The Wanted Level tells the player how much police attention they're getting. As the player's wanted level increases, more powerful forms of law enforcement will pursue them.
In the 3D Universe, a wanted level is measured on a six-star scale. When the player begins committing several minor crimes in a quick succession, such as: beating pedestrians up, destroying cars then the bar will go up by one star. As the player continues their spree, the stars go up.
With at least one star, nearby police will give chase to arrest the player. If they are successful then a message "Busted" will pop up and the player transported to the nearest police station, stripped off all weapons and a small fee, ranging from $100–1,500 (or $1,000 in Grand Theft Auto III). Weapons however may not be confiscated in certain circumstances such as in GTA: San Andreas when dating Barbara Schternvart. In GTA: Vice City Stories, the player is also given the option to 'buy back' his weapons. As the 10th anniversary rendition of GTA III, GTA Vice City, and GTA San Andreas was released on iOS, Android, and Windows phone, the player won't lose any weapon no matter how many times they have been busted. Any mission the player was on will be failed, the same as being Wasted.
Losing a Wanted Level
The wanted level can be decreased various ways. On one star, the player will only have to stop attacking civilians or causing trouble, and avoiding cops. Driving around will also make it happen faster.
A one-star wanted level will disappear this way rather quickly, while two stars may require the player to travel across the whole map (San Andreas only).
Higher wanted levels (3+ levels) can be lost through picking up Police Bribes (Each one reducing the player's wanted level by one star), running a vehicle through a Pay 'n' Spray, or saving the game or change clothes while in a Safe House. See the Tips section below for more ways of lowering the stars the player has had.
While it is notoriously difficult to survive higher wanted levels, without the use of cheats or modifications. In all 3D Era games, there are cheats to raise and lower wanted levels; In GTA San Andreas, there is a cheat to prevent the player from ever obtaining a wanted level. However, the player can still get attacked at police impound stations.
GTA III, GTA Liberty City Stories and GTA San Andreas treat wanted levels slightly differently; for the first part of the game, the maximum level attainable is four stars (with the exception of entering "5-star" no fly zones); Later, when the player can access Staunton Island/San Fierro, a five-star level can be attained.
- Police: 1 officer on foot.
- Vehicles: Police Car, HPV-1000, Ranger (rural areas)
- Threat: Low
Any police officer, that spots the player, will give chase to try arrest him. In all 3D Era games except for Advance and Vice City Stories, only one officer at a time will actually pursue the player.
All other officers in the area will simply walk or stand idly until the pursuing officer is either killed or out of the player's range. The police will attempt to knock the player down with their fists (in GTA III and GTA Advance) and nightsticks (in other 3D Era games). They also do not shoot unless they are threatened by the player. An exception to this rule is if the protagonist is inaccessible to the police officer; for example if the player is standing on top of a vehicle, he will pull out his gun and start shooting (In GTA San Andreas, officers will shoot at Carl if he is holding a firearm or explosive). Any existing Police cars will start to chase down the player, but not aggressively, however the occupants will exit their vehicle, and begin to chase on foot, when they get too close.
In GTA San Andreas and GTA Vice City Stories, police bikes also chase the player, their drivers shoot at the player in GTA San Andreas. Also in GTA San Andreas, Rangers chase the player instead of police cars/bikes when Carl is in the countryside.
A one-star wanted level is attained by committing the following minor crimes. Many of these will not immediately result in a wanted level unless a police officer is around to witness them or multiple offenses are committed in quick succession:
- Planting a Satchel Charge in public (GTA San Andreas)
- Attacking and/or killing pedestrians in public.
- Attacking a police officer without firearms, or knocking them over in a car without killing them.
- Damaging and/or destroying a vehicle in public.
- Attacking or shooting a police vehicle (always results in a wanted level even when out of sight, doesn't trigger with the Police Maverick or FBI/Army vehicles)
- Crashing, or even touching, into a police vehicle (crashing a parked police vehicle will not result in a wanted level)
- Using a weapon in public (including drive-by shooting)
- Carjacking or stealing parked vehicles within a certain proximity from a police officer (no wanted level is given if the vehicle is locked, including police cars). This includes the vehicles used for the courier missions.
