Weapons, like much of technology, have changed drastically over the years in the GTA franchise.
Likewise, not all weapons are equal in practicality. Some weapon archetypes specialize in close-range, like the shotgun. Other weapon archetypes might specialize in long-distance, like sniper rifles.
Even weapons fulfill a that fulfill between the two, which can greatly aid some players' playstyles in the various GTA titles. Naturally, it leads to some weapons being obsolete compared to other archetypes.
Because these are weapon archetypes and not necessarily specific weapons, this brief overview will cover weapons in a general sense. As a result, it won't focus on every game and every weapon. However, common motifs may be discussed, like regular pistols that often fall off late-game.
This only includes equipable weapons, so weaponized vehicles will not be included.
A brief overview of weapon archetypes in GTA over the years
While some games improve the performance of certain weapons over others, there are common elements worth discussing in this brief overview.
More importantly, this will cover weapons from the 3D universe and after, as GTA 1 was limited in weapon variety, and more people are aware of GTA III and later games.
Melee weapons are often the impractical, early game options that players get at the beginning of the game. Like fists, some weapons are outclassed in settings where there are multiple foes (although they can be highly effective in a one on one scenario).
Joke weapons, like dildos, can be used as a melee weapon. Typically, there isn't much variation between melee weapons in terms of practicality. Some swing fast and do minor damage, while others are slower but deal significant damage.
Like the Chainsaw and the Katana, some melee weapons are usually among the best options for a melee weapon in GTA, just because they can quickly kill adversaries. They aren't completely useless where they are multiple foes.
Handguns are the usual bread-and-butter of primary weapons within the GTA series. While some subclasses are highly effective, such as Machine Pistols, Handguns are usually outclassed by other weapons in terms of sheer power and usefulness.
Machine Pistols tend to have a high fire rate, and the cheapness of these weapons makes them useful for poorer players. Even boring Handguns like the regular Pistol have achieved great success in some games like GTA San Andreas, as CJ could wield two of them.
Additionally, Handguns tend to be more diverse than other weapon archetypes in terms of performance, as some might excel in long distances while others excel in close quarters.
For general purposes, Submachine Guns tend to be outclassed by Assault Rifles in the single-player GTA titles. As a result, players tend to acquire Submachine Guns earlier in their playthroughs, as their usual lack of reliable accuracy offsets their high rate of fire.
Considering Assault Rifles are usually precise, that usually makes Submachine Guns less reliable towards the mid and late stages of a GTA game.
An SMG almost entirely outclasses something like the Tec-9 in some games like GTA Vice City. It's sometimes referred to as a Machine Pistol, which blurs the lines between Machine Pistols and Submachine Guns.
Sometimes a weapon has similarities to one archetype but belongs to another, meaning the player could have another archetype weapon.
Shotguns are typically the premier close-quarter weapon in the GTA series. Their superior distance compared to a melee weapon makes it far more ideal in almost every situation.
Most Shotguns are worthless in long-range, especially compared to real ones. However, this rule has some exceptions, such as the Heavy Shotgun in GTA V and GTA Online.
In some games, the Shotgun is a devastating weapon to see in an enemy NPC's hands. They can deal significant damage towards the player in a single shot, sometimes even knocking them down to get more free hits in.
Likewise, some Shotguns are overpowered in the player's hands, as some can destroy a vehicle in a second or two, making them a good substitute for explosives.
Assault Rifles are the gold standard for weapon consistency in GTA. It's usually excellent in close quarters while providing excellent damage from a distance. Considering players don't usually need to snipe at most single-player GTA titles, Assault Rifles are usually the best weapons to use.
One problem Assault Rifles usually have is that it's often obvious which one outclasses the other. They're not as unique in performance as different weapon archetypes in GTA, which hinders players looking for diverse options.
Every player knows what a Sniper Rifle does. It's a standard weapon designed to eliminate enemies from a long-range. They often have a short amount of ammo, requiring frequent reloads compared to other weapons like Submachine Guns or Assault Rifles.
However, their destructive power often allows them to kill enemies in one shot. Given that players cannot spam Sniper Rifles. They would have to carefully use the scope of this weapon to line up shots before committing. Like the Assault Rifle, Sniper Rifles tend to be highly similar in their own class.
Other than preventing players from sprinting, Heavy Weapons is notorious for their destructive firepower. They're often inefficient at handling enemies in a one vs. one scenario, but they're excellent at destroying vehicles.
Rocket Launchers, Flamethrowers, and Miniguns spring to mind for potentially OP weapons in most GTA titles.
Unfortunately, these weapons either lack high ammo capacity or are obtained too late in a normal playthrough. Another downside is that most Heavy Weapons can also kill the player, making them not ideal in the hands of noobs.
If players didn't enjoy killing with Heavy Weapons, they should be more careful with Thrown Weapons. Fortunately, Thrown Weapons can be aimed in an arc, making them one of the few weapons possible to hit enemies around corners. Naturally, this gives them a higher ceiling compared to other weapon archetypes.
While often available at the beginning of the game, Thrown Weapons tend to be hidden somewhere on the map. Players won't get too much of a particular Throwing Weapon, but they're instrumental in getting rid of groups of enemies.