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  • Grand Theft Auto III (2001), set in fictional Liberty City (based on New York City) during the release of the game (October 2001),[3] brought a third-person view to the series, rather than the traditional top-down view of earlier titles (although the view is still made available as an optional camera angle). Graphics were also updated with a new 3D game engine. While not the first of its kind, the gameplay engine had expanded the explorable world of GTA III, doing away with a traditional game structure where the player faces a "boss" at the end of the level and moves onto a new level, opting instead for more realistic mission-based approach. Multiplayer was discarded (third party mods were later released, allowing for multiplayer gameplay) but GTA III improved in many other areas such as voice-acting and storyline (before, there was speech only in short animated cut scenes between levels, other communication was simply subtitles running on the bottom of the screen). Pop culture also is cemented into GTA III, drawing many aspects and ideas from popular films and shows such as Scarface, Goodfellas, and The Sopranos.

Grand Theft Auto III sold very well and became the first blockbuster game in the series, setting the precedent for subsequent GTA titles to be very successful. GTA III also attracted heavy criticism for its violence against police and its indifference to innocent bystanders, making future games in the GTA series synonymous with violence. Following the success of GTA III, the following titles released are stand-alone sequels (though all take place before GTA III chronologically):

  • Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002), set in 1986 in Vice City (based on Miami). Influences for the game include movies such as Scarface, Carlito's Way and the TV series Miami Vice. In fact, the entire basic storyline of the game is an homage to Scarface, including the climactic gun-fight in the main character's mansion at the end.
  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004), set in 1992 in the fictional state of San Andreas (based on California and Nevada, specifically Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Las Vegas), inspiration comes from movies such as Boyz N the Hood and Menace II Society, and early 90s west coast gangsta rap culture and groups such as N.W.A..

San Andreas expanded on previous RPG elements, adding the ability to dress the player's character, exercise, and tattoo him. These elements also have an effect on gameplay as other characters would comment on the player character's physique or clothes. The character could also swim. San Andreas also attracted controversy when a sex minigame that was cut from the game, but remaining in the game code, was discovered in both the console and PC versions of the game (See Hot Coffee mod). As a result, GTA: San Andreas was pulled from a number of retail outlets and was re-rated from "M" (Mature) to "AO" (Adults Only) by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB); the first game in the series to be given an AO rating. Rockstar has since released an edited version of the game for the PC, Xbox, and PlayStation 2, and has reclaimed the "M" rating.

  • Grand Theft Auto Advance (2004), originally intended to be a topdown conversion of GTA III for the Game Boy Advance, it ended up becoming its own completely original adventure, set roughly a year before GTA III.
  • Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories (2006), the second PlayStation Portable game, was released on October 31, 2006 and set in 1984 Vice City. A PlayStation 2 port was released by Rockstar on March 6, 2007.