GTA 5's open world map was so ahead of its time that it's no surprise people are still flocking to it 10 years later

Grand theft Auto 5
(Image credit: Rockstar)

GTA 5 turns 10 today. One decade, 10 years, 120 months, 521 weeks, and 3,652 days of Michael, Franklin, and Trevor terrorizing the game's pseudo slant on LA, Los Santos. At the time of writing, the fifth main series installment of Rockstar's enduring crime simulator sits seventh on Steam's most played games list; rubbing shoulders with the likes of Starfield and Baldur's Gate 3, and boasting a concurrent high today of over 130,000 PC players. As you're probably already aware, the game has also spanned three entire console generations, across the PS3 and Xbox 360, PS4 and Xbox One, and PS5 and Xbox Series X/S cycles. 

When it comes to GTA 5, then, the numbers matter. They're the reason it has become one of the highest-selling video games of all time, having sold somewhere in the vicinity of 185 million copies. The numbers are part of the reason Rockstar is one of the biggest and highest-valued game developers in the industry today, and likewise partly why it's set to celebrate 25 years of existence later this year. 

With GTA 5, the numbers underscore its success. The most important numbers for me, though? 29.28 and 75.84. Or, to be more specific, 29.28 square miles and 75.84 square kilometers – the dimensions of Grand Theft Auto 5's sprawling Los Santos map. Because without such a sophisticated playground, tailor-made for virtual crime and excessive hedonism, I don't believe any of the aforementioned numbers would have been possible.

World building

Grand Theft Auto 5

(Image credit: Rockstar)


(Image credit: Rockstar)

GTA 6: Everything we know so far

A huge part of GTA 5's abiding popularity stems from its multiplayer offshoot, GTA Online, of course. Before last year's jump onto PS5 and Xbox Series consoles, GTA Online was in essence a complimentary extra included with purchase of the single-player base game, but can now be purchased standalone. However, GTA Online's open-ended allure aside, it couldn't exist without both its story mode precursor and the gorgeous world within which it unfolds. 

Anyone with even a passing interest in open-world games can surely relate to that feeling of combined wonder and apprehension that takes over when you first step into a new map. There's so much potential in these moments, wherein the fresh sprawl before you promises tales of intrigue – both scripted and inadvertent – of love and of loss; filled with friends and enemies alike. These instances are among the primary reasons we play open-world games, right? To get lost in the infinite possibilities that a good sandbox can provide, be that one of fantasy or one that closer reflects reality. 

Grand Theft Auto games have always fallen into the latter category, but the series' graduation from its 3D to HD universe (GTA 3, GTA: Vice City and GTA: San Andreas comprising the former; GTA 4 onwards comprising the latter) upped that sense of realism to new levels. In 2008, GTA 4's Liberty City marked a scaled-down version of New York City, complete with a Times Square-like centralized tourist spot, buildings that mirrored NYC's iconic skyline, and a Statue of Liberty-esque construct that carried a cup of coffee instead of a flaming torch. 

Grand theft Auto 5

(Image credit: Rockstar)

"Against Skyrim's estimated 37 km² world, the wider San Andreas landscape was literally groundbreaking 10 years ago, and, much like The Elder Scrolls 5, its intrigue is a huge reason why players have kept returning for over a decade."

In 2013, GTA 5's San Andreas archipelago was a different beast entirely. Designed this time to mirror real-life Los Angeles, this map felt massive from the outset. From the international airport to the south, to the city of Los Santos and its many districts (including a Hollywood-aping Vinewood), the towering Mount Chiliad, and the backwater burgh of Blaine County, this felt like a pulsing, thriving world, whose AI civilians lived within its bounds as opposed to merely existing. The game's Story Mode narrative, shared between not one but three different playable characters for the first time, pushed you into every corner and crevice of the 75.84 km² sprawl, on land and by sea, with missions tailored to suit each environment in turn. 

Whether you're a fan of GTA 5 or not, you'll probably already know all of this (although I suspect if you've read this far, then you probably are). But while the strength of GTA Online is oft-cited as the powerhouse driving the long-term success of the fifth mainline Grand Theft Auto series entry – anchored by the likes of its Doomsday Heist, its superstar DJ-spanning After Hours update, and its Dr Dre-starring The Contract add-on – I don't believe enough is said about Los Santos itself. Against Skyrim's estimated 37 km² world, the wider San Andreas landscape was literally groundbreaking 10 years ago, and, much like The Elder Scrolls 5, its intrigue is a huge reason why players have kept returning for over a decade. 

Fold in the fact that its latest iteration on current gen consoles looks absolutely stunning – not to mention the added oomph the PS5 Dual Sense haptics add to otherwise mundane actions such as revving a car engine or cocking a gun – and Los Santos continues to earn its place among the best video game settings of all time, a full decade later. From its performance scene driven by the Rockstar Editor, to its thriving subcultures such as the stunting community, there's plenty to do off the beaten track in LS; to the point where it's as much a cool place to hang out in, as it is a digital space to progress a narrative and engage in virtual crime.

Whatever the future holds for GTA 6, it's got so much to live up to in location terms alone. And if that's not enough to get you excited about what lies ahead for Rockstar and the open-world crime simulator series, then I don't think anything will. 

Here are 10 games like GTA you need to play while waiting for GTA 6

Joe Donnelly

Joe Donnelly is a sports editor from Glasgow and former features editor at GamesRadar+. A mental health advocate, Joe has written about video games and mental health for The Guardian, New Statesman, VICE, PC Gamer and many more, and believes the interactive nature of video games makes them uniquely placed to educate and inform. His book Checkpoint considers the complex intersections of video games and mental health, and was shortlisted for Scotland's National Book of the Year for non-fiction in 2021. As familiar with the streets of Los Santos as he is the west of Scotland, Joe can often be found living his best and worst lives in GTA Online and its PC role-playing scene.