Grand Theft Auto 2 was the first Grand Theft Auto game with six wanted levels, which, with only minimal changes, appeared in all 3D Universe games and Grand Theft Auto IV. In Grand Theft Auto 1, there was only a minor difference between the first and fourth (the highest) wanted levels. The overhauled six-star system would prove to provide much greater 'spectrum' of threat, allowing the player to easily escape when only one police "head" was present, and presenting them with an almost unsurvivable challenge at level six.
Wanted levels, as in GTA 1, are displayed and measured with "head" icons (rather than the stars seen in later games), but new to GTA 2 was the shaking of the heads when police knew the player's location, essentially a visibility indicator.
- One head - This is displayed when the player commits a "minor" (by the standards of GTA) crime - such as shooting/running over a few pedestrians, attacking a police officer or exploding a car. One police car is sent to your last known location, e.g. they check the wrecked car or the place of the murder. If they don't find you, they will drive away and your wanted level will disappear. A maximum of one police car chases you, and police run slower than the player.
- Two heads - Very similar to one head, but it won't disappear, even if you are not immediately discovered. Now, police can use a maximum of two police cars to chase the player and will either shoot or arrest the player on sight. This level is reached by committing a series of crimes - destroying more cars, killing two police officers, or a few more pedestrians.
- Three heads - The first "serious" wanted level. Now, police will form road blocks manned by armoured officers armed with pistols. 'Normal' police will run at full speed, and will be a little stronger than before. They will deliberately force the player off the road and will either kill him or arrest him. To reach this level, kill as many police or pedestrians as you can.
- Four heads - Now, in addition to two police cars, the player will be chased by heavily armoured SWAT vans, each carrying four SWAT members. They are armed with pistols, but they also wear full armor. Their objective is to kill or arrest. Only one of them will try to pull you out from your car; the rest of them will simply shoot at it. Their van moves as fast as police cars, but only when it is driven by a computer - when the player is driving it, its maximum speed is very low. At this stage, the player is very vulnerable outside of a vehicle.
- Five heads - At five 'heads', the Special Agents get involved. SWAT and regular police cars disappear from streets, and very few officers are seen on foot. The Special Agents use black Eddys with hidden emergency lights inside called Special Agent Cars. As with normal Eddys, this car has very little armour - it can survive an explosion, but only if it is already largely unscathed. Every Special Agent car is driven by two Agents - one with a shotgun, and one with a Silenced Machine Gun. They both wear body vests. They also form road blocks manned by agents armed with silenced machine guns. In addition to firing upon you, Special agents at roadblocks will try to pull you out of the car and then kill you. The only way to get arrested with five heads is to find a police officer walking on the pavement - this may be useful when you have a "get out of jail free card".
- Six heads - At six 'heads', the army replace all police forces. Pedestrians disappear and normal cars become a rare sight, the player instead encountering soldiers armed with Uzis who shoot at the player, and all kinds of army vehicles driving on the roads. These include tanks, Pacifiers, Land Roamers and Armed Land Roamers. Luckily, tanks and armed Jeeps won't chase or shoot at the player; Land Roamers, however, are driven by armoured soldiers, and they will do whatever it takes to take down the player (they do not perform arrests). Roadblocks will now be formed with tanks which shoot at the player, making them supremely dangerous obstacles. It is very difficult to decrease the Wanted level now - army vehicles cannot be resprayed, and almost no civilian cars are present on roads, so the player is on a search for Police Bribes (in GTA 2 these remove the entire wanted level, but are very rare), or parked vehicles to drive as fast as possible to the respray shop.
Getting rid of police
- Max Paynt respray shops - Here the player can respray car to immediately lose any wanted level the player receives. Remember that public service vehicles and gang cars cannot be resprayed (Taxis are okay). "Max Paynt" appears to be an early reference to the Rockstar-published game Max Payne (which came out 2 years after GTA 2 and was currently in development).
- Hiding - Works only with one head wanted level. Hiding for a while will make police cancel their chase and then completely remove the wanted level. Having more than one police head will only cause them to freeze and not disappear.
- Cop Bribes- Green, round "Dollar" pickups which cancel any crime the player commits, even without a wanted level - this means even if you have stolen a car and it has not amounted to one police "head", you will still collect bribes on contact.
- Completing a mission - When you finish any mission the police heads will be cleared. This also works if the player completes a Kill Frenzy.