A brief history of heists in the GTA series

The rewards are worth the risks (Image via Rockstar)
The rewards are worth the risks (Image via Rockstar)

Heists are a significant part of the GTA series. Ever since Vice City, the concept has been greatly expanded as a core gameplay feature.

The vast majority of heists require a good amount of setup beforehand. Players not only consider the approach to the missions, but also their weapons and manpower. From getaway drivers to safecrackers, GTA heists rely on teamwork and cooperative skills. Being good with a gun is not enough.

Many players consider heists to be the most enjoyable aspects of their respective games. Rockstar allows players adrenaline to rush through police shootouts and dramatic getaways. These do-or-die situations raise the stakes, but in the end the risk is well worth the rewards.

The evolution of GTA heists: Where it began and how far they have come

Since the arrival of GTA 3, open world games have never been the same. Given the criminal nature of these games, it's not surprising to see robberies as a recurring element. There's a lot of money to be made, after all. However, it takes a while for heists to become a central theme of the overall plot.

A short introduction to the main games

Catalina betrays Claude (Image via GTA Wiki)
Catalina betrays Claude (Image via GTA Wiki)

At the start of GTA 3, the silent protagonist Claude robs a bank with his partner Catalina. However, there is no honor among thieves. She betrays him in cold blood and leaves him for dead. Although Claude survives and makes his escape from law enforcement, he goes on to hunt her down.

In the very first cutscene of the 3D games, it's quite fitting that the GTA series involves a bank robbery. Hindsight is relative, but it sets the stage for the eventual importance of heists in the criminal underworld.

Every bank robber remembers their first job

Tommy Vercetti robs the biggest bank in Vice City (Image via GTA Wiki)
Tommy Vercetti robs the biggest bank in Vice City (Image via GTA Wiki)

Once Tommy Vercetti acquires the Malibu Club, he makes his move to rob El Banco Corrupto Grande. Along with his lawyer Ken Rosenberg, Vercetti performs a string of missions to assemble his crew. These include gun-toting maniac Phil Cassidy, safecracker Cam Jones and useless getaway driver Hilary King.

The Job is arguably the first heist mission in the mainstream GTA games. Unlike the cutscene from GTA 3, players now have full control over the bank robbery. In a true meta-sense, this mission is Rockstar's blueprint for future heists. This is one of players' favorite missions in Vice City.

Carl Johnson breaks the bank at Caligula's


Caligula's Palace is the largest hotel in the world, according to the San Andreas website. However, Carl Johnson has no time to make reservations. With the help of the Four Dragon's Casino, CJ plans to rob the mafia-controlled establishment. While optional, players do get $100,000 for their troubles.

From dating a croupier for a swipe card, to using nightvision goggles and clearing out security details, CJ has already planned everything out in advance. Once he steals the money, CJ makes a dramatic exit off the rooftop via a parachute.

Niko Bellic gets lucky with a Three Leaf Clover


Liberty City never sleeps and neither does Niko Bellic. In Three Leaf Clover, the protagonist and the McReary family decide to rob the Bank of Liberty. Everything goes wrong all at once, forcing Niko to shoot his way out. He leaves behind a bloody trail of corpses, barely escaping with his life.

Three Leaf Clover is considered not just one of the best missions in GTA 4, but also the entire GTA series. While difficult, it provides the player with a satisfying challenge. Positive feedback on this mission is what ultimately convinces Rockstar to fully expand the heist concept in their next game.

GTA 5 scores big with a slew of heists


GTA 5 changes the entire landscape of the series, with a storyline focused on heists. Instead of a singular mission, GTA 5 makes heists the core gameplay element. Michael, Franklin, and Trevor can approach heists in different ways, from a stealth perspective to combat heavy methods.

The protagonists rob everything from a simple jewelry store to the Union Depository. With the help of Lester and a few specialists, they can steal millions of dollars. There are several layers to any given heist, such as incompetent crew members and driving routes.

Missions like The Job and Three Leaf Clover laid the groundwork for the heists in GTA 5. It took a while to get there, but once it did there was no going back. Heists have become an integral aspect of GTA history.

Online allows players to commit more high-profit crimes

GTA Online regularly updates content with heist missions (Image via Rockstar)
GTA Online regularly updates content with heist missions (Image via Rockstar)

Heists also play a crucial role in the GTA Online experience. In 2015, Rockstar released the Heists Update. Online players have to work together carefully to ensure a successful heist. Failure to complete objectives results in considerable frustration, and if a crew member leaves or dies too many times, it's all over.

Upon the release of enhanced versions of GTA 5, Rockstar introduced the Doomsday Heist, the luxorious Diamond Casino Heist and most recently, the Cayo Perrico Heist. These content updates also allow players to upgrade their weapons, receive new vehicles and enter new locations.

The future of heists in the GTA series


Rumors indicate GTA 6 is still in development. Fans are in the dark about its progress. Nonetheless, players can reasonably expect heists to retain their gameplay importance. It's only speculation right now, but it's highly improbable Rockstar will give up on the concept.

Either way, heists are a foundational cornerstone for the GTA series. Although their significance varies between mainline games, recent entries have brought heists to their full potential. Through the highs and lows, there's nothing quite like performing GTA heists. A successful one only tastes that much sweeter.

Note: This article reflects the writer's personal views.

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Edited by Gautham Balaji