Grand Theft Auto V is not only the most successful title in Rockstar's long-running video game franchise, but with over 90 million copies sold and $6 billion in revenue, it's the most successful entertainment product ever, as of 2018. While GTA V has been an unstoppable cash cow for Rockstar Games ever since its release in 2013, the franchise wouldn't be where it is today if it wasn't for the groundbreaking run of PlayStation 2 titles released between 2001 and 2004.
Grand Theft Auto III kicked things off in 2001 by taking the series into three dimensions for the first time and revolutionizing open-world game design in the process. Vice City and San Andreas, released in 2002 and 2004, respectively, refined GTA III's core concepts while expanding the series' scope in just about every way imaginable. Admittedly, the trilogy hasn't exactly aged well in terms of gameplay systems or visuals, but the individual games are still beloved and held up as crowning achievements in game design for their era.
One of the best things about this crop of GTA games is just how packed they were with details both big and small. Vice City and San Andreas in particular are filled with all sorts of pop culture influences and callouts, and really capture the look and feel of the eras they're set in (in this case, the 1980s and '90s, respectively). While each game tasks players with tracking down various secrets, they also have some rather cleverly hidden Easter Eggs, the following 25 are arguably the best of the bunch.
25 San Andreas: Gordon Freeman’s Crowbar
Rockstar loves to put Easter Eggs referencing other video games in its titles and one of the best can be found in the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas mission “Black Project”. The mission tasks protagonist CJ with sneaking into Area 69, a military research base, to steal a jetpack.
In a lab near where the scientist gives Carl a keycard is a table with a crowbar on it. This is a reference to Valve’s 1998 game Half-Life, which follows protagonist Gordon Freeman, crowbar in hand, as he escapes an alien-filled underground lab.
24 San Andreas: Running With Scissors
Gordon Freeman’s crowbar isn’t the only gaming Easter Egg to be found in San Andreas’ Area 69, however. When inside the base, various announcements can be heard over the intercom, including “Anyone caught stealing alien technology will not be invited to the next staff night out”, and “Running with scissors is dangerous and not permitted.”
The latter message is suspected of being a nod to the game developer Running with Scissors, best known for creating the Postal games. Rockstar probably included the shout out because their games are considered by some to be “GTA Clones”.
23 Vice City: Chocolate Easter Egg
It’s not every day you find a literal Easter Egg in a game, but players can find one in Vice City if they know where to look. In Downtown Vice City on the Vice City News Building, there’s a helipad that can be accessed by a stairway from the ground. On the side of a building adjacent to the helipad (on the left), there’s a section of wall that can be jumped through. On the other side, you’ll find a small room with a large chocolate Easter Egg on a pedestal with “Happy Easter!” written on it. Well played, Rockstar.
22 Vice City: Swim With The Fishes
Vice City may not have had much of a mob presence before Tommy Vercetti showed up, but there's definitely evidence of their dirty work if you look hard enough. Grab a boat and take a look around the waters off the short of Leaf Links near the Downtown area.
Under the water, you should be able to spot a fat man at the bottom of the sea. Upon closer inspection, you'll see that the fat man is wearing cement shoes, which of course was a traditional way for the mafia to dispose of people.
21 San Andreas: The V-Rock Hotel
With the switch from the '80s to '90s, San Andreas ditched the sounds of glam metal in favor of era-appropriate grunge and alternative, but that didn't stop one of Vice City's best radio stations from making a cameo of sorts.
Among the many hotels found in Las Venturas is the V-Rock Hotel, which is both a parody of the real-life Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, and a tribute to Vice City's V-Rock radio station. While the building is disappointingly both inaccessible and unavailable for purchase, it does have a basketball court around back if you want to shoot some hoops.
20 San Andreas: The Truth Speaks… The Truth?
San Andreas is one of the last Rockstar games to feature celebrity actors in most of the supporting roles, with names such as Samuel L. Jackson, Charlie Murphy, and the legendary Peter Fonda all voicing memorable characters. Fonda plays The Truth, an elderly hippie and conspiracy theorist who at one point hints to being involved in the previous game in the series.
In the mission “Wear Flowers in Your Hair”, Truth says that his guys “used to work on marine engines, ‘til the mob bought their business over in Vice.” This seems to refer to Tommy Vercetti’s takeover of the shipyard in Vice City.
19 Rockstar Logos Galore
Rockstar Games has a pretty iconic logo at this point and eagle-eyed fans will notice it all over the place in the PS2-era GTA games. Some of our favorites include a logo-shaped pool on Vice City's Starfish Island (easy to spot from the air), stars in the night sky that form the Rockstar logo in San Andreas, and the poorly disguised logo atop an unusable helicopter on the roof of Kenji's Casino in GTA III (it's poorly disguised because it clearly reads "Rockstar Games" below it).
