Open-world cities are a staple within the GTA series, which inevitably has some fans comparing one game's map to another.
The GTA series is fondly remembered for its classic locations. More specifically, players tend to remember exploring open-world cities to find various collectibles and activities to do.
Every GTA game has had an open-world city in some capacity. However, these games approach map design quite differently from one another in most situations. While games like GTA Vice City and Vice City stories have minimal differences between the two titles, other games like GTA San Andreas are significantly different from the rest of the series.
The GTA game with the best open-world city
The GTA game with the best open-world city is going to be a game that actively rewards players for going out of their way to explore it. If there isn't much to discover, then that GTA game isn't taking full advantage of the open-world aspect.
The 2D era
Unsurprisingly, most GTA fans would not consider the 2D Universe of games to have the best open-world city. Other than being hard to navigate thanks to a limited UI, these games didn't have much for the player to do regarding an open-world city to explore.
GTA 2 is better than GTA 1 in this regard, but these games' strengths aren't in their map design. Some fans might like the simplicity of how they're designed, but the best open-world city has to, by definition, feel more open to discovery. Unfortunately, the 2D Universe games aren't so interesting to explore.
The 3D Era of Liberty City
The 3D Universe of GTA games helped introduce a bevy of content that fans loved in regards to an open-world city. Free camera movement allows players to explore the world, especially since they aren't required to be doing missions all the time.
Liberty City is largely the same between GTA 3, Liberty City Stories, and Advance. The last game is largely limited thanks to being on the Game Boy Advance, so it is unquestionably not the best open-world city in the franchise.
Liberty City is a gritty location that has three fairly similar cities. Portland, Staunton Island and Shoreside Vale are the three major locations to explore, with the former two having some similarities.
GTA Liberty City Stories handles Liberty City the best out of the 3D games, simply because it was made many years after GTA 3 was released. There are more side activities to entice players, which means that most players will prefer it over GTA 3.
The 3D Era of Vice City
Vice City hasn't shown up in the HD Universe (yet), so this will be the last time Vice City is seen within the GTA series. It's present in both GTA Vice City and Vice City Stories, and not too much has changed between the two games regarding how the map looks.
At its core, Vice City is a very flat world to explore. As a result, it's very easy to explore, especially since it's a small city. In terms of sheer exploration and what a player can do in the games, it's like the 3D Liberty City games in that there's not too much to do.
Vice City is a pleasant city to be in, as its colorful design does resonate strongly with modern gamers. Even if players prefer Vice City over Liberty City within the 3D Universe, neither city really compares to the next major title's locations.
GTA San Andreas
GTA San Andreas was a pioneer in many ways for the GTA series. As far as this article goes, GTA San Andreas is unquestionably the best open-world city to explore within the 3D Universe. There's even a strong case to be made that this game has the best open-world city within the entire GTA series.
For starters, GTA San Andreas has three major cities to explore and a great countryside associated with every one of them. In terms of visual design, this game's cities are easily the most diverse within the whole franchise. All cities have Oysters and Stunt Jumps as collectibles.
Los Santos is the poorest, but it still has some rich neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city. Tags are unique collectibles for this city, but they're not the only feature players can engage with here. There are also Lowrider Challenges and Gang Wars for players to enjoy.
San Fierro is the next major city, and it's based on San Francisco (whereas Los Santos is based on Los Angeles). Players can collect Snapshots and can also export vehicles for good money.
Finally, Las Venturas is based off of Las Vegas and is home to a good number of casinos for the players to check out (three visitable ones). Other than gambling here, players can also collect Horseshoes.
In a way, GTA San Andreas follows the philosophy of quality over quantity. Each city (and countryside to a lesser extent) has a lot of life embedded into it. There's so much to do here, and that's not even getting to the discussion of the good mission variety found in these open-world cities.
The HD Universe of Liberty City
Unsurprisingly, GTA 4 is a lot more noteworthy than GTA Chinatown Wars regarding how players can explore the open world. Both games take place in Liberty City, but fans of the previous game will notice that Liberty City isn't as diverse in terms of its appearance.
Likewise, there are significantly fewer collectibles to collect. Liberty City in the HD Universe is bigger than the Liberty City of the 3D Universe, but there are differences between the two cities (i.e., the HD Universe Liberty City isn't just the 3D Universe Liberty City scaled up).
GTA 4 is a great game, but there isn't much of a reason to explore.
GTA 5's map is often praised as the largest map in the series. That is correct, but it doesn't mean that it has the best open-world city in the series. For starters, GTA 5's countryside is massive. Considering the countryside is the least interesting aspect of the game in regards to the number of activities one can do, that's rather disappointing.
GTA 5 has the most activities in the GTA series, but it's not necessarily tied to its open-world design. There are collectibles, but they're rather worthless given they often just unlock missions with minor rewards.
For what it's worth, GTA 5 does have a lot of good features sprinkled into its world. If a player is interested in exploring for the sake of exploring, they will find a lot of stuff to do in GTA 5.
The best GTA game regarding its open-world cities
For most fans, this discussion boils down to GTA 5 vs GTA San Andreas. The former game has an absolutely gargantuan map full of activities for the player to mess around with. However, the latter game more actively rewards players for exploring the open world.
It's also worth noting that GTA San Andreas's map isn't as big as GTA 5's, which means players won't feel overwhelmed with exploring vast areas of nothingness.