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GTA Online has positively exploded over the last few years and, love it or hate it, for better or for worse, the game has set the precedence for the future of open-world, multiplayer gaming.
It’s a polarising title, to say the least. While it has a huge player base, it’s gained a substantial degree of notoriety for its supposed exploitation of microtransactions.
The single-player game and the multiplayer aspect have, collectively, been crowned as the most successful media title of all time, and the brand earned a whopping $600 million through in-game purchases alone in 2019.
Despite its vastness and grand scope, it can also be quite a bewildering play experience for new players as well as an exhausting one for long-time fans. As such, many people are looking for an alternative.
But it may still seem hard to argue that there’s anything quite as feature-rich as Rockstar’s multiplayer magnum opus. However, you’d be surprised — provided you’re open to something a bit different — how many games are out there that offer a similarly compelling online experience.
I’ve played a huge variety of crime-centric sandbox games in my time, and as a GTA Online veteran, I have a good handle on what players might be looking for in an alternative Games Like GTA Online.
Let’s delve into seven brilliant titles which offer just that!
Bottom Line Up Front
Maybe you like the concept of GTA Online but find the whole thing a bit too daunting. Perhaps you’re just looking for something different in your multiplayer sandbox escapades. Irrespective of what you’re after, this list provides a wide array of experiences that are in line, in some capacity, with the GTA Online formula.
I’ve tried to include games that are as individually distinct as possible from the other entities, so there’s sure to be something here for you no matter what you want!
Out of all seven titles on this list, there are two that I think fit the bill as great all-rounders.
The first is Red Dead Online. There’s no closer replication of the GTA Online style than this title, so for those simply looking for the same formula in a different setting with some alternate game modes, this has to be the obvious choice. It may still be yet to come, but the game isn’t as saturated by the same pay-to-win aspects, either.
For those looking for something more removed from GTA Online but also for a game that still encompasses the core thrill of multiplayer sandbox I think Gary’s Mod is a great choice.
Considering the engine it’s been built off of, the gunplay is solid, and there’s such an awesome variety of wacky sandbox game modes and maps to choose from (there are even those that replicate Grand Theft Auto 5’s map specifically).
My Top Picks at a Glance
For those who just want to know my recommendations without justification, here are all seven games in short.
1. Garry’s Mod: What Garry’s mod lacks in finesse it makes up for in weirdness and general hilarity. There’s something for everyone here, and I have no doubt you’ll catch the bug once you try it.
2. Red Dead Online: An obvious choice for GTA Online fans, this game is the formula revamped for fans of the wild west. You’ll find all your favorite mod cons here, but it’s new enough to revitalize your interest.
3. Minecraft: This game’s customizability seemingly knows no bounds, and the concept of simplicity as a mechanic makes it infinitely adaptable. With a ton of GTA-inspired maps and game modes, oddly, you’ll feel right at home as a GTA Online fan.
4. PAYDAY 2: If you love GTA Online’s heists, you’ll relish PAYDAY 2. The entire game is based on planning and executing bank robberies with expert precision the perfect choice for those wanting a more calculated experience from their crime games.
5. SA-MP (San Andreas Multiplayer): Through a simple modification, this package allows you to play Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas online with friends complete with a full free roam mode and a host of classic game modes.
6. Grand Theft Auto 4 Online: Representative of the core GTA Online experience without the fluff, many people fondly remember GTA 4‘s online multiplayer mode. Thankfully, you can still play it today even though the official servers have shut down.
7. Watch Dogs: Legion: Multiplayer: Featuring as the most recently released entry on this list, fans of both GTA and Watch Dogs will want to try out the newly implemented multiplayer component. It’s a tactical, smaller, more focussed affair than anything Rockstar has ever put out, but in being so it has its own unique appeal.
Tips for Enjoying These Games
Considering their respective similarities to GTA Online, there are a few general tips I’d like to give you so you can get the most out of these games.
Play with Friends
In my opinion, every game on this list, and online games in general, are best experienced with friends those you can cooperate with and speak to over voice chat.
