Since Grand Theft Auto took the leap to 3D in 2001, it has been considered a ground-breaking franchise. Sure, we had seen 3D games before the release of GTA III, but not of the same scope and ambition. No game that had come before offered such unfettered approach to gameplay. The concept of going anywhere and doing anything you wanted to was a tantalizing prospect for gamers as we had never seen such freedom in a game before.
Rockstar Games don’t own the third-person open-world genre, but they did a lot to advance it with the Grand Theft Auto franchise, even applying the formula to their other major works, like Red Dead Redemption and Bully. The formula has been so successful that other developers have tried to copy and adapt it for their own games. Right or wrong, these games have been called Grand Theft Auto clones or rip-offs. Games where the developers clearly show their inspirations and are unashamed of doing so. It’s not that there is anything wrong with these games – some of them are exceptionally good. There is just no hiding from the fact that they had borrowed elements of the Grand Theft Auto franchise. For this, we look down on them for trying to replicate the structure of Grand Theft Auto, rather than do their own thing entirely.
It is fair to say that Rockstar Games are the masters of this genre and without their efforts, many of the games on this list may not have come to exist. So let us be thankful for Grand Theft Auto and for all of the ripoffs it inspired.
15 The Getaway
2002 saw us all excited for the release of GTA: Vice City. We raced down sun-drenched highways and battered pedestrians with gold-clubs - it was a great time to be alive. 2002 also saw the debut of The Getaway series which was, well, different.
The Getaway is set under the ever-grey skies of London, England, and has a completely different vibe to the bombastic, over the top humour of GTA: Vice City. The Getaway is a dour, serious and dramatic game, where you play a low-key crook trying to rescue his ex-wife and son.
It is a decent game with some excellent missions and tense gunfights, but it's a shame that The Getaway was overshadowed by the genre-master, Grand Theft Auto. That said, you had to abide by British traffic laws in The Getaway or face being pursued by the police. Seriously, who has time for the highway code in video games?
14 Simpsons Hit And Run
The Simpsons and Grand Theft Auto are two of the largest entertainment franchises on this planet. So, the natural conclusion was to mash these two together, in an unholy alliance, to bring us The Simpsons: Hit and Run.
It’s a pretty good game to be fair, giving something for the kids whose parents are too strict to let them play the real thing. The city of Springfield is split into seven levels, each with its own main and submissions. You get the basic gameplay mechanics: Driving, interacting with the various NPC characters that inhabit The Simpsons’ universe. Unsurprisingly, there are no guns, but you can punch and kick your way to victory and run down other characters, justifying the Hit and Run subtitle.
For what it is, The Simspons: Hit and Run is a good game and worthy of a sequel.
13 True Crime
Cops in Grand Theft Auto games always have it hard. Often, they are just bullet fodder or exist to foil your many illegal schemes. The True Crime series, with games set in both Los Angeles and New York, tells the cops’ side of the story.
Following in the footsteps of Grand Theft Auto, True Crime also brought in big name actors to voice their characters. In the first game, Streets of LA Russel Wong played the protagonist, Nicholas Kang, and Gary Oldman played the antagonist, Rocky. The casting of these two big names brought a sense of legitimacy to a game many were ready to dismiss as a Grand Theft Auto rip-off. The sequel, True Crime: New York City also brought Laurence Fishburrne and Micky Rourke on board, continuing this trend. So yeah, take that GTA: Vice City and Ray Liotta.
12 Sleeping Dogs
Following the success of the True Crime series, a sequel set in Hong Kong was rumoured to be on the cards. We waited duly for the game’s release and almost gave up hope it would ever come.
Then Sleeping Dogs was announced. An unexpected rebranding of the True Crime series, Sleeping Dogs carried over much of the same gameplay mechanics and stylistic choices of True Crime.
Hand-to-hand combat is what separates Sleeping Dogs from Grand Theft Auto. Offering a robust and intuitive combat system, opposed to the clumsy punches and kicks in GTA titles. It is a fitting pastiche of the Asian action movies it emulates.
