2005 / 2006
Metacritic Rating: 88% (LCS on PSP) Metacritic Rating: 86% (VCS on PSP)
This pair of portable spin-offs retained most of the basic gameplay and core design from the three previous console GTAs. While their DNA isn't readily apparent in Rockstar's wide-open wild west, it actually plays an integral role in RDR's replay value; both Stories entries took multiplayer very seriously -- a first for the franchise -- allowing up to six players to tear up the cities in a variety of modes through the PSP's local ad hoc mode. If Rockstar hadn't begun fiddling with these multiplayer formulas back then, you might not be forming posses and engaging in Mexican standoffs today.
Grand Theft Auto IV (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
Metacritic Rating: 98%
Next to Grand Theft Auto 3, this entry deserves the most credit for shaping Red Dead Redemption's style, presentation, gameplay mechanics, and overall design. Like the previous console GTAs, it borrows heavily from its predecessors, refining what worked and fixing what didn't. Anyone who's walked a Liberty City mile in Niko Bellic's shoes will recognize that RDR is brimming with GTAIV features, such as frustration-free fast-travel options and deeper NPC interactions. But its most significant contribution is its gleaming polish. Prior to RDR, GTAIV was Rockstar's best looking and playing game; like RDR, it's powered by Rockstar's proprietary RAGE engine and utilizes Natural Motion's Euphoria technology to yield realistic character animations. It also plays as good as it looks, setting the groundwork for RDR's excellent shooting and cover mechanics. In fact, combining GTAIV's core shooting elements with a tweaked version of Red Dead Revolver's (co-developed by Capcom and Rockstar) slo-mo "Dead Eye" mode, RDR deals some of the genre's most cinematic kills. GTAIV's robust suite of online multi-player modes were also handed down and enhanced in RDR.
Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned
Metacritic Rating: 90% (Lost and Damned on Xbox 360) Metacritic Rating: 89% (Gay Tony on Xbox 360)
Like the title that spawned them, these two episodic spin-offs serve as RDR blueprints in a number of ways. Subtle touches, such as how carrying a conversation in a convoy of motorcycles is pretty much like doing the same thing on horseback in RDR, are reflected all over. But The Lost and Damned's and Ballad of Gay Tony's most significant contributions -- mid-mission checkpoints in the former, and the ability to replay missions in the latter -- are most appreciated by those attempting to tackle every last stretch of RDR's daunting landscapes.
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (Nintendo DS, PSP, iPhone)
Metacritic Rating: 93% (DS)
This on-the-go entry actually allowed gamers to replay missions before The Ballad of Gay Tony adopted the portable friendly feature. But we like to give this one props for influencing RDR's addictive economy-driving hunting mini-game. No, you weren't capping any white-tailed does in Chinatown Wars, but the drug-dealing that drove your bank account in Chinatown Wars offered a similar one-more-score thrill. Killing those hard-to-find rattlesnakes in RDR evokes a similar kind of satisfaction as turning a profit on a baggie of cheap coke in Chinatown Wars.