- Attempting to steal a police vehicle with an officer inside
- Driving a stolen vehicle with the alarm going off near an officer
- Robbing stores for the minimum amount of cash (GTA Vice City)
- Upon completing the Dam and Blast mission (GTA San Andreas)
- Attacking a casino guard (GTA San Andreas)
- Running over a police officer with a vehicle (GTA Vice City gives 2 stars)
- Stealing the Washington Parked outside Mike Toreno's Ranch early in the game, though this was eventually fixed. (GTA San Andreas)
- After killing Mike Forelli in the GTA III mission Mike Lips' Last Lunch (only if there is a nearby Police Officer or a police car was parked by the player at the bistro beforehand due to a glitch)
- Police: 1-3 officers
- Vehicles: 2 Police Cars, HPV-1000, Predator, Ranger (rural areas)
- Threat: Medium
At a two-star wanted level, the police will start actively searching for the player. Officers now shoot to kill, including when the player is even unarmed. Officers in cars spawn and aggressively give chase rather than simply follow behind to overtake or spin the player out. On water, armed police boats give chase. Two wanted stars can be attained by:
- Aiming a gun at a police officer (in GTA San Andreas, doing so will get only one star)
- Injuring and/or killing 2 or more police officers (in some games, even killing only one is usually enough)
- Attacking and/or killing a police officer with a firearm
- Killing many people in a short space of time.
- Destroying many cars at once.
- Crashing into a fuel pump in gas stations. (in GTA San Andreas, doing so will get only one star)
- Displaying a firearm inside a police station in San Andreas (a melee weapon will not warrant a wanted level)
- Destroying any aircraft in San Andreas. (sometimes gives 3 stars right away if a 1-star wanted level had been attained)
- Continuing to rob a store, after the store employee drops three money packs. (GTA Vice City)
- Trespassing in the Washington Beach Police Station (GTA Vice City, unless wearing the cop uniform)
- Continuing to beat, shoot a dead officer or detonate explosives next to his corpse. Running over the corpse with a car may also contribute to this.
- Transporting a criminal during the Taxi Driver mission (GTA Vice City Stories)
- Can happen while smashing a shop's stock for the Protection Racket side mission. (GTA: Vice City Stories)
- Attempting to steal a Money Truck for the Robbery side mission (GTA: Vice City Stories)
- Entering "YOUWONTTAKEMEALIVE" or similar cheat codes in other platforms in GTA: Vice City.
- After collecting at least three crates on before alerting the house owner, or if the player fails the mission Home Invasion (GTA San Andreas)
- Upon completing the Jizzy mission (GTA San Andreas)
- Killing a casino guard (GTA San Andreas)
- Police: 2-4 Officers, SWAT, Vice Squad
- Vehicles: 2-3 Police Cars, Police Maverick, Predator, Cheetah, Ranger (rural areas)
- Threat: High
At a three-star wanted level, pursuing police vehicles become even more aggressive, driving at maximum speed. and will occasionally set up armed roadblocks on main roads. Police bikes don't chase the player anymore but a police helicopter is called in to provide air support. They will shine a light and start shooting with a machine gun and from GTA Vice City onwards, rappels SWAT members down to the player's location and now join the chase. They wear full body armor and are armed with Uzi sub-machine guns.
In GTA San Andreas, if Carl is on foot and is spotted by a police car, one officer will use a Pump Action Shotgun. Additionally, in GTA Vice City and GTA Vice City Stories, undercover 'Vice Squad' detectives armed with Uzis and driving Cheetahs also give chase.
In GTA Vice City, GTA Liberty City Stories and GTA Vice City Stories, patrolling police officers will deploy Spike Strips from the side of the road, intent on puncturing the tires of the car the player's in.
Three wanted stars are attained by:
- Continuing to retaliate against law enforcement (evading capture or death by any means)
- Continuing to cause collateral damage (killing civilians and destroying vehicles by any means)
- Robbing stores for the maximum amount of cash (GTA Vice City)
- Blowing up an AI controlled full-winged Dodo in GTA Vice City
- Entering police impound garages (GTA San Andreas) (Note: The player can avoid having a 3-star wanted level if they try to sneak through it by jumping through a wall where the guard can't see the player, or by driving a police vehicle.)
- Driving the decoy van during the mission Money for Nothing (GTA Vice City Stories)
- Trafficking drugs in the Drug Running side mission (GTA Vice City Stories)
- Being caught robbing homes during the Burglary side mission (GTA San Andreas)
- Killing the bank guard during the Small Town Bank mission (GTA San Andreas)
- Stealing a Tank during the Sir, Yes Sir! mission (GTA Vice City)
- Delivering goods during Mission 3 & 6 of the Trucking side mission (GTA San Andreas)
- Driving the Feltzer with Johnny Sindacco tied to the Hood on the expressway surrounding the Four Dragons Casino during the mission Fender Ketchup in GTA San Andreas.
