Which is the most difficult game in the GTA series?

If only players listened to Big Smoke (Image via Tunes through YouTube)
If only players listened to Big Smoke (Image via Tunes through YouTube)

While most hype-worthy installments live up to their reputation, the GTA series games are known to frustrate players to a certain extent.

Difficulty in the GTA series depends on a few factors. Bad camera angles, lack of a checkpoint system, and endless rounds of enemy combatants, can annoy players to no end. In terms of fundamental gameplay design, early GTA entries tend to lack quality-of-life assurances. Later games try to solve these problems though.

Fans might ask themselves what are the most difficult GTA games; the answer varies from person to person. Some players want to challenge themselves, while others want to take it easy. Nonetheless, they can find mutual agreement in one particular category - forced artificial difficulty isn't fun to deal with.

The most difficult GTA games in the series

Ranking the GTA series on difficulty is based on two main points - the overall gameplay design and the number of objectives that need to be completed. It's one thing if a player has to drive to a location, kill somebody, and go back. However, it's another thing if they have to protect somebody prone to getting killed easily.

GTA 1 and 2

Although they laid the groundwork for the GTA series, the earliest games aged like milk on a hot summer day. Newer players will experience a cultural shock when they transition from 3D games back to 2D. Unlike later games, these have a top-down view. Due to the limited graphical department, it's hard to tell what is what.

The biggest problem with the games is the controls. Moving the main character isn't as simple as pointing the analog stick in the right direction. Remember, the original PS1 controller only had a D-Pad. Players have to clumsily navigate by using the X and Triangle buttons to move up and down, respectively.

In addition to the awful control scheme, players will also find the lack of intuition to be just as deadly as an RPG-wielding enemy. Players have to follow an arrow to get to where they need to be. However, without a GPS route or mini-map, there is no indication on where to go. Players often find themselves in dead ends.


Once Rockstar made the gigantic leap into the 3D era of GTA, there was no turning back. It was a groundbreaking achievement in video game history, thanks to an open-world environment and exciting gameplay. However, there are noticeable difficulty spikes, given this was one of their first attempts.

Unlike later games in the series, players cannot jump out of their burning vehicles. They were also more prone to damage. Players with poor driving skills will find themselves in a death trap once the explosion goes off. There are no swimming mechanics either, which is problematic for players who mistimed their jumps.

GTA 3 punishes players for the slightest mistake, which is evident in their mission design. S.A.M. is a notorious example. The player has to kill powerful enemies at an airstrip, then shoot down a Dodo within a strict time limit. If the players barely miss with their RPG, it's time to go back and start all over again.

GTA Vice City

Released over a year after GTA 3, Vice City retains a similar difficulty setting. However, slight improvements in auto-aiming do help. Players can also bail out of their burning vehicles now. However, they still cannot swim. Given the tropical setting and numerous boat missions, players regularly dance to death.

Vice City missions are brutal torture sessions at times. Death Row is a rescue mission with a strict time limit, along with ridiculously overpowered enemies and a useless partner. The Driver is an unfair street race where the player has to use a slower vehicle against a fast sports car, all while traffic goes against them.

However, Demolition Man is truly the worst GTA has to offer. Players have to control an unresponsive RC helicopter and blow up a construction site. But due to weak durability and the unforgivable time limits, players should expect to retry these missions several times. Get used to listening to Avery Carrington.

GTA San Andreas

Thanks to vast improvements in gameplay design, San Andreas makes it easier for players to aim their weapons. Players can also line up headshots to eliminate potential threats. Last but not least, players can finally swim, which removes accidental deaths via drowning. These major upgrades were desperately needed.

However, San Andreas can still grind the gears of several players. One early mission is Wrong Side of the Tracks, which has reached memetic status for the legendary mission failure scene. Another mission is Life's a Beach, where the player has to perform a dancing mini-game and beat the high score.

San Andreas provides difficulty in a multitude of ways, whether it's through driving or button-timing at the right moments. Even side activities like driving and flying school are difficult to master, given the gold medal requirements. San Andreas is a big game, so it will take a while to complete 100%.

However, the crowning achievement of difficult missions is Supply Lines. For this reason alone, Zero is one of the most hated GTA characters in the series. It takes all the worst aspects of Vice City's Demolition Man and multiplies it tenfold. Not only is it the worst mission in the game, it's also one of the worst in the series.

Players have to shoot down a series of vans with an RC plane, right before the fuel runs out. What makes it difficult is the moving vans go in completely different directions, making it a luck-based mission. Even if the enemies are taken out, the player still has to fly back to Zero's rooftop on a limited fuel gauge.

Rather than fly an unresponsive plane, players find it easier to land it on street level and blow up vans. Supply Lines has such a negative reputation among GTA players that even Rockstar took notice. They finally learned the lesson they failed to learn in Vice City, and quietly removed RC missions from future titles.


During the move to HD, GTA 4 takes on a more realistic approach to combat situations. Rockstar has significantly improved the auto-aim feature, which players can turn on or off with the menu screen. Players can also use cover to their advantage, which provides a defensive barrier in heated confrontations.

However, one major difficulty spike from previous games is driving. Unlike the other GTA titles, this one uses completely different driving physics. Thanks to the overreliance on body rolls and a sensitive oversteer, the boat-like driving takes a while to get used to. Some players never get used to it at all.

GTA 4 has its fair share of difficult missions, depending on the player's skill with guns and driving. Niko Bellic is a one-man army who has to mow down several waves of enemies at once. Players must use nearby cover, or else they will take too much damage. At the very least, they can turn on the auto-aim feature.

Far and away, the most difficult mission, is Catch the Wave. Not only do players drive across the map to get to their destination, Phil Bell has to survive the entire ordeal. However, he will keep running into enemy gunfire. The player will be severely punished with a mission failure if he dies along the way.

The most likely scenario is several unfair deaths due to Phil. Players must start over from scratch, which means another round of tedious driving sections. If the players spared Dwayne Forge beforehand and befriended him, they should call for extra backup. These ruthless enemy hordes can be too much.

GTA 5, Online, and beyond

Mercifully, Rockstar lowers the difficulty setting in their next installments. Starting with the Episodes of Liberty City pack, there are now mission checkpoints. GTA 5 continues this trend, along with GTA Online. Driving sections no longer have to be done again once the player gets to a certain area.

Notably, player characters in GTA 5 have special abilities to make everything easier. These abilities are specific in certain situations. Michael can use bullet time for precise shooting. Frankling can slow down time while driving to make sharp turns. Trevor can significantly increase his offensive and defensive output.

Difficulty in GTA Online is a different beast altogether. Given the unpredictable element of human interactions, there's no telling what kind of experience a mission will be. Teamwork is a make-it-or-break-it moment for major heists. Uncooperative players can be the downfall of the entire team, and a waste of several minutes.

Players are better off working with people they know, rather than random players. They never know when they can run into griefers. However, not every player can afford this luxury. GTA Online is mainly a multiplayer experience, which means they have to potentially rely on other players to survive.

It remains to be seen how GTA 6 will eventually weigh on a difficulty scale. At the very least, Rockstar does implement new improvements in every game. For the most part, the difficulty now relies on the skill level of the players, as well as their overall teamwork.

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

Edited by Nikhil Vinod
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