Driving is a core aspect in the Grand Theft Auto series, encompassing nearly all activities in the games. The series is even named after "grand theft auto", the legal term for vehicle theft.
The act of controlling aircraft as well as sea vessels falls under this article.
Vehicle control has remained virtually unchanged throughout the series. Entry into a vehicle, be it by carjacking or otherwise, requires only a stroke of a key or button. Road vehicles since Grand Theft Auto 1 (and, similarly, ships) allow the player to accelerate, brake, steer and engage the handbrake or emergency brake (E-brake). When a vehicle is stationary, the brake command can be used to reverse a vehicle, while the E-brake can be used to execute sharp turns or while parked on an incline to prevent rolls down the slope. Road vehicles are commonly available with a working horn and a radio or, for emergency vehicles, emergency radio chatter. Also, the player character can be seen holding a SMG if he enters a car while equipped with one and is holding the steering wheel with both hands while at the same time holding the SMG with his right hand, except for GTA San Andreas wherein Carl Johnson is holding the steering wheel with only his left hand while his right hand is placed on his lap while at the same time holding the SMG.
For more elaboration on driving and controls, see:
The controls of aircraft are significantly different. Helicopters require the player control the speed of the rotor using the acceleration and brake commands, while banking requires the used of both the steering commands for side banks and two pairs of directional commands for forward/backward leans and turning. Similarly, fixed-wing aircraft utilize acceleration and brake commands to control forward thrust (affecting lift), steering commands for aileron control, and two pairs of directional commands for elevator and rudder controls.
The ability to control a vehicle is adversely affected by the type of vehicle the player is in. Motorcycles in GTA 1, for example, are capable of climbing up staircases when conventional cars can't. On the other end of the spectrum, larger, heavier vehicles, such as buses and trucks, are less maneuverable and oftentimes lack in speed, making them poor candidates for evasion from the police although their durability and weight can also be taken into consideration. Heavy vehicles can also be used for fun as a battering ram against other smaller vehicles. In San Andreas, players can adjust the hydraulics/pneumatic suspension system of selected vehicles (without cheats/mods) by maneuvering or clicking the left analog stick which would allow the vehicle height to be adjusted accordingly. This ability is similar to the one in Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition, known as 'weight transfer', but the vehicle cannot be flipped sidewards. Instead, the vehicle will rotate clockwise/counter-clockwise into a flat-spin instead of leaning onto the left or right wheels. Those features can be performed in San Andreas. In San Andreas, vehicles will inevitably catch fire and explode if they come to rest after being turtled (flipped onto the roof).
Certain vehicles may also come equipped with special features, such as a weapon (e.g. Tank, Rhino and Hunter), a water cannon (Fire Truck) or towing apparatus (Truck Cab or Tow Truck), which may be used to the player's advantage.
Damage resistance should also been considered. A weaker body may offset the high performance of certain vehicles, while a slow, heavy vehicle may be far more resilient to damage. If a player is not proficient enough in their driving or has not properly planned their path to their destination, the choice of vehicle may become a hindrance if the player is urgently completing a mission or escaping from pursuers.
In San Andreas, the PS2 version makes driving of vehicles with hydraulics/pneumatic suspension more difficult by assigning the R3 control to the shock-bouncing and other maneuverings. Under normal circumstances, the R3 stick is used to move the camera view to allow the player to spot for obstacles.
In GTA IV, stopping for red lights and/or pedestrians is not recommended as the NPC drivers of GTA IV treat the player's car as an obstruction of the road should it be done so. In addition, the NPC drivers behind the player would normally react by swearing, having to use languages to make the player's vehicle budge, and/or in worst case scenario damaging the player's car while attempting to overtake. However if the player moves forward a little before the cars behind start to overtake, they will wait; (this is because traffic was programmed to move around the cars you park, creating an error where 'AI' assumes the protagonist is parking when the player stops).
Unlike in GTA San Andreas, whereby NPC drivers patiently stop behind the player's car without having to treat the player's car as an obstruction for waiting for the red light. However, NPC drivers would still attempt to overtake the player's vehicle soon after the traffic light turns green.
NPC drivers can be seen turning on their vehicles' turn signal light while making turns and having their brake lights on after they come to a halt. Those are some of the many functions that are not available in the normal mode, with the exception on the use of mods. However in Grand Theft Auto IV, it is possible to apply the brake lights when stopped. Hold in the gas and brake buttons at the same time ever so slightly, not so much as to do a burnout, just enough to light the lights up.