It’s common for any online game to feel a little isolating if played alone; a large part of the fun comes from bouncing off your friends in voice chat, and without that, things can feel somewhat disconnected, bland, and pointless.
If you can, go in with some buddies initially or make an effort to bond with people you meet along the way! Doing so will significantly enrich your experience.
Ensure Your Internet Connection is Optimized
There’s nothing more infuriating than experiencing a bad connection whilst playing online, and with the games in this list varying in server robustness, you’ll want to make sure your own connection is solid. Ethernet (wired) connection will always be faster than WiFi (wireless), so if you can, go with the former.
If you’re using a wireless connection, the distance of your system from your wireless router will make a big difference. If possible, place your console or PC as close to it as you can.
Don’t Overdo It
On account of there always being a chance at becoming better, fulfilling a new goal, or playing with new people, large-scale online games are inherently addictive. It’s easy for the hours to melt away, so keep an eye on your time spent playing.
Coming from experience, it’s common to play so much that you become saturated with a given game and it becomes boring. Gaming, like most things in life, is about balance. Have fun, but as cathartic as living your second life in Garry’s Mod RP can be, don’t let it take over your real life!
GTA Online is a very broad game encompassing a vast array of different experiences, so a solid criterion for recommending similar games is important. Here’s how I’ve broken things down:
Modded games are allowed: Considering some of the best GTA Online-type experiences are, in fact, modded versions of the older games in the series, I had to allow modded games to feature on this list.
The games must have a crime element: let’s face it: the main reason we enjoy GTA is to live out gangster fantasies. Presuming most have the same proclivity for fantasy crime sims as me, this is the core element you’ll be looking for in similar titles.
Not every game is a sandbox game: One of the crucial features of ‘being like’ GTA is of offering an open world — but that’s not the only aspect. I’ve included games in this list that don’t have an expansive free mode, but that feature other core aspects which may be important to those who resonate with the series.
Garry’s Mod | Facepunch Studios | 2006
Indisputably the arbiter of all things weird and wacky in the world of multiplayer gaming, Garry’s Mod is some of the best sandbox fun you can muster.
The game was originally developed by modding wizard Garry Newman off the back of the tools Valve provided for using the source engine, and naturally, the degree to which you can tailor your experience in this game is endless.
While its most famous and most popular play styles are realized in-game modes like Trouble in Terrorist Town (TTT), Prop hunt, or prison break, numerous game modes have been created off the back of GTA Online’s successes.
Modders have gone so far as attempting to emulate the entire GTA map in what are uncanny approximations of Los Santos, and classic game modes such as Gang War and customized deathmatches have been faithfully recreated in the source engine.
Of course, you wouldn’t come to a game like Garry’s Mod to experience the same robust, detailed world as you would in GTA: Online. Here, anything is possible, and the beauty of the game’s rendition of Rockstar’s ethos has a definite charm.
Most noteworthy are the RP (role-play) game modes. You’re given free rein of a sandbox environment to experience how you see fit, and you’re able to play through a similar ‘rags to riches’ scenario as you do in GTA.
In something like the popular ‘DarkRP’, the player picks from an array of potential roles to focus on: there’s firefighter, gangster, bartender, hobo, and many more to choose from. The ins and outs of what makes DarkRP cool could easily be its own separate article, so I recommend checking out the wiki for yourself!
Red Dead Online | Rockstar Games | 2020
If you love GTA Online, then an obvious next choice is Red Dead Online: a multiplayer experience with all the same advancements of the former but set in Rockstar’s beautifully realized depiction of the American West.
A big difference between the two games is the pace. You can go off fishing for hours or remain safely inside destroying your friends at poker, and there’s not the same sense of imminent danger around every corner as you get with the contemporary setting, weapons, and general atmosphere of its sibling.
I found the story missions to be more interesting, too. There’s a notable array of new characters to meet as well as some particularly stand-out sequences that, fittingly, look like they’ve been ripped straight from a Clint Eastwood movie.
