- "When all else fails, knuckle down and work with what you've got."
- ―GTA V description on the Rockstar Games Social Club.
The fist represents the unarmed state for the protagonists or playable characters; they will not draw attention in weapons-free zones, and merely locking onto pedestrians or police will not cause a panic or attract a Wanted level. However, in some Grand Theft Auto games, if the player throw punches near someone, there is a chance they might attack them or run away. In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, locking into an Ammu-Nation clerk or a restaurant staff member even without any weapons on will instantly cause the clerk to react as if a weapon was aimed at them (In the case of the Ammu-Nation clerk, firing at the player). In some GTA games, fists can be reinforced with Brass Knuckles to increase damage.
Naturally, punching is a last-resort in the GTA games, lacking the range of firearms and power of melee weapons. Bare-handed attacks have unique properties - for example, they can be chained, causing the protagonist to unleash a series of various punches and kicks, including a stomp or ground-level kick if an enemy is lying prone, the fists can also prove to be almost stealthy in their abilities. In GTA: San Andreas, Carl Johnson is able to learn more powerful moves by fighting and defeating gym trainers. The skills obtained in the Below the Belt Gym, which are probably the best, can make the fist attacks very powerful. This is because the combo attack of that gym ends with a "super" punch that can kill any person, no matter the amount of health the person has. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories introduced new abilities while fighting, including breaking opponents' necks.
In the HD Universe, fighting was made more advanced, and timing elements were introduced into physical combat to allow dodging and melee counters.
In Grand Theft Auto IV, the player is able to disarm another person who has a Knife or a Baseball Bat and keep it as their own. To do this, the player must first be unarmed and dodge the attack (time the opponent's punch and press for Playstation, in a timely manner) then quickly press the attack ( for PlayStation and for Xbox) or counter-attack ( for PlayStation and for Xbox) button.
In Grand Theft Auto V, the player is able to perform not only punches and kicks, but also slaps to the face and sucker punches to knock the opponent out on the first hit if caught by surprise. While sneaking, the player is also able to deliver a karate chop like movement to the neck to immediately knock the opponent unconscious. Unlike in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories, the player still cannot break opponents' necks from behind.
If the fist is equipped whilst driving, the player can flip off and insult pedestrians. The Fist cannot be selected in vehicles like the Police Transporter, as, in this case, the armor platings obstructs them.
- Fist combos can damage and destroy a car. If the player has a maxed-out Muscle in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, including the Martial Arts combo, a normal car like the Greenwood can be destroyed in less than twenty-five hits. This also works for some lamp posts that can be broken down with a couple of punches. This can also be done in Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars.
- Destroying cars with fists does not attract wanted level, no matter how many cars the player destroys, even if a police officer is killed by a car explosion that is caused by damaging the car with the fist.
- However this is opposite in Grand Theft Auto IV as smashing a smoking vehicle can cause the said vehicle catch fire and eventually explode and attract Wanted level.
- The fist can be chained as a combo with other melee weapons (except the chainsaw) by using Gym Styles and using the melee weapons upon the third strike and vice versa. This technique usually kills a pedestrian after the combo is completed.
- GTA: San Andreas has a cheat in which Carl Johnson can send NPCs flying in one punch. This cheat however affects pedestrians as well as they can also send CJ (and other pedestrians) flying in one punch, killing him in the process. However, if the invincibility cheat is activated, CJ can no longer die from getting punched by pedestrians, though it can still affect pedestrians if they punch other pedestrians.
- In Grand Theft Auto 1,Grand Theft Auto: London games and Grand Theft Auto 2, fists are not fatal. In these games, fists are designed to only knock NPC characters over or used to interrogate them. NPC fists are also non fatal to the player. But using them may still scare away pedestrians or attract police. You can kill with them if they are used as a pushing mechanic to push people into danger however but the actual fists do no damage and a fistfight can last forever if you let it.
- In The Ballad of Gay Tony and Grand Theft Auto V, there is a cheat that allows the player have an explosive punch. These explosions are as powerful as the Explosive Shotgun, able to kill someone and destroy vehicles in one to two hits (when playing as Trevor Philips, he can destroy vehicles in one hit at the cost of getting killed unless the Invincibility cheat is activated wherein he will be able to survive explosions). However, should the player get wasted or busted, this cheat will be deactivated.
- From all the Grand Theft Auto protagonists, Trevor Philips, Niko Bellic, Victor Vance, Huang Lee and Luis Fernando Lopez are the ones who have a solid hand-to-hand combat background, Niko, Trevor and Vic as part of their army training, Huang by his martial arts background and Luis by his underground cage fighting experience. CJ can acquire skills through the progress of the game by training in gyms and dojos.
- Tommy Vercetti is the only protagonist who can hold back a fist without punching straight away.