Water is a common feature in the GTA series to give a more realistic effect on the game in both appearance and ambient sounds. Water has appeared in every GTA game so far. Water surrounds the map to create a natural barrier for the landmasses.
In the 2D Universe, water is limited in interaction. If the player falls into the water from a height, or tries to sail a boat, they will instantly die. If the player walks into water on their level they will be able to paddle for a handful of seconds before drowning if they do not get back out, this only applies to GTA 1 as water in GTA 2 is always fatal.
In the first game of the 3D Universe, GTA III, water would harm the player whenever he was submerged into it up to his chest. If the player completely submerged himself inside water by walking or driving into it, the player's health would begin to decrease rapidly, and his body would slowly float to the surface. The water in the game was a non-transparent dark blue color and no fish could be found swimming in it.
GTA Vice City
In GTA Vice City more boats were available to drive, although the player would still die if fully submerged in water. The water was more transparent and overall looked much better than in GTA III and was even home to several different types of sea creatures like sharks and dolphins although they were not solid and uninteractive.
GTA San Andreas
In GTA San Andreas the player was for the first time able to swim in the water and even dive and swim underwater, as well as drive a large variety of boats. When underneath the water, CJ would slowly lose oxygen and eventually die if he stayed under water for too long. The water in GTA San Andreas was mostly trasparent and had a better overall look than the water in GTA Vice City. Due to the inclusion of the ability to swim, there were many more sea creatures this time such as jellyfish and dolphins, however there were no sharks, although many people claim to have seen them, having them confused with dolphins and sparking a popular myth.
GTA Liberty City Stories
In GTA Liberty City Stories, as in the games before San Andreas, the player couldn't swim, though they could drive some boats. The water was deep blue-colored and not transparent, much like it was in GTA III. There were no animals in the water.
GTA Vice City Stories
In GTA Vice City Stories, after many complaints because swimming was impossible in the previous game (GTA Liberty City Stories), Rockstar made swimming possible again albeit without the diving function. It only permited 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, as the player will drown to death. Completing the Beach Patrol side mission, however, will stop your stamina from depleting. The water was turquoise, and clearer, but still not transparent. There weren't any water animals.
GTA IV + Episodes from Liberty City
In GTA IV and the EFLC, there are a few boats, clear-looking water and no sea creatures. The player can not go underwater, being restricted to swimming on the surface of the water, non-player characters can also swim for a short period of time. The only actual advantage of water in the HD Universe is that it creates a quicker route between islands, if the player finds a boat. There is an extremely rare glitch where sometimes the rivers and the ocean levels will rise on the coast. A surface of water will float above the street and the levels change again when the weather cheat is continuously activated. Despite the glitch, the game acts like it's solid ground, unless the player enters the actual water outside the coastline. This glitch is so rare that the cause is unknown, but it is probably linked to a bug in the weather cheat. Also, if you drive a vehicle into the water, the entire car will short out. There is also another bug in which when the car's rear or front end is submerged to it's taillights/headlights, the breakable "plastic" covering the inner light will become invisible when seen through the water.
GTA Chinatown Wars
In GTA Chinatown Wars, like in the previous HD Universe games, the player can only swim on the surface. The boats are pretty much the same too, except for the Wet Ski. There are no fish. The water looks rather transparent, so some radioactive waste, as well as some underwater dunes and four "Here Be Dragons!" Easter Egg messages (one in the north-east, one in the north-west, one in the south-east and one in the south-west) can be found.
In GTA V, swimming returns with major upgrades. Just like in GTA San Andreas, the player can swim in and under water, albeit with some changes. To swim underwater, the player can use a scuba suit or drive a submarine. Underwater is much more detailed, and for the first time, there are sharks that can be interacted with. There are also boats and PWCs for the player to traverse the waters with. Cars are also likely to sink as well, causing anyone trapped inside to die. There are shipwrecks, hidden underwater that have hidden treasures inside, that the player can retrieve for money. Weapons, health, armor and a secret suitcase can also be found underwater. A dead whale's skeleton and a crashed UFO can also be found in specific locations underwater. It can be noticed that Rockstar may have implimented a tide system, as it can be noticed, especially in Sandy Shores that the water levels go up and down slightly.Another new feature into GTA V is where if the player submerges down into the Ocean far enough, there will be a point where they begin to experience crushing pressures. It's most notable in a submarine where the sub will be crushed in on itself before the player becomes Wasted. It happens so quickly that it is almost impossible to reach the bottom of the Ocean.
- In most 3D Universe games (Grand Theft Auto III, Grand Theft Auto Vice City, Grand Theft Auto Advance and Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories), the water bodies serve as a mean to retain the player from a locked island, while the bridge that connects the locked island and the rest of the map is closed.
- In Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories when swimming has been limited, the river waves serve as a mean to retain the player from swimming across to locked island while the bridges that connects the locked island and the rest of the map is closed.
- In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Grand Theft Auto IV, the rivers are a means to reach locked islands, while awarding immediate, extreme (a 4 star wanted level in GTA SA and a 6 star wanted level in GTA IV) police attention.
- In Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, The Lost and Damned, The Ballad of Gay Tony, Episodes from Liberty City and Grand Theft Auto V, the map is unlocked from the beginning, so the player can swim freely around the city. It should however be noted, that in GTA V, the entire map is surrounded by water, instead of the traditional "islands" that would be unlocked throughout the storyline, therefore making the procedure of locking parts of the map until a later date irrelevant.
- In GTA V, it is possible to take damage from falling in the water from great heights, sometimes dying instantly from larger falls.
- Also in GTA V, if an NPC is killed and it's body falls on the water, blood can be seen leaking from the corpse and turning the water red.