived in 1997, but the series really exploded in popularity with 2001’s revolutionary and highly acclaimed Grand Theft Auto III, which introduced a 3D environment and more immersive experience. Since then, the franchise has gone from strength to strength, with 15 titles and expansion packs currently under its belt. While a large part of its success comes from being one of the best sandbox games on the market, the success can also be attributed to the thrilling, challenging, and action-packed missions. When looking across the entire series of games, these are the missions that we feel are the most epic.
** SPOILER WARNING** It should be obvious, but this list will contain mission and story spoilers for Grand Theft Auto III, Vice City, San Andreas, IV, and V.
10. “The Job” – GTA III: Vice City
One of the earlier heists of the series, this would set the tone for every bank job that followed. However, “The Job” is not just one mission, it is the conclusion to a chapter, preceded by a handful of missions which involve recruiting a team and making a plan. Once on “The Job”, the crew arrive at the bank, and Hilary is instructed to drive around the block as the trio, including Tommy, get changed. Then they begin the robbery, with Tommy and Can heading to the vault whilst Phil watches the civilians. Tommy has to hold the manager at gunpoint and gets him to open the vault, but sees Phil shooting a civilian for raising the alarm. At this point, the SWAT team arrives, so they grab the loot and head outside, where bullets fly. In the firefight, your getaway driver is killed, and the others are left to take out the SWAT team and escape.
9. “Caida Libre” – GTA V
A breathless and visually stunning mission, “Caida Libre” is not your average car chase. With Madrazo’s cousin set to testify against him, Madrazo tasks Michael and Trevor to kill him and retrieve sensitive documents. However, the cousin is set to arrive in Los Santos by plane, making things complicated. At this point, the mission begins, with Michael driving to the Observatory, where he must use a remote controlled sniper rifle to shoot down the plane, which is challenging because it forces you to compensate for distance. After accomplishing this, the real fun begins. You switch to Trevor, who has to chase the falling plane across Los Santos on a dirt bike, while ensuring the plane is in sight at all times. Doing this involves driving cross-country, as well as through the desert, avoiding traffic, wildlife and all other kinds of obstacles, including a monster jump over a train.
8. “Stowaway” – GTA III: San Andreas
Whenever there are planes involved in missions, you can almost guarantee that the results will be epic. This is particularly true in the case of “Stowaway”, which could be taken straight out of an action film. In the middle of an airstrip in the desert, CJ is tasked with killing rival agents and blowing up a cargo plane. To accomplish this, first, you must jump on a motorbike and ride into the back of the plane which is just about to take off, all while you are being shot at and dodging barrels that fall of the back of the plane. Once aboard, you must make your way to the front of the plane by killing agents and taking cover behind boxes. Then, you must place a satchel charge and jump off the back of the plane with a parachute, resulting in an eye-opening fall back down to earth as the plane blows up in the background.
7. “The Holland Play” – GTA IV
GTA IV introduced a new and refreshing element to the franchise which made it a particularly interesting installment, which was the a semi-interactive storyline. On a handful of missions, the game gives the player a decision to make which will then affect the overall storyline. The most notable of these is “The Holland Play,” where Playboy X requests that Niko kill Dwayne, whilst Dwayne wants Niko to kill Playboy (true GTA fans would probably make two save files at this point). Should you choose to kill Dwayne, he does not resist, but Playboy calls you “cold” and gives you little reward. Choosing Playboy (the real bad guy) results in a battle with his bodyguards, a chase, and the option for a dramatic execution scene. Also, you get Playboy’s penthouse and gun, Claude’s (the protagonist from GTA 3) outfit, and a helpful new friend in Dwayne.
6. “The Exchange” – GTA III
The final mission for GTA III was suitably epic and contained everything that made this revolutionary game so great. Up against his psychotic ex-girlfriend, Catalina, who is holding his new love interest, Maria, hostage, Claude brings the ransom money but is then betrayed and left to the mercy of the Cartel. Claude manages to steal a gun and take out a small army, before he steals a car and follows Catalina, who is escaping with Maria by helicopter. Chased by more gang members, Claude follows the chopper to the base of Cochrane Dam, where Maria is dropped off. Claude evades missiles as he attempts to rescue Maria, before he finds a convenient rocket launcher and shoots the helicopter, sending it spiraling into the dam. Claude then rescues Maria and they walk hand-in-hand over to the other side of the dam, finishing with a twist of GTA‘s trademark humor as the credits roll.
