A cutscene is a break-away camera shot, often with ensuing dialogue, that depicts events in a Grand Theft Auto game storyline over which the player has no control. Cutscenes generally appear at the beginning of the game, at the beginning of missions, and at important milestones in the game. Cutscenes can also be shown at several points throughout a mission, usually in a long mission with many sections. The purpose of the cutscene is to inform the player as to developments in the plot that are important to gameplay, and to provide a cinematic representation of occurrences throughout the story. Some cutscenes could be skipped if the player wishes to do so. The player cannot shoot, move, or do anything in a cutscene, the only option is to skip the cutscene (which is sometimes also unavailable).
Cutscenes were first used in Grand Theft Auto 1 in a very limited manner. When the player completes any of two primary objectives in each city to acquire a certain amount of money, the player is directed to head to a specific location, thereby triggering a cutscene that employs game art with very limited animation, and depicts a specific crime boss speaking to the player on their achievements or their next course of action. This feature is absent in Grand Theft Auto 2.
Full-motion cutscenes were introduced in Grand Theft Auto III, having been integrated into various storyline-based missions and taking advantage of the game's new 3D game engine. Often, cutscenes are played the moment the player triggers a mission, introducing the player and player character to the mission in hand. When involving main characters, cutscenes in the game often take place in specialized interiors and exteriors, and also usually utilize character models with more facial detail and improved facial expressions than in actual gameplay. Other cutscenes used to illustrate gameplay-specific elements often make use of in-game environments, pedestrians and objects. Since GTA III, cutscenes have fundamentally remained unchanged aside the choices of locations selected when depicting characters, which have more recently extended to include common, street-level exteriors more frequently. Cutscenes since GTA III were never pre-rendered, meaning that the cutscenes took place in real time in the game using in game environments with everything still functioning in outdoor environments such as pedestrians acting as normal and vehicles still in the background without interrupting the main scene featured in the cutscene.
Cutscenes for Grand Theft Auto Advance and Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars were simplified due to the limited capabilities of the portable systems. They are unique for having comic book-styled cutscenes, containing only sprites and text but no models or spoken dialogues. In addition, players have a choice to skip sentences rather than the entire cutscene.
In Grand Theft Auto V, cutscenes are more fluent. This means that the characters in the cutscenes usually get straight on with it. The camera also looks more realistic as it is like a camera man is following the characters with his camera. Mission cutscenes are also not as much activated by walking into a red circle, the characters are normally at the location waiting for the player. There are also short cutscenes that are being played when switching characters, usually depicting what that protagonist is doing before the player can take control, such as Trevor lying on alleyways or even railways (at this point, Trevor was able to successfully dodge a Train before it could hit him) drunk or on his stomach wearing only his underwear on the side barrier of a bridge, annoying a tourist in Vinewood by blocking her camera view, yelling a man playing a guitar by grabbing that man's guitar and telling that man to play a saxophone, fighting with some muscle men in Vespucci Beach, leaving a casino arguing with some guards, watching a strip show at Vanilla Unicorn (After completing the mission Hang Ten) or having tied an NPC wearing a business suit onto a post underneath the Del Perro Pier; Michael in his house having arguments with some members of his family, waking up wearing only his underwear and changing to a business suit (after the mission Did Somebody Say Yoga), sitting near his pool while smoking and drinking wine, sitting on a bench near a canal while smoking or chatting with some people at a cafe; Franklin playing basketball with some of his friends at Grove Street (at least before completing Hotel Assassination, doing some pull-ups in Vespucci Beach or leaving a bar or a store.
- In Grand Theft Auto V, for the first time cutscenes are happening in real-time without loading screens. The characters only play a certain animation, and player just has no control of the camera. Since a character goes straight to the cutscene and still taken as playable character, it might cause some funny bugs, such as cops chasing/shooting the character (wounds will be created but health will not decrease) and/or death in the middle of the cutscene. If the player character dies, he will ragdoll and fall through the other characters.
- In several games, some characters do not appear outside of cutscenes.
- Because from Grand Theft Auto III until Grand Theft Auto IV, cutscenes use different (and often more detailed) character models and textures, some of them may appear with different model and/or texture than in normal gameplay (i.e: Mr. Vercetti outfit. The shirt in the costume has different colour in cutscenes).
- In cutscenes the characters are much more detailed than in normal gameplay, having better resolution textures and more polygons for models. Also, they have more "bones" so they can suit the motion capture. If you try and enable a cutscene model in normal gameplay, the game will crash. However, in GTA IV you can play as a cutscene model, but the upper half of the body will unnaturally turn 90 degrees left. Also, interestingly, if you replace or add the CS Tommy Vercetti texture in GTA Vice City using skin selector, the game will crash whenever you apply the texture.
- In most game cutscenes, the Protagonist is wearing the same outfit or haircut (in Carl Johnson's case) that the player makes them wear prior to starting a mission.
- In Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, if the play as (name of character) cheat is activated, Tommy Vercetti will assume the appearance/attire of that character in cutscenes, depending on which cheat is activated before starting a mission. For example, Tommy will "appear" as Ricardo Diaz, Sonny Forelli, Lance Vance, Jezz Torrent, Phil Cassidy, Candy Suxx, Hillary King, Mercedes Cortez or Ken Rosenberg in cutscenes.