A cutscene is a break-away camera shot, often with ensuing dialogue, that depicts events in a GTA 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 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. A cutscene could be skipped if the player wishes so.
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 GTA Advance and GTA 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.