The term "GTA clone" is not an endearing one, especially when it describes a game's identity.
Contrary to popular belief, GTA didn't invent 3D open-world sandbox-style games. Rockstar Games popularized it with GTA III, but it wouldn't be fair to call certain games "GTA clones" just because they share a genre.
Naturally, there are a few rip-offs that cash in on the idea of a "GTA clone," but this article will focus more on the unfortunate games that deserve to break out of the mold of such a label.
For example, the 1985 game, Mercenary, is widely considered as a predecessor to the 3D open-world style seen in GTA. However, some other games that precede GTA are still labeled as "GTA clones."
Games that are labeled as such are generally those that borrow UI elements (minimap being a popular example), gameplay elements (free roam with mission markers), or storyline elements (a life of crime).
5 of the best games that were wrongly labeled as "GTA Clones"
#5 - Driver (also known as Driver: You Are the Wheelman)
It seems odd to call Driver a "GTA Clone" when the game came out in 1999, several years before GTA III was released.
However, some fans still label the Driver series as such, despite the fact that it predates the 3D GTA titles. GTA 1 and GTA 2 are hardly similar to Driver, so it's not a fair label to call it a "GTA clone."
Aside from those erroneous claims, Driver doesn't really play like a GTA title. The main protagonist is a police officer and a former racer who often use vehicles to do specific missions. The UI is similar to modern GTA games, but that's hardly a cause to label it as a "GTA clone."
#4 - Just Cause 2
The most obvious difference between the Just Cause series and GTA is how different the approach to a 3D sandbox is.
Just Cause is far more action-oriented, with more grandiose explosions and stunts akin to an action movie. GTA has some elements of that, but not to the extent of Just Cause 2.
The main protagonist of Just Cause 2, Rico Rodriguez, is a member of an agency as opposed to being a random street criminal, so the Just Cause series is definitely not a "GTA clone" in terms of story elements either.
The only main similarity between the two is that it takes place in a 3D open-world sandbox, making the "GTA Clone" claim dubious at best.
#3 - Infamous 2 (sometimes seen as inFAMOUS 2)
Infamous 2 is another classic example of how an open-world 3D sandbox doesn't deserve to be labeled as a "GTA clone."
In some ways, Infamous 2 is more akin to an RPG than past GTA titles, as the player's choices influence the Karma system. This, in turn, affects the town's perception of the player and what powers the player has at their disposal.
There's no GTA title that has these elements, let alone one with the "magical" powers that the Infamous series has.
#2 - Saints Row IV
It's no secret that the Saints Row series is frequently compared to the GTA series. Both feature criminals, a 3D open world with mission markers, and a highly similar weapon system. However, the later Saints Row games have managed to differentiate themselves from the "GTA Clone" status they were once infamous for.
Take Saints Row IV, for example. It features superpowers and other ridiculous weapons that GTA Online would take inspiration from. The Orbital Cannon in GTA Online resembles the Reaper Drone in Saints Row: The Third, so it's not like GTA hasn't also cloned some aspects from Saints Row. It even has character customization, so players could create an avatar long before GTA Online would be released.
#1 - The Simpsons: Hit & Run
The Simpsons: Hit & Run is a cult classic that is heavily inspired by GTA. Its developers even jokingly called it "GTA" while working on it.
However, while there are obvious similarities between the two series, fans of The Simpsons: Hit & Run would claim that the game has its own unique charm that helps separate it from the pack of other "GTA clones."
The first main difference is that the player isn't just playing as one character. They can play as the Simpsons and Apu. Predictably, the plot is nothing like a GTA storyline, with seven different levels for the player to enjoy.
Instead of labeling Simspons: Hit & Run as a "GTA clone," it's better to say that the game is an homage to a great formula, with its own twists and identity.
Note: This list is subjective and reflects only the writer's opinions.