When driving a vehicle up or down a large, steep road at high speeds in Grand Theft Auto IV, the cars are likely to go airborne and have a rather bumpy landing to the point that they crash into another car or land upside down. It is possible to prevent this by lifting off the gas, holding the e-brake, and moving the left joystick around to slightly control the vehicle whilst being airborne. After noticing they made the cars feel more big and boatlike (meaning they had heaps of body roll when pushed to the limit), Rockstar Games stated that not only will the cars stick to the ground a bit better in Grand Theft Auto V, but the development team were also able to run more physics on them to the point that it'll feel almost like a racing game. In the final game the driving was somewhat similar to what was promised, although it does not seem like more physics were run onto the cars in the game.
As is the player while on foot, the variety of camera views while driving varies between games, but may be classified into two groups:
- Top-down view, which is purely used in GTA 1 (London packs included), GTA 2 and GTA Advance. The camera view is also available in GTA III, as well as GTA Chinatown Wars, which employs a top-down and forward viewing hybrid. A similar top down view can be viewed in a helicopter in GTA V.
- 3D view, standard in GTA III, GTA Vice City, GTA San Andreas, GTA Liberty City Stories, GTA Vice City Stories and GTA IV, which usually employs a forward viewing angle or a cinematic view that takes advantage of an enhanced 3D environment. Originally, GTA III features four camera angles, in addition to the aforementioned top-down view, including two tail cams (further and closer to the player's vehicle), a bumper cam and, a cinematic cam. From GTA Vice City onwards, a third tail cam positioned even further from the player's vehicle is added.
- First person view was only available with mods before the enhanced version of GTA V, now it is possible to go into first person. It shows a cockpit view, the steering wheel and speedometers now are fully functional.
- Rockstar improves the cinema camera view in GTA IV by adding the ability to enable slow motion by pressing L3 on Xbox 360 and PS3.
- In GTA V, the slow motion option is improved even more; allowing the player to choose the speed of the game. By pressing B on Xbox 360, or O on PS3 the camera goes into the cinema cam. Moving the right thumb stick will change the speed of the game (e.g. moving the right thumb stick down will slow the game. This can be done twice).
- Rear view, where the camera is positioned infront of the windshield looking back behind the car. This was first introduced in GTA IV, and was re-used in GTA V. This is useful for quickly seeing what is behind quickly without having to rotate the camera behind the player. In GTA IV and GTA V, the protagonist will look in the rear-view mirror when the player switches to this camera option.
- The steering animations in the GTA series have evolved gradually. In the 3D universe, the protagonist would only turn the wheel slightly, whereas GTA IV's protagonists demonstrate a proper hand-over-hand steering technique, turning the wheel around fully. GTA V's steering is a step back from IV - the protagonists only perform one rotation of the wheel. Even though the more recent Grand Theft Auto titles have shown a more realistic depiction of steering technique, the actual steering wheel model still does not move at all, however in the enhanced version of GTA V, the steering wheel is fully functional.
- Other minor details depicted during driving include the protagonist looking in the rear-view mirror when the player presses the corresponding "rear view" button in GTA V, being able to switch the engine off when exiting a vehicle in GTA IV (along with the noticeable sound of the handbrake being engaged when doing so) and how Carl Johnson starts steering with one hand on the wheel after the player acquires enough driving skill - compared to how CJ steers with both hands during the beginning of the game. CJ will still steer sportier vehicles such as the Turismo with both hands regardless of the driving skill stat.
- In GTA V, if one of the protagonists is idling in a car and starts fidgeting around (scratching head, examining hands, etc....), it is possible to drive the car in a straight line without them cancelling their animation, and will only grab the wheel when they are done with that particular animation or when turning the vehicle.
- In GTA V, Michael and Franklin will seem to have a mad expression on their face when the player is driving faster than normal.
- In the enhanced version of GTA V, the protagonist can duck while driving in first person, this is useful to dodge enemy fire while in a vehicle.
- Strangely, despite a screenshot advertising the new feature showing a GTA Online player ducking in a boat, ducking cannot be performed in boats.
- Carjacking, breaking into a vehicle or stealing an occupied vehicle.
- Drive-by shooting, the ability to fire a weapon from a vehicle.
- Voluntary and involuntary ejections, the ability to jump out of/off or be thrown out of/off a vehicle.
- Towing, the ability to haul trailers or other vehicles.
- Vehicle damage.
- Vehicle sub-missions.
- Garages, storage area for vehicles.
- Spray shops, establishments allowing players to eliminate wanted levels while in a road vehicle.
- Car bombs.
- Modification garages for road vehicles.
- Crusher, a device used to crush vehicles for rewards.
- Prostitutes, NPCs, which can be picked up while on a car and "used" for player health.