The aspect that differs most from GTA Online is the aforementioned laid-back tone, so you’ll still benefit from all the mod cons like robust lobbies, a pacifist mode, and, most importantly, a huge variety of missions, game modes, and free play activities.
Also, for those that have become a little disillusioned with how GTA is becoming increasingly similar to the bizarrely futuristic Saints Row series, this game is a perfect choice.
Minecraft | Mojang Studios | 2011
Yes, it may seem a little ludicrous at first to compare the richly detailed, crime-ridden world of GTA: Online to the comparatively blocky, sparsely populated world of Minecraft, but hear me out.
If you’ve never played Minecraft online, you’ll be amazed at the extent the game can be modded to resemble any and every gaming experience on the market; due to its simplistic nature, the game is the perfect canvas for players to inject whatever playstyle they want into it.
There are some superb Los Santos recreations about; you’ll also find a positively huge plethora of weapons mods covering anything you’d find in GTA; you can even play classic, first-person shooter-style deathmatches.
But particularly popular with fans of the GTA formula are the Minecraft RP (role-playing) servers. There are a ton of unique servers to pick from (and you can, of course, make your own), but, as is the case with Garry’s Mod, Dark RP may resonate most with GTA Online fans.
Amazingly, modders have fully implemented the G-Mod game mode into Minecraft and it’s absolutely brilliant!
Discard your preconceptions and give Minecraft and chance. I’m certain it won’t be what you’re expecting, and I’m sure you’ll have a blast.
PAYDAY 2 | OVERKILL | 2013
A huge part of GTA Online’s appeal is the trill of fictional crime and, arguably, the best aspects of both the single and multiplayer elements of Grand Theft Auto 5 are the heists: the flagship missions that necessitate expert planning and precise execution.
PAYDAY 2 doesn’t feature an open world, but if you enjoy GTA Online’s heists, you’ll surely relish the prospect of this game; the entire premise is built around simulating the thrill of fantasy bank robbery in all its detail.
As should be expected, PAYDAY 2’s heists are more methodical and realistic than those in GTA Online. Where the latter features a mostly linear design philosophy, PAYDAY 2 hinges on your ability to both procure and discuss each person’s role.
As such, your success in the game is largely dependent on who you’re playing with and, like GTA Online, the whole thing is at its most enjoyable when you’re playing with friends you can talk to.
One person might be in control of disabling the alarm system while another focuses on controlling the crowds; someone else might then be in charge of cracking the safe whilst a fourth player covers the doors for law enforcement.
There are multiple approaches for each heist, making for a varied and always uniquely satisfying experience. Given that you can completely avoid police intervention of go in guns blazing, PAYDAY 2 adds a layer of tense variability you don’t really get from GTA Online.
SA-MP (San Andreas Multiplayer) | SA-MP | 2008
While Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas came out before Rockstar entered the online fray, that hasn’t stopped talented modders from creating a fully functioning, online multiplayer version of the game.
With a relatively simple install, you’re able to jump in and wreak havoc in 1990s Los Santos just like you could in the single-player but this time with the addition of real players. The mod supports up to 999 players, and modders have extended beyond simply enabling players to run about in free mode.
If you have the ability (or are willing to learn), there’s the potential to write your own scripted game modes, and if not, there’s a whole host of modes to play that other people have designed.
Naturally, there are no microtransactions, leveling, or grinding to be found here: it’s a more barebones denotation of what a multiplayer Grand Theft Auto experience can be, but for many, it’s perfect like that.
It’s unlikely we’ll ever see an officially supported version, but this mod provides you everything you need to enjoy this classic title with friends. You can find all the information you need to get the mod running on SA-MP.com.
Grand Theft Auto 4 | Rockstar Games | 2008
Grand Theft Auto 4 was a huge deal when it was released in 2008, and it was the first game in the series to offer an online mode.
GTA 4 Online featured the Liberty City map in all its glory, as well as the classic game modes we’ve come to enjoy in the latest iteration such as races, deathmatch, and turf war.