18 Vice City: Oh, Hi Claude
After taking some time off from Vice City, GTA III's silent protagonist Claude appears in a couple of San Andreas missions as a supporting character. However, Claude can still be found in Vice City if you look hard enough.
Take a look around Tommy Vercetti's room at the Ocean View Hotel and you'll find a poster featuring the black jacket-clad gangster himself in comic book style aesthetic. The poster is centered between two other parody posters.
17 Vice City: I’ve Heard This One Before
Another (much more subtle) GTA III callback in Vice City can be heard during the mission Two Bit Hit. The instructions Avery Carrington gives to Tommy Vercetti are almost exactly the same ones Donald Love gives to Claude during the mission Waka-Gashira Wipeout:
Carrington: "Now, nothing brings down real estate prices quicker than a good old-fashioned gang war - 'cept maybe a disaster, like a biblical plague or something, but, that may be going too far in this case."
Love: "Nothing drives down real estate prices like a good old fashioned gang war, apart from the outbreak of a plague, but that might going too far in this case."
16 Vice City and San Andreas: Shoot The Moon
The moon occupies a huge spot of the night sky in all the PS2 era Grand Theft Auto titles, mostly because it always takes the form of a full moon and doesn't adhere to lunar cycles. What you may not have realized is that the moon isn't just there in service of GTA's day/night cycle, but is itself an Easter egg of sorts.
If you fire at the moon with a sniper rifle, it will change sizes (Normal Size-Bigger-Bigger-Smaller-Bigger-Normal Size). No other weapon will activate the size change and it's unclear if this was an intentional design decision or just a bug.
15 Vice City: Commodore 64
The Commodore 64, an 8-bit computer gaming system, was released in 1982, so it was contemporary to Vice City's 1986 time period. As such, the highest-selling single computer model of all time gets a nod in the Rockstar North loading screen, which is designed to look like the starting screen from an old C64 game.
As it turns out, the reference is both a visual and audio one, as the background music - the Grand Theft Auto 1 theme song "Joyride" by Da Shootaz - is remixed to sound like a Commodore 64.
14 San Andreas: “Max Pane”
The first two Max Payne titles may have been developed by Remedy Entertainment but they were published by Rockstar Games, so it makes sense that the San Andreas development team had a soft spot for the third-person action series.
Long before Rockstar ended up developing the underrated Max Payne 3 (2012), it put an easy to miss Easter Egg into San Andreas in the form of a liquor store window being labelled "Max Pane" (a delightful pun!). The Easter Egg can be found in the mission Tanker Commander.
13 Vice City: Escobar International
Vice City is set in the glitz and grime of 1980s Miami, which has become notorious for its connection to the trade of substances. It's fitting then, that Vice City's airport is called the Escobar International Airport, as it's likely named after the famous guy, the biggest substance lord of all time.
During the peak of his career, he was moving about fifteen tons of illegal material into the US every day. Prior to his passing in 1993, he was worth approximately $25-$30 billion USD, making him one of the richest men in the world at the time.
12 San Andreas: The Bridge Anti-Easter Egg
What, you thought Rockstar only had one anti-Easter Egg up its sleeve? The top of the Gant Bridge, San Andreas' version of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, is just the sort of hard-to-get-to location where one would expect to find a well-hidden secret. and Rockstar didn't disappoint... sort of.
On the southern suspension tower, you'll find a note that reads "There are no Easter Eggs up here. Go away." The northern tower doesn't contain such a message, but it does have a parachute to help make it down in one piece!
11 Vice City: Indy Plane
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City features all sorts of homages to various pieces of 80s pop culture, including one of the decade's greatest films. It's easy to make the connection between the Skimmer plane and the seaplane used in the beginning of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), but it could just be a coincidence.
The game, however, makes the connection clear during a mission, as it's mentioned that the seaplane was used in "some old indie movie." Delightful wordplay Easter Eggs at their finest!
10 San Andreas: Action Figures
Zero’s RC missions have become stuff of GTA legend for their ridiculous difficulty, but the David Cross-voiced character at least has some neat surprises in his shop to make up for all those botched flight attempts. Inside, you’ll find several models based on vehicles in San Andreas, including the Hydra, Jester, and NRG-500.
Additionally, there are numerous action figures of characters from Manhunt and past GTA titles, including Tommy Vercetti, Lance Vance, and James Earl Cash. Basically, Zero is quite the collector!
His missions are still awful, though.
9 Vice City: Shipwrecks
With Vice City surrounded by water (don’t get us started on Tommy’s inability to swim), it makes sense that Rockstar would bury a few secrets beneath the waves. In fact, there are three shipwrecks to be found along the Vice City shores. One is a sunken Reefer located under the bridge between Downtown and Prawn Island.
