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 commonly surrounds the map to create natural boundaries for the game world.
In GTA III, the water surrounding Liberty City acts as a lethal obstacle to prevent players from reaching locked areas. The player will die instantly if he gets fully submerged in water. However, due to some bugs, in some parts of the game Claude can be completely submerged in water and not lose health (places like Portland Beach and on the Belleville Park on the lake or in some small water places with no fish but with green lilies on there in Staunton Island). The water in the game was mostly a non-transparent blue color and no marine life could be found swimming in it.
GTA Vice City
In GTA Vice City more boats were available to drive in, 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 non-interactive.
GTA San Andreas
In GTA San Andreas, the ability to swim in deep bodies of water was introduced. Players could also dive underwater and explore a fully-rendered underwater sea floor. When underneath the water, CJ would lose oxygen and eventually die if he stayed under water for too long. Strangely the water looked a bit less sparkly and transparent than Vice City's. There were also 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 sail some boats. The water was deep blue-colored and not transparent. 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. 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 must use a scuba suit or sail a submarine. Underwater is much more detailed, and for the first time, there will be sharks. There are also boats and presumably Skimmer planes, that will be able to land and take off on water. Cars are also likely to sink as well, causing anyone trapped inside to die.
- In all of the 2D Universe games, and 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: San Andreas and Grand Theft Auto IV, the rivers are a mean 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.