5. “The Paleto Score” – GTA V
The fourth heist (the mission type that never gets old) you’ll attempt in GTA V is slightly different from the rest. Instead of making a frantic getaway with the loot, in “The Paleto Score” you hold your ground and engage in one of the craziest shootouts to date. Michael, Trevor and Franklin obtain heavy artillery for this mission, with heavy-duty bulletproof suits and a minigun for the wild and unpredictable Trevor. After collecting the money from the safe deposit box room, you discover that the small rural bank you’re robbing has been surrounded by police, with the deputy sheriff ordering you to surrender. The three protagonists emerge in their body armor, with Trevor’s minigun frightening the police, at which point a huge battle erupts, which even sees a police helicopter crash into a nearby apartment building! The crew try to make their escape on foot, but the military shows up, at which point Franklin uses a bulldozer as a bulletproof getaway vehicle.
4. “Breaking The Bank At Caligula’s” – GTA III: San Andreas
Another epic heist; this mission sees CJ undertake a daunting task — robbing Caligula’s casino in Las Venturas. Disguised as a casino employee and wearing an earpiece to receive instructions, CJ enters a restricted area where he gasses the guards. Zero then detonates bombs which cause a blackout in the building, at which point use you a forklift to open the back door, allowing the Yakuza team to enter and shoot their way to the vault. CJ helps to hold off the security guards, but the Mafia are alerted, which results in a mammoth gunfight. The Yakuza team get to the Securicar and leave escorted by two police bikes, while CJ (acting as a decoy) makes his way to the roof. With the casino surrounded by police, he parachutes to an opposite roof where he escapes and meets the others at the airstrip. Disguises, teamwork, night-vision goggles, gunfights and parachutes, this mission has it all.
3. “Keep Your Friends Close” – GTA III: Vice City
Vice City borrowed very heavily from Scarface, so it only seemed fitting that the final mission would essentially be reminiscent of a very familiar shootout in the Tony Montana-esque mansion. GTA and pop culture go hand-in-hand, and this is a brilliant homage to one of the greatest gangster flicks of all time. With protagonist Tommy Vercetti now running Vice City, Sonny Forelli leaves Liberty City to reclaim his “cut” with dozens of his men. Lance betrays Tommy at the last minute, sparking an epic shootout within the mansion which seems to go on forever. Lance flees to the roof but is caught and killed by Tommy, before Tommy heads back to the foyer where he leans that it was Sonny who got him imprisoned all those years ago. One final bloodbath ensues, before Tommy finally gets his revenge, and can continue living the high life.
2. “End of the Line” – GTA III: San Andreas
Playing GTA can often feel like an interactive film, which is exactly what this iconic final mission tries to do. With the Los Santos riots (essentially the ’92 Los Angeles riots) raging, and fire everywhere, CJ discovers that traitorous Big Smoke is hiding in a crack den. After stealing a SWAT tank, he crashes through the wall and works his way up three floors packed with heavily armed gang members to enact his revenge. This is just the beginning however, as the crooked Officer Tenpenny (the game’s main antagonist) arrives and demands Smoke’s money. CJ refuses, so Tenpenny sets fire to the building and flees, which sparks an epic car chase throughout Los Santos, with the cops hot on their tail and rioters throwing Molotov cocktails. Eventually, Tenpenny crashes off a bridge and lands in Grove Street (where the game’s story started), then he makes a dramatic speech, before dying in the middle of the street.
1. “Three Leaf Clover” – GTA IV
The GTA development team have always excelled in a number of mission types, such as car chases and stealth missions, but the heist missions are where they really make their money. The greatest heist mission ever, and greatest mission to date, occurs in GTA IV. Armed to the teeth and wearing balaclavas, Niko and the crew travel to the Bank of Liberty City, where they steal $1 million. However, things go wrong when one of the crew dies and you instantly obtain a 5-star Wanted rating. Hordes and hordes of heavily-armed SWAT teams arrive, and the crew have to shoot their way out of the bank, through Chinatown, down into the subway system, and then back onto the street, where Niko must then act as a getaway driver. The video sequence, which is reminiscent of the movie Heat, epic and adrenaline-pumping shootout, variations of location during the escape, and the added getaway chase ensure that this mission has everything you could possible want.