- Upon completing the Outrider mission (GTA San Andreas)
- Police: Police Officers, 4 SWAT
- Vehicles: Enforcer, Police Cars, Police Maverick, Hydra, Predator, News Chopper, Ranger (rural areas)
- Threat: Severe
In GTA San Andreas, the police helicopter is joined by a News Chopper (which is replaced by another Police Maverick when shot down), and up to two Hydras that will pursue and attempt to shoot down the player if he is flying an aircraft or a helicopter. Four wanted stars are attained by:
- Continuing to retaliate against law enforcement
- Continuing to cause collateral damage
- Planting a Satchel Charge on a Police Helicopter
- Entering or flying over a city that has not yet unlocked in the storyline in GTA San Andreas
- Blowing up an AI controlled full-winged Dodo in GTA III
- Blowing up the police helicopter which appears at a three star wanted level (not to be confused with the player-operable Police Maverick)
- Entering the restricted area of El Banco Corrupto Grande in GTA Vice City
- Engaging in the Smuggling side mission in GTA Vice City Stories
- Trucking very hot goods (mission 8) in the Trucking side mission in GTA San Andreas
- Blowing up all police cars and killing all officers that appear in a Roadblock
- Police: Police Officers, 2-4 FBI Agents, SWAT
- Vehicles: Unmarked FBI Vehicle, Police Maverick, Hydra, Predator, News Chopper, Police Cars
- Threat: Extreme
At a five-star wanted level, the FBI takes over a majority of the chase, replacing local police on the ground (local police will still chase the player if they see them and police officers on foot keep spawning when the player is on foot in San Andreas).
The streets begins to clear of civilians (In GTA Liberty City Stories, however, there are still lots of pedestrians in the streets). Four-FBI teams of heavily armed and armored FBI agents drive armored unmarked cars and SUVs and make for formidable opponents. The FBI agents are armed with AK-47s and 9mm handguns in GTA III and MP5s in later games.
Their driving is even more aggressive and they opt to ram the player's vehicle head on at high speed and then batter it to pieces before he/she can recover. In GTA III, the pursuing police helicopter is joined by a second, and both stick to the player doggedly and fire at the protagonist whenever they get the chance. The roadblocks now consist of FBI vehicles, which are easier to ram through, but their MP5s will tear through most vehicles fairly quickly. The waters are also saturated with Predators at this wanted-level. At five stars, little to no police cars will appear on the road. Five stars are attained by:
- Continuing to retaliate against law enforcement
- Continuing to cause collateral damage
- Entering or flying over the Easter Basin Naval Station in GTA San Andreas
- Entering or flying over the Area 69 research base in GTA San Andreas. Doing this will result not only in the wanted level, but also attack from SAM Sites. (Note: The player will only earn a five star wanted level if they fly low enough to the base.)
- Police: Army units, Police Officers, SWAT
- Vehicles: Barracks, Police Maverick, Rhinos, Hydra, Predator, News Chopper, Police Cars
- Threat: Deadly
At six stars, the military will take over from the FBI, and all civilians will be replaced with military officers to give chase in Barracks OL trucks and Rhino tanks, making travel in ordinary vehicles extremely hazardous. Civilians have almost completely disappeared from the streets at this point (In GTA Liberty City Stories, however, there are still lots of pedestrians in the streets).
The soldiers drive recklessly and bid to ram the player until their health becomes empty (or off-road if in a vehicle when it comes to Barracks OL), this is extremely dangerous with Rhinos since when the tanks ram any player-operated vehicles (except non-NPC Rhino), they will be destroyed instantly thus killing the player inside.
Roadblocks now consist of Barracks OL trucks. Police helicopters will still appear and aggressively fly towards the player's location. Soldiers carry M16s, MP5s or M4s depending on the game. In GTA San Andreas, they may also carry pistols (like in the mission Robbing Uncle Sam and its occurrence is rare) and shotguns (this is odd because they do not use it on a gunfight).
Unlike in the story mode where enemies often miss, the soldiers are incredibly accurate where gunfights is considered suicide as they will take the player down very fast.
It is difficult to attain a 6-star wanted level without cheats, given the difficulty of surviving the 4 and 5 stars levels for any length of time. In Liberty City Stories, the 6-star wanted level isn't unlocked until later in the game.
Six stars are attained by:
- Continuing to retaliate against law enforcement
- Continuing to cause collateral damage
- Entering the "BRINGITON" cheat or any other type of cheat that would enable all six stars in GTA San Andreas.
- Entering the Securicar in the GTA III mission Decoy.
- In most 3D Era games, it is not possible to attain a 6-star wanted level until the final region of each game is unlocked.
