- "If swimming back and forth like a goldfish sounds like an excellent recreational and repetitive way to go mad, do we have a sport for you. Competitive swimming lets you face your greatest enemy - yourself - while fending off man-eating sharks and getting hit by drunks in motorboats."
- ―Grand Theft Auto V Website
The ability for Grand Theft Auto protagonists to swim in deep bodies of water was introduced in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and has been in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories, and all games in the HD Universe.
Player interaction with water prior to San Andreas
Prior to GTA San Andreas, bodies of water were little more than lethal obstacles which acted as boundaries to prevent players from reaching locked areas. In Grand Theft Auto 1 and Grand Theft Auto 2, the player is instantaneously wasted when they fall into water, regardless of whether or not they are in a vehicle. Although this only applies to water they have fallen into from a height, water the player enters that is on their level allows them to paddle for a couple of seconds which will drown them eventually if they don't get back out again. (in Grand Theft Auto 1).
In Grand Theft Auto III and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, falling or wading into deep water is still potentially lethal, as the protagonist will rapidly lose health if they wade more than chest-deep into water. There are boats in both games though, making the water now cruisable.
The ability to swim made its debut in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. However, its contemporary Grand Theft Auto Advance and the subsequent Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories do not allow swimming (in Advance, invisible barriers prevent the player from entering any pool of water by foot no more than the shore, while exposure to water in Liberty City Stories is once again near-instantly lethal). Liberty City Stories is the last game of the series thus far to disallow swimming.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the player can float (in a water treading position), and swim in any deep body of water using directional controls. The player can perform a breaststroke to swim at a slow pace; holding the sprinting key or button allows the player to perform a faster front crawl. Tapping the sprint key or button rapidly adds slightly more speed.
The player can dive underwater by using the "fire" key or button while in water. This allows the player to swim deep underwater using directional controls; the sprint key or button gives the player forward movement.
Whenever the player enters water, a blue bar denoting the player's oxygen appears on the game's HUD, between the Health and Armor bars. When underwater or in a sinking vehicle, the bar will gradually empty; when exhausted, the player's health will be reduced instead, leading to eventual drowning. The oxygen bar is replenished by returning to the surface of the water. The player's lung capacity determines how long the player can stay underwater, and is improved both by continuously diving and by collecting Oysters. The player can tread water and swim on the surface of the water indefinitely.
Diving allows the player to sneak past guards undetected in some missions, and can be used to explore the waters of San Andreas, revealing other secrets. In addition, the ability to swim allows the player to enter locked regions before they officially open, leading to a four-star wanted level in the process.
Vice City Stories−Chinatown Wars
Following Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, four games have employed a swimming feature, but first three implement simplified versions of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas' game mechanics, with the diving element absent.
While Vice City Stories allows the player to swim, it only permits swimming for a limited amount of time, determined by a "stamina" bar which decreases as the player remains in the water. When the bar runs out, the player's health decreases, followed by drowning. This is to prevent the player from swimming across to still-locked areas. The player, however, can give Victor infinite stamina by beating the "Beach Patrol" side mission (by which time all regions of Vice City have been unlocked anyway).
In Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, the player may stay in the water for as long as they please; in Grand Theft Auto IV, however, the player will begin to lose health after a certain amount of time in the water. Also in Grand Theft Auto IV, the player can swim between the islands in lieu of using bridges, though attempting to access locked areas prematurely results in a 6-star wanted level.
Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V includes an improvement in the diving feature introduced in San Andreas. The game includes a form of underwater diving known as scuba diving, which includes a full set of scuba gear, as well as a much more detailed oceanic environment. The player is able to dive into the water from platforms. Players can now use a knife underwater. They can also lose their wanted level by swimming deeper into the water's depths. Another form of swimming in the game is competitive swimming, where the player can compete with other swimmers for 1st place in a race. Additionally, treasure hunting via submarine was added as a side activity, as is harpoon or knife fishing. As in previous games, various underwater life can be found in the new oceanic environments, some of it being hazardous; tiger sharks in particular can be found in the sea, and can instantly kill the player with their bites.
In GTA Online all the same mechanics are used for swimming.
Missions involving swimming
- Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
- Pier 69 (Optional)
- Amphibious Assault
- The Da Nang Thang
- Vertical Bird
- Beat the Cock! (two optional side missions)
- Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories
- Grand Theft Auto IV
- Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
- Grand Theft Auto V
- Daddy's Little Girl
- The Merryweather Heist (Freighter option)
- Monkey Business
- Exercising Demons - Franklin (Stranger/Freak mission)
- Death at Sea (Stranger/Freak mission) - (Must swim to find all the Submarine Pieces)
- Triathlon (side missions)
- In GTA San Andreas, most pedestrians will instantly drown if they fall into water. However, allies following the player (such as recruited Grove Street members) will swim alongside CJ.
- In GTA Vice City Stories, most pedestrians who fall into water will stay in a stationary position without swimming.
- In GTA IV, pedestrians will instantly drown if shot or otherwise damaged while in water. They will also drown if they spend too much time in the water.
- In the enhanced version of GTA V, the ocean is much more detailed, having interactive fish and realistic moving seaweed. It also features various marine life as well.
- In GTA: Vice City Stories if you get on top of the Airtrain and try to stay there until it takes off, you will eventually fall through it into the ocean below. Instead of swimming you will walk and run on the surface and use weapons. Using the RPG or jumping, however, will "erase" the glitch.