While the servers were officially closed down, you can still jump in and play today it’ll just require some extra steps through the use of a few Grand Theft Auto mods.
This detailed breakdown includes everything you need to know to get your game up to scratch for online play in 2022. If you’re playing the game on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, you’re actually able to play the game with no problem: the console versions rely on P2P (peer-to-peer) networking.
Essentially, this means that the online component of the game is supported by connecting players to each other across the internet, so there’s no need for external servers.
For many, Grand Theft Auto 4 Online represents the best multiplayer experience the series has to offer. It’s far removed from what many refer to as the “bloat” of the current GTA Online, yet it’s still modern enough to feel like a contemporary experience.
This game allows you to free roam the city and jump into a few classic game modes if you want to, and for many, that’s all they want out of an online Grand Theft Auto experience.
Watch Dogs: Legion: Online | Ubisoft | 2021
The first Watch Dogs title received a lukewarm reception, but the second did a lot better. Most recently, the third and latest game in the series, Watch Dogs: Legion, launched its fully-fledged multiplayer mode at the end of last year.
The Legion Online experience offers up Ubisoft’s stunning realization of dystopian London within a multiplayer setting. Ubisoft’s take on the multiplayer sandbox is significantly different from Rockstar’s, though.
Rather than placing the focus on the individual’s success as a career criminal, Legion channels its multiplayer escapades into a co-op campaign for up to four players. The quirk of Watch Dogs is its plethora of futuristic options for approaching its missions a premise that’s all the more fun with friends.
Whether it be from hacking turrets and spy cameras to controlling spider bots, Legion’s more focused multiplayer is a welcome change from the more bombastic activities of GTA Online.
While Legion’s offering is certainly smaller in scope, it’s great to see well-thought-out missions that necessitate the formation of your own crew rather than just offering it as an option.
Voice chat is a must, and as opposed to the somewhat indifferent, more volatile arena of GTA, Legion successfully evokes a sense of hidden espionage as skilled groups of players compete for the big stakes.
It’s a game that rewards thoughtful cooperation and an intelligent approach to missions, and if you’re tired of the shoot-first-ask-questions-later aspects of GTA Online, this one might be for you.
Question: If I Have the Option to Play these Games on Either PC or Consoles, which should I Choose?
Answer: If you have the choice, your decision will most likely come down to two factors. Firstly, if are you interested in mods, your only option is PC.
Secondly, you’ll want to make your choice based on the player population of the game you wish to play: a crucial component to both the game’s longevity and your ability to jump into the action without excessive wait times.
Sometimes, console and PC player bases differ considerably, so make sure you check which platform has a larger community before buying the game.
Question: I’m Interested in Using Mods to Play Older Grand Theft Auto Games Online. Should I? Are there Any Risks?
Answer: For whatever reason, modding can sometimes carry with it a negative connotation but these fears are usually unfounded.
While it can be possible to mess up game files or delete something you shouldn’t, there’s generally not a lot of risk to your game by modding it provided you follow instructions carefully. Besides, providing you back up your save files, the worst that could happen is that you mess up and need to re-install the game.
Question: Are these Games Considered Better than GTA Online?
Answer: Whether any of these titles are better is, of course, a subjective matter. Some of these games differ drastically from GTA Online despite some similarities, so direct comparisons may not even be very useful.
Read this list and think carefully about exactly what you’re looking for (or not looking for). It might be that you resonate so much with one or more of these games that you decide to stop playing GTA Online; perhaps you’ll flip between several of them including GTA Online. You’ll find your personal favorite brand simply by virtue of trying out lots of different experiences.
I hope this breakdown has inspired you to try your hand at the plethora of online sandbox experiences on offer.
Crime-ridden streets and bustling sandboxes are always going to be a joy to visit in an online capacity, and while the Grand Theft Auto series certainly reigns king in terms of popularity, there’s clearly no shortage of other excellent alternative choices!
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