When the original Grand Theft Auto burst onto the scene in 1997, it was a revelation. A super-controversial, won’t somebody think of the children revelation.
Fast forward a couple of decades, and it’s one of the most popular and beloved franchises in the industry. They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and true enough, Grand Theft Auto has ridden its violent reputation to victory.
Rockstar, quite understandably, feels a lot of affection for their series, and it shows in the love that they lavish upon it. It also shows in the many references to past titles that they’ve squeezed into the latest installment. Let’s take a look at just ten of those throwbacks.
As we know, GTA V’s Los Santos is a snarky send-up of Los Angeles. This is clear just about everywhere: in the superficiality and commercialism of it all, in the celebrity-obsessed culture… nothing comes close to the Golden Coast, as a wise philosopher once said (no, wait, it was Katy Perry).
As such, you’ve got to expect to find parodies of all kinds of Los Angeles landmarks within the game. One favorite is the Vinewood Walk of Fame, a clear send-up of the one in Hollywood.
The Walk of Fame also featured in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, but the stars weren’t legible. The version in GTA V is found in Vinewood Boulevard, Downtown Vinewood, and honors a whole host of stars from previous games in the series.
While we’re in the luxurious Vinewood Hills area, let’s pay a visit to Franklin’s new house, which is a bit of a treasure trove of GTA throwbacks. Subtle ones, though, which the casual player may miss entirely.
On the walls, there are some gold records. One of them is by OG Loc, of San Andreas. Elsewhere in the room, there's a poster and CD referencing Madd Dogg, a character referenced throughout the later entries in the series (who was particularly central to San Andreas).
If you’re not familiar with the series as a whole, these are the sorts of nods that will go straight over your head, but are sure to elicit a wry smile from long-time fans.
Speaking of things that returning fans are sure to appreciate, the mission Hood Safari was sure to be nostalgic for series veterans. The job sees Franklin, Trevor and Lamar journey to Grove Street, where the Ballas are waiting to… well, it’s a deal gone horribly wrong, culminating in a jet ski chase. Standard ridiculous Grand Theft Auto stuff, and we love it.
What’s most notable about this mission is its setting. Grove Street, as fans will remember, is the home of San Andreas protagonist CJ. It’s changed a fair bit in this iteration, but it’s clearly Grove Street. There’s even a trio of NPCs who look like CJ, Sweet, and Big Smoke (look out for them cycling by).
Let’s celebrate the fact that Fernando Martinez, one of the most commonly-recurring characters in the series, is here yet again.
Martinez, for the uninitiated, is a radio star, characterized by his misogynistic views and Casanova-esque reputation. In all of his appearances in the series, he’s been voiced by Frank Chavez, and is just as much of a walking parody as so many other characters in the franchise.
Even for those who aren't long-time franchise fans, there’s something everyone knows about the series: fast food is very, very important. Here in the real world, hotdogs, burgers and candy bars aren’t going to do our health any favors (come on, science, get on that already), but in GTA V, these items restore your HP.
Players love the hilarious secret taco truck that can be acquired in the game (it spawns in an area in the north of Sandy Shores, between 1 and 2 pm). What not all players may not realize, however, is that the Chihuahua Hotdogs stand in Sandy Shores is a throwback to the Liberty City vendors of Grand Theft Auto IV.
Ah, yes. Niko Bellic, protagonist of the sublime Grand Theft Auto IV. Also appearing in The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony DLC packages for the game, Niko left quite an impression on fans. So much so, he’s been cropping up in little asides and references ever since.
In GTA V, it’s unclear whether Niko is still alive, and what he’s doing now if he is. Lester speaks of an Eastern European criminal who ‘went quiet,’ while Packie (who featured alongside Niko in his game, and can be used as a heist squad member in GTA V) explains that he doesn’t know what became of Niko.
As we’ve reported previously, though, an easter egg in Marvel’s Spider-Man clearly shows Niko and Roman planning a heist. It’s a confusing situation all around.
Now, the important thing to remember is, this is Grand Theft Auto we’re talking about. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows here, friends. The franchise is all about anti-heroes, morally questionable protagonists, violence, explosions, and other criminal drama. Los Santos may look like a superficially rich and vibrant world, but it’s certainly got a seedy underbelly. You don’t stop to think about the poor old NPCs you’re messing with, do you?
One neat little thing that Rockstar has thrown into the game revolves around a nondescript NPC driver on the roads, just doing their thing. When the player pulls them out of their vehicle, one of the programmed lines they’ll say is “I’m moving to Liberty City!” Another clear-yet-subtle throwback, referencing the setting of several games in the series (dating all the way back to the original), a snarky take on New York City.
As we’ve seen, Patrick “Packie” McReary is a central character of Grand Theft Auto IV, and a close friend of protagonist Niko Bellic. Packie makes a return in GTA V, but not just in off-hand references.
Through the random event Getaway Driver, the player meets McReary, and can opt to either help him in his crime (he’s robbing a store) or help the store owner (taking down Packie and his accomplice). If you help him, he’ll become available as a member of the squad for heists, boasting very high skills in the gunman category but taking a big cut of 12%.
When brought along on missions, he’ll sometimes speak of Niko, explaining that he’s lost contact with the man and presumes him to be deceased.
Now, the O’Neil family place really isn’t the most glamorous location in GTA V. What with the suspicious ‘cooking’ thwasmily were doing and the general squalid state of the place, they’d probably leave this one of most of the Los Santos guidebooks.
In the mission Crystal Maze, Trevor burns the place to the ground after the family crosses him. It’s a grim business all around. Despite its unhappy backstory, though, the ranch is home to one of the game’s most intriguing throwbacks.
Near the property, there’s an obscure old yellowish bumper (perhaps belonging to a Cavalcade) in a barn. What’s interesting about this is that it carries a Liberty City license plate from 2008, a very clear reference to GTA IV (which is set in Liberty City and was released in 2008).
Finally, we’ve got probably the furthest-reaching and most obscure throwback of all. This is one for the Grand Theft Auto faithful.
While cruising around the city as Trevor, you’ve surely had a little accident involving a pedestrian or two. Unfortunate for them, yes, but also inevitable and hilarious (again, this is Grand Theft Auto we’re talking about).
Does Trevor feel remorse for his actions? He does not. Because he’s Trevor. Hitting someone with your vehicle will sometimes cause him to call out “Ten points!”
This, as you probably know, is a reference to the Grand Theft Auto titles of old, which saw the player amassing points in order to access more cities and progress. Every little criminal activity helps!