Being an epic third-person shooter, a thrilling car simulator, and 'the jester' of AAA titles all at once is an amazing feat that Rockstar Games has managed to pull off with their Grand Theft Auto series in the last two decades. Starting off as a top-down shooter for the PlayStation all the way back in 1997, it has spawned tons of sequels—15 titles to be exact—and has grossed over $800 million dollars worldwide with its latest release. More than that, it set the bar for how modern sandbox and open-world games would look, feel, and play. But it has not all been sunshine and puppies... or hit-and-runs, in this case.
The first game in a series usually shows the most flaws and GTA is no exception. Looking back at the original 1997 version may bring nostalgic flashbacks to some, but with audio faults, a wonky camera, and top-down mechanics, GTA III it is not. Looking through the full lineup, each era of the series has its own misfires of story, mechanics, or even glitches and behind the scenes fumbling. Here are the top 15 most cringeworthy moments from the Grand Theft Auto universe. Do note that, while some are known concerns and controversies, some will be opinionated.
15 The Open IV Debacle
For as long as there has been GTA, there has been a plethora of mods, bringing the wackiness and absurdity of the franchise to new levels. However, recently Take-Two has decided to target some of these mod makers. The one that hit the mainstream press, Open IV, was the most heavily criticized. Not only that, but the CEO of Take-Two released a statement not long after the takedown, stating their disdain for mods and the makers who create them. To make matters even more confusing, Rockstar released a press statement, stating that they would take this mod controversy and speak with the higher ups at Take-Two. As reassuring as it is, it also puts a doubt as to how singular the company is.
14 But Where's Alvin?
While many could argue about the overall quality of the series, there's no doubt that Rockstar always hits a home run when it comes to its incredible audio design. Even the most polarizing or dismissive game has either incredible voice acting or music choices. Unfortunately, the original Grand Theft Auto falls flat with this. Now, there could be something said about the lack of decent audio due to the technical limitations of the era. However, there's practically no excuse to have everyone sound like they're doing chipmunk talk, so muted under the music and background sounds that you can hardly hear it. It's barely audible but still just clear enough where it becomes more irritating than charming.
13 "For Manly Men Only"
The title says it all: Grand Theft Auto. And when the title of your franchise is a felony, chances are you're going to have controversy both before and after your game is released. However, the controversy surrounding the game was a bit more nuanced than your typical "clutching-my-pearls" type of outrage. People were quick to criticize the fact that all playable characters in Grand Theft Auto V were male. And to be honest, that really isn't a problem. If it's your story, you do whatever you want, right? However, the way that Rockstar handled it was a completely different story. It wasn't so much shocking or offensive, so much as of how airheaded the decision was: the fact is that having a playable female character didn't really cross the developer's heads until it was criticized. Even still, many players looked past that decision, instead of anticipating the back-to-the-roots type of humor and hoping everything wouldn't be as dull as GTA IV. Got what we wanted right?
12 "Wait, Where's The Radio?"
Like stated before, music is one of the most important elements of Grand Theft Auto. Whether it's to pump up the tension during a gun fight or adding an element of humor to the satire of modern radio, you can't have a perfect GTA game without music. Which is unfortunate in the original GTA's case. Again, being the first game, you're not yet used to getting popular songs playing on the in-game radio, something that the series later became known for. But instead of emulating the sounds of the time, they instead tried to have a soundtrack filled with modern music cliches, executed in the least effective way possible. Unfortunately, there's no actual radio to play around with, so there's no way of changing the music, making each selection a randomized hit or miss.
11 "How's My Driving?"
There were three things that were pushed during the release of Grand Theft Auto IV: driving, side missions, and story. Certainly, all of these fell under the umbrella of 'realism', but these mechanics were considered core to the new gameplay and style. Which is a shame, since Rockstar somehow singlehandedly misfired all three. One of the biggest issues with the game is how clunky yet slippery the driving mechanic seems to be. Drifting isn't really a bad idea until you realize how narrow your lane is. And when there's a time limit that needs to be respected while racing with a car, the sections are beyond controller break frustration. The driving was considered to be smoother in the later installment, GTA V, but let's just say that this game needed to have more testing before letting go of its training wheels.
10 There Was A Story?
For the more recent incarnations of GTA, there seems to be more of a focus on story and characters. Whether said stories hit or miss is a matter of opinion, but there still seems to be a focus on taking the kind of stuff that works in movies and translating it to video games. However, this didn't really happen with the original, which was a simple, fast paced top-down shooter. There were some objectives, but they were so obscured at the bottom of the screen in small yellow text that the only thing that you could really follow was the arrow that led players to their destination.
9 Game-Breaking Glitches
Glitches are not a new thing for the Grand Theft Auto series. In fact, much like mods, glitches have been exposed, highlighted, and shared throughout the community to bring out the wacky side of Grand Theft Auto. However, in the more recent franchise titles, such as GTA V, there have been many who consider these fun little secrets to be more devastating than should be possible. This includes lag, freeze frame, and even missions that don't obviously pop up or don't show up at all. Others were more mechanic-based, with a glitch seeming to loophole buying anything on the online GTA server. While a good glitch here and there might bring a wink and a nod, the type of glitches present in the game made GTA V seem like Rockstar released an unfinished product.
8 Camera Control
Surely, even with the unchangeable radio, chipmunk voice acting, and blurred objectives, there must be a saving grace for the original game, right? Maybe the actual gaming mechanics are good enough to hold up throughout the years. Sadly, even those aren't good. One of the biggest problems for the game is its wonky, frantic, and always moving camera. Even when stopping, the camera throbs as it wiggles, twists, and turns. While it may be considered nit-picking, actually playing around with the camera can create game breaking issues, making Grand Theft Auto be remembered as less of a game ahead of its time and more like an artifact of its time.
