We've recently posted a piece about that fan-made map that placed all five major cities of the GTA franchise on a single large combined continent. At the beginning of that post, we've mentioned the three continuities that can be distinguished in the franchise, and how that fan map throws them out the window.
This post will give you a quick rundown of the three separate universes in the GTA franchise, and will answer a few questions such as why Los Santos looks completely different in GTA V compared to the city of the same name as it appeared in San Andreas, which in turn is completely different from what appeared in GTA...
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First of all, we have three universes. These is the 2D universe, the 3D universe and the HD universe.
The 2D universe encompasses GTA, London 1969, London 1961, and GTA II. GTA II incorporated some 3D elements, but was mainly 2D and was still played from a top-down perspective, thus it is still considered part of this universe. The London packs are the only ones to feature "real" cities. GTA 2 is set in Anywhere City, which does not appear in any other game in the franchise again.
The 3D universe encompasses the games released between 2001 and 2006, meaning the universe began with GTA III and ended with GTA: Vice City Stories. The games in this universe include GTA III, Vice City, Advance, San Andreas, Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories. The characters, locations and storylines of these games are related, and cross-over on many occasions. Ironically, Grand Theft Auto III, the first game in this universe, is also the one which happens last chronologically, and story-wise, the other games are all prequels to it.
The HD Universe entails all games from GTA IV onward, including all of its DLCs, Chinatown Wars and GTA V. The reason why GTA V's Los Santos is different from the one which appeared in San Andreas, is that the two games appear in completely different canonical universes, and the team's goal with GTA V was to make it resemble the real world city it is based on more.
Which of the GTA universes is you favorite?