11 Saints Row
The first two games in the Saints Row series were the quintessential Grand Theft Auto rip-offs. Thematically, aesthetically and mechanically, they were the poor man’s GTA. Not bad games, although they reminded me of an old saying ‘why go out for the hamburger when you can have the steak at home?’
It wasn’t until Saints Row: The Third came along that the series really differentiated itself from Grand Theft Auto. While Grand Theft Auto games had a sense of humour, Saints Row took their humour and turned it up to eleven, transforming Saints Row into Grand Theft Auto’s wackier, albeit less popular cousin.
This trend continued with Saints Row 4 and Saints Row: Gat out of Hell. I mean, Saints Row 4 begins where you are the President of the USA, and you battle an alien spaceship. That happens in the first fifteen minutes. GTA V had a mini-mission where you fought off aliens with a mini-gun in a pot-hazed frenzy. It’s just not the same, though. It's just not the same.
Now, the Mafia series has been hugely successful. Capturing the sense-of-place and cultural tensions of the respective era in each game with startling accuracy. Though you can’t deny Mafia’s roots: it is a Grand Theft Auto rip-off.
Each Mafia came copies the narrative and character arcs that define Grand Theft Auto games. You play through the seismic rise of the protagonist in each game, from low-ranking street thug to crime-lord, meeting a variety of interesting characters and, ultimately, betraying or befriending them.
Mafia III saw the introduction of Lincoln Clay, an African-American Vietnam veteran who has returned to 1960s New Orleans. It offers a stark take on the racial and cultural divides of the time, and mirrors Grand Theft Auto's inclusion of protagonists from different ethnicities.
9 The Godfather
The Godfather movies are, well, the godfather of all movies. It makes sense to transition such an iconic film trilogy into a video game. That doesn’t necessarily mean it will be good, though.
This game had a lot to shout about. It had many interesting gameplay features, like operating shakedown rackets, extorting money from local businesses in exchange for protection from rival gangs, and operating gambling rings. It also stays loyal to The Godfather canon. It just doesn’t manage to nail the core mechanics of driving and shooting, which feel unintuitive and clunky.
That said, The Godfather saw both James Caan and Robert Duvall reprise their roles as Sonny Corleone and Tom Hagen – key characters from The Godfather movie series. They couldn’t nail down Al Pacino, though, which was a real disappointment for The Godfather die-hards.
8 Scarface: The World Is Yours
It makes sense that the movie to inspire GTA: Vice City would get its own video game. The opening mission of Scarface: The World is Yours is uncanny, set in Tony Montana’s mansion which we’ve seen reimagined in GTA: Vice City, as you play out the iconic finale of Scarface. The only difference is that instead of going down in a hail of bullets, Montana survives the ambush and sets about rebuilding his empire.
Scarface: The World is Yours is a meaty game. It has a story which lasts around twenty-five hours, full of missions and side activities to complete in 1980s Miami and Cuba. Just like GTA: Vice City, it also features a soundtrack comprised of the biggest songs from the era. It is a shame that —just like in The Godfather— Al Pacino chose not to reprise his role as Montana.
7 Lego City Undercover
Sure, it’s a Grand Theft Auto clone for the kiddies to enjoy. Yeah, it’s a LEGO game – you know, those games that come out for every major franchise movie. But you know what, despite being a massively self-aware GTA rip-off, it’s damn good.
It is that self-awareness that makes Lego City Undercover such a great game. They are so unashamed of their inspirations that it doesn’t hold them back from exploring each idea they threw into the game. Despite being a game for kids, its humour has a huge appeal for adults. It has sharp writing —not on the same level as Grand Theft Auto— but it is a LEGO game, after all.
Plus, there is one mission where you get to ride a dinosaur down a highway, while wearing an astronaut suit (if you want). Insofar as bucket lists go, that’s one goal ticked off mine.
You can try and argue that Crackdown isn’t a Grand Theft Auto rip-off, given its focus on cybernetics and hyper-realistic setting. That being said, Crackdown is developed by Realtime Worlds, founded by Grand Theft Auto co-creator, David Jones, and it is easy to see where he found his inspiration.