7 Grand Theft Auto Advance
While many of these problems were likely overlooked when the original Grand Theft Auto came out, Rockstar was surely aware of these criticisms when a prequel to Grand Theft Auto III was released for the Game Boy Advance. Considered to be the most polarizing entry as well as the overall worst in the series, Grand Theft Auto Advance holds a 68% on Metacritic, the lowest score that has been given to a Grand Theft Auto game. Many criticized the game's graphics for not being 3D, which was quickly becoming the standard for other Game Boy Advance titles. Others considered the story to be a lackluster mess. Whatever the case may be, GTA Advance was aiming for a hit-and-run but unfortunately came out as roadkill.
6 Hot Coffee, Cold Bath
Now, to get a little personal let me tell you about Hot Coffee, 'cause Hot Coffee was everywhere! Whether you went to G4, GameSpot, or even 4chan, there was no way to avoid this mod. Considered to be a sleazeball mod even back in the day, Hot Coffee was a mod where players were able to hook up with an NPC and have sex with them. The name for this comes from the NPC asking the player character if they would like to go to her place for 'coffee.' And yeah, I'll admit, color me impressed at the fact that a mod was getting even bigger controversy and hype than the original content. However, looking back at what the mod community has been and how long it's been going, Hot Coffee is now just a reminder of how alien the mod community used to be considered.
While players have often experienced the bad side of glitches in the last few GTA titles, the people that actually get the worst of it is the AI. People can be seen flying into the sky and never come down. People get trapped in gravel or the road. We've seen it all. Hell, GTA would probably be considered to be the most broken game series out there had it not have to rival the likes of the Assassin's Creed series and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. However, going into how NPCs can go into glitch-heaven hilarity doesn't hide the fact that GTA has probably some of the worst AI blessed onto the gaming scene. Every single passerby may be hiding a knife. The delivery driver that delivers the pizza may be looking to knock the crap out of you for no reason whatsoever. Almost anyone who isn't playable or has a role in the story is looking to either kill everyone in sight or get run over. There's even footage of cops beating each other up after trying to save a man in a car wreck. And it's possibly the most morbid, hilarious thing that has released with the Rockstar logo.
4 "With Guns Like These, We Don't Need... Crosshairs."
While smaller glitches and mods may get in the way, there's no doubt that Rockstar singlehandedly created the go-to blueprint not only for sandbox games, but for third-person action games as well. The targeting, cover base, and mapping that was created for GTA III has been molded and adapted into games like No More Heroes and even Gears of War. However, when GTA IV was announced, fans were a little concerned with how the targeting systems would be. And, unfortunately, said concerns were raised even further when the game was released. The targeting system is awful. The crosshair is smaller than ever, and with the lighting and shadows, half of the time it's not even noticeable. It was so awful that many veterans of the game were needing to use the auto targeting system. And if that wasn't enough, the game would punish you with a low rank for not receiving enough headshots.
3 Side Missions In GTA IV
One of the biggest things that was marketed to the players of GTA IV was the chance to explore options other than Rampage or main story quest. Many were excited to see how the character, Niko, would explore Liberty City and what stories could be found in such a city. Instead, what we got were lackluster 'dates' and 'hangouts,' that involved bowling, dancing, going to a dinner. They were trying to integrate such a realistic feel to the game that the end result was a boring mish-mash of minigames that no one asked for. Which wouldn't be bad, except that the game tries to remind you about it every five seconds. Usually, within either a mission or rampage, you'll get a phone call from one of your friends, cousin, or girlfriend asking to hang out or go on a date. Usually, this is during the most infuriating parts of the game and turns this optional story arc into a tedious nuisance.
2 Ludonarrative Dissonance
When first released, GTA IV was somewhat of a hallmark, considered to have writing that even topped The Godfather. However, as the years went by and Rockstar got their grip on storytelling with equally good DLC (The Damned, and The Ballad of Gay Tony), many critics realized a certain kind of separation of gameplay and story was taking place. They used the phrasing "ludonarrative dissonance," which means that the mechanics don't adapt well to the story, to describe GTA IV. Said term was used frequently as an argument rebuttal for BioShock Infinite, which was considered to have the same problem. And unfortunately, looking to what GTA IV was aiming to be and how players wanted to play the game, there was no way to deter from said dissonance. While the story had Niko reconsider his actions and try to find a lighter path, players would constantly go out and rampage all across the digital space of Liberty City. Which ends up being one of the major flaws about GTA IV: the phoniness of realism. At the end of the day, all we want to do in a GTA game is shoot rocket launchers at cars and watch them flatten pedestrians. And with a sympathetic protagonist like Niko, you weren't able to get both the satisfaction of messing around while breaking the illusion of character.
So, in today's spectrum of comedy, there seems to be one huge trend when it comes to shock and satire: everyone's stupid, except me/us. And with that kind of a bold statement, you have to find the fine line between funny and offensive. Some just find that sweet spot, some have not, and some constantly straddle the line, like South Park. Unfortunately, GTA V seems to struggle with this. With no women characters to play and tons of sexist jokes, the game kind of just comes off as being misogynist as hell. And the same goes for the rest of the content: every racist, homophobic, and transphobic, joke, stereotype, or trope is here. But the real issue here is that there's no irony to these jokes. They're just awful. Which is why this is definitely the most cringeworthy thing about the series. It comes to show that, even with bringing the series back to an old school feel, GTA just doesn't cut it. There are games that are funnier, like Saints Row, and more interactive, like Skyrim, that GTA can't hold a candle to. The formula has just become dated.