The other two are sunken container ships that can be found north of Vice Point and south of Viceport, respectively. Since the game is set during the Cold War, it only makes sense that what appears to be a Soviet submarine can be spotted patrolling the northern container ship.
8 San Andreas: RIP Opposition
If you head out to the Opposition Memorial in Hashbury, San Fierro, you may notice that all of the tombstones read "RIP Opposition 1997-2004". Well, it turns out this is a reference to Rockstar itself or rather, what it had done to its competition over the first decade of existence.
Rockstar published its first game in 1997 and "RIP Opposition" can be read as a bit of smack talk against competing developers who tried and failed to make a better game. Speaking of which, there's one GTA rival in particular that Rockstar has taken numerous shots at over the years...
7 Driver Easter Eggs
There was a bit of a rivalry between the Grand Theft Auto and Driver series back in the late 90s and early 2000s, but it was clear by the time the disappointing Driver 3 was released in the same year as San Andreas that GTA was miles ahead in terms of quality.
Leave it to Rockstar to throw shade at its rival in multiple GTA games, with the most explicit probably being when a guard yells "Tanner, you suck!" while playing a video game during the San Andreas mission Madd Dogg's Rhymes; a reference to the protagonist of the Driver series.
6 Vice City: Not On The Soundtrack
Grand Theft Auto soundtracks have become the stuff of gaming legend at this point, with debates still being waged over which title had the best music (spoiler: it's Vice City). Speaking of Vice City, the game features a couple of tracks that are heard during missions but don't actually appear on any of the in-game radio stations.
The first is "Freaks Come Out at Night" by Whodini, which plays in the background during The Job (the song was later featured on Fresh FM in Vice City Stories.) The other "bonus" track is Blue Oyster Cult's "Burnin' For You", which plays durning the mission Boomshine Saigon.
5 GTA III: Miami Billboard
With GTA III and Vice City having only been released a year apart, it makes sense that Rockstar knew full well where the next Grand Theft Auto title would be set during development on GTA III. Still, it's pretty cool to see the teases for Vice City's location in hindsight.
A billboard sporting the phrase "See you in Miami!" can be spotted in Liberty City.
A billboard sporting the phrase "See you in Miami!" can be spotted in Liberty City, which is interesting since it confirms that Miami exists in the GTA universe, despite Vice City being a stand-in city for real-life Miami. It's all a bit confusing, honestly.
4 GTA III: Upstate Liberty
Grand Theft Auto III may be the smallest of the PS2 GTA titles and have the crappiest airplane, but there is a way to go beyond the borders which reveal a bigger (albeit totally incomplete) world. If you hop in a Dodo and manage to fly it north for a few minutes, you’ll start seeing various town names on the mini-map.
Every town is named after a programmer who worked on the game.
These include Aaronsville (Aaron Garbut), Adamton (Adam Fowler/Cochrane), Garystown (Gary McAdam), Les County (Leslie Benzies), Obbeburgh (Obbe Vermeij), and Woodcunty (Alisdair Wood).
3 GTA III: “I’m In The YMCA”
Pedestrians in Grand Theft Auto games have become much more interesting and varied over the years as technology has improved, but the ones found in GTA III still offer a few surprises. One pedestrian model in particular, a construction worker, will start saying lyrics from the song "YMCA: by Village People when bumped into. The phrases include "Young man," "There's no need to be down," and "I'm in the YMCA."
2 San Andreas: Pokémon Storefront
Here we have it: the best and possibly most well hidden Easter Egg in the PS2 era GTA titles. The reason we like this one so much is that it's frankly incredible that anyone was ever able to spot it. In San Andreas, there's a gift shop called Juguetes Regalos in Eastern Los Santos that looks like any other copy-and-pasted building.
It's incredible that anyone was ever able to spot this Easter Egg.
Look a little closer at the store's sign and you'll see that it contains Pokemon characters, which is more than a little bizarre considering Pokemon did not yet exist in 1992, the year in which the game is set. This is definitely a mistake made by the developers, but one we're happy went unnoticed.
1 GTA III: The Hidden Sign
Rockstar doesn't just take a literal approach to Easter eggs, as alluded by this very meta hidden secret in Grand Theft Auto III. Located in a parking lot in the very southwestern block of Bedford Point, the Easter egg now known as The Hidden Sign takes a little work to get to.
You'll need a small car to stand on top of in order to reach the roof of a building west of the lot. After dropping down into an alley (find full details on how to reach this area here), you'll find a note on the wall at the end of the alley that reads "You weren't supposed to be able to get here you know". Whoops.