Set in the fictional Pacific City, Crackdown lets you explore its four islands as a member of The Agency, called in as peacemakers after crime overwhelmed the city. Crackdown utilizes the same mechanics as other Grand Theft Auto-style open-world games, shooting, melee combat and stealing cars, but as you are essentially a super soldier, you can leap between buildings and have extraordinary strength. It’s more of a superhero simulator than a crime-filled romp, and was doing all this before Saints Row thought it was cool.
5 Mercenaries: Playground Of Destruction
This little-known title was well received for its vast, sandbox gameplay which puts you between five warring factions: Allied Forces, South Korea, Russian Mafia, China, and the North Korean military. Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction took inspiration from GTA II’s faction-based gameplay and implanted it into the 3D space. As such, you are free to pick up missions and side activities from each faction and try not to lose favour with any of them. It’s a tense balancing act that affects the way you play the game and how the story unfolds.
For a game developed in 2005, Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction is as prevalent now as it was back then. With tensions still rising between China and North and South Korea, this is one game you can play and not feel out-of-sync with the narrative.
4 Sunset Overdrive
This Xbox One exclusive launch title grabbed the attention of many gamers with its bright, vibrant art style and zany humour. An open-world game set in the aftermath of a mass-mutation brought on by the consumption of a popular energy drink, stylistically, it has more in common with Saints Row than Grand Theft Auto. However, Saints Row is a Grand Theft Auto rip-off, so Sunset Overdrive makes the list too.
Sunset Overdrive was unique for its rail-grinding mechanic, enabling you to move quickly through your location and gun down mutants to score combos. It added a unique twist to the same old, run and gun combat, we’ve had in similar titles in recent years. It is a shame the game didn’t sell as well as it should – a sequel would be more than welcome.
3 Assassins Creed
I know what you’re thinking: Assassin’s Creed is its own thing. It’s nothing like Grand Theft Auto — it is set in the past! Well, you know what: it is a GTA rip-off (it’s Grand Theft Auto for history buffs).
They are both large, open-world games with main story missions and side content to complete, coupled with collectibles to pick up. Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate was the most full-on GTA rip-off, as it gives you a horse and cart to ride around the cobbled, London streets and cause havoc. All I’m saying is, if Ubisoft made a modern-day Assassin’s Creed with cars and guns, it would just be Grand Theft Auto. In fact, haven’t Ubisoft already done that? Wasn’t it a game about watching dogs?
Plus, Ezio is a charismatic, Italian killer. Isn’t Tommy Vercetti a charismatic Italian-American killer? Too many coincidences, guys. You just can’t deny it.
The first Infamous game set the tone for the games that would follow in the series. It is a stylistic ‘chose your own adventure’ game, which provides you with electrical powers that you use to fight criminals as a vigilante.
It has a large, sprawling city to explore, but unlike Grand Theft Auto’s cities, which feel real and inhabited, the game worlds in Infamous feel like little more than virtual playgrounds. Still, they give you a sandbox to dash around and blow things up in. Of course, that is exactly what it is, but it leaves little to be desired when you’re trying to feel engrossed in the world.
All that said, Infamous is a pretty decent game and a stalwart Sony exclusive title. If anything, Infamous: Second Son, the most recent in the series, is an excellent PS4 Pro title. Too bad it can't match Grand Theft Auto V
1 Just Cause
Just Cause exists to experiment with. It gives you the tools for mayhem and knows why you’re buying the game. It is so self-aware that it doesn’t even attempt to take itself seriously with its story, which is mostly nonsense. It tries to take that mayhem-simulator vibe that Grand Theft Auto games have perfected and run with it.
What Just Cause seems to forget is that causing mayhem in Grand Theft Auto games is fun but it’s not the entirety of the experience. The freedom to plough rocket-propelled grenades into police cars exists because Rockstar Games know that if Grand Theft Auto was all about the story, players would get bored and they are given the tools to be a menace to society to blow off some steam. It also works the other way around. Endless and reckless carnage will only hold the player’s attention for so long. You need the compelling story and Just Cause missed the trick.