Grand Theft Auto San Andreas (2004)
Body Harvest may have been the spark for the original Grand Theft Auto, and Shenmue may have been the urban open world epic that eventually led to the era-defining Grand Theft Auto 3 in 2001, but the big one – the game that was truly way ahead of its time – was Grand Theft Auto San Andreas for PlayStation 2 in 2004. Where previous GTAs were limited to single cities, San Andreas featured three full-sized cities, plus the country and sprawling desert in between – with no load screens. It had 250 different vehicles – almost five times as many as GTA3 – with the expected cars and trucks running alongside boats, planes, helicopters, bicycles, jetpacks and even a combine harvester. It went beyond being just an action adventure game and turned the whole experience into an urban RPG. It had character customization that took your gameplay activity into consideration (eat too much and you get fat), as well as car modification and territory-based gang wars. It featured a cash-based economy that let you spend your earnings on clothes, tattoos, meals, cars, and even gambling. It was full of mini games too, including basketball, pool, horse race betting, classic arcade games and rhythm games. San Andreas wasn't just a game – it felt like Rockstar created a whole world. It was unlike anything else on PlayStation 2 at the time, and it was years before we saw anything of comparable scale or ambition.