- In Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories, the Rhino tank that spawns cannot be driven or entered until the mission Over The Top is completed, except if a cheat is used. (Assuming it is accessible as in previous games can be a fatal mistake).
- In Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, regular police will continue to attack during a 6-star wanted level, alongside the military.
- How to lower the wanted stars:
- Go to any nearest safehouse or save point and save the game. In GTA III and GTA Vice City, the game will need to be loaded again for losing any wanted level to take effect.
- Find and collect police bribes.
- Respray the car in any Pay 'n' Spray garage. (Does not work with certain vehicles however, such as Emergency Vehicles, with the exception of any FBI vehicle). Shortly after the vehicle is resprayed, the wanted stars will flash, signifying that the player's full wanted level has been suspended, which will give the player a probationary time period to avoid attracting any police attention; committing any more crimes during this time period will immediately reinstate the full wanted level and resume the chase. As long as the player doesn't commit any crimes, the full wanted level clears up and the authorities call off the chase.
- If the player has one wanted level star, go to any alley or remote place that people don't usually hang out and wait; within a couple of minutes the star will go away on its own. (However this becomes more difficult in the later stages of GTA: San Andreas when there is a greater police presence in Los Santos, like during Los Santos Riots; sometimes the only way to get rid of a One-star rating in this part of the game while in that city is to use a safehouse, Pay 'n' Spray or head for the country.)
- Enter a safehouse and change clothes. (GTA: San Andreas, GTA: Vice City) Note, however, that this does not work in Vice City if getting a 3-star wanted level or higher; more likely once the player exits the safehouse, they will find it surrounded by police.
- Go to a clothing shop and change clothes. (GTA: San Andreas)
- In GTA San Andreas, Carl is able modify his car in TransFender, Loco Low Co. and Wheel Arch Angels; one modification (such as one respray) will make the stars flash. Any other modifications done while the stars are flashing will make them disappear.
- In GTA San Andreas, start the freight train challenge and the triggered wanted level will instantly disappear.
- In GTA San Andreas, if Carl enters a region that has not yet been unlocked, receiving the 4-star level, and then re-enter the unlocked region, it drops to 3 stars and can be reduced further using bribes, saving, etc. However the wanted rating cannot be reduced if staying in the locked region: picking up a bribe will briefly drop the rating to 3 stars, and taking a vehicle to a Pay 'n' Spray will reduce the level, but then the game re-registers the trespass and reinstates the 4-star rating; safehouses are not available until a region is officially unlocked.
- In GTA San Andreas, it is also possible to lose a star by going through the rural/desert regions, even on a higher wanted level.
- In GTA San Andreas, by going to an airport and buying a plane ticket to another city.
- After completing a mission, all stars will be gone (all of the GTAs, however there are some exceptions in some missions, such as Messing with the Man and Outrider).
- Starting a Gang War in the remastered edition of Grand Theft Auto San Andreas (likely a glitch, as this does not occur in the PlayStation 2, Xbox, or PC versions).
- The getaway vehicle that the player is driving in, is important:
- On a 2 to 4 star wanted level, a sport (also a muscle or a tuner) car is a better vehicle to be used as its speed easily outruns any police vehicles, or the player can go into any restaurant or any other building they can enter and lay low for a while.
- On a 5 star wanted level, where FBI Ranchers tend to knock the player off the road, large vehicles like Dumper, Bus, Barracks, the Rhino or other large vehicles are recommended since its size means it isn't easy to push around.
- On a 6 star wanted level, a Rhino is more than likely the last chance of running away from being "Busted" since any vehicles that runs into it will simply explode and its cannon can destroy anything (including Rhinos; if shot repeatedly, it usually takes 1 or sometimes 2 shots to destroy it, depending on where shooting at). In order to make the game more balanced, the AI will make Rhinos and the Barracks match the top speed as when escaping, meaning that precise braking, rather than attempting to outrun the army alone, is critical.
- A slow vehicle is not, for obvious reasons, recommended for a 2 to 6 star wanted level.
- If the player is highly skilled at driving a motorcycle, however, using a PCJ-600 or, in San Andreas, the NRG-500 can often be the best choice as the fast bikes allow overland travel and jumping and speed that can facilitate escapes to save points or other safety areas.
- In GTA Vice City if Tommy shoots down a pursuing Police Maverick and is busted or wasted near the same moment the Maverick explodes, Tommy will sometimes automatically regain a 4 star wanted level if he respawns at a Police Station or Hospital in the vicinity of the wrecked Maverick.
- In GTA San Andreas, it is even possible to obtain a 5-star wanted level or sometimes a 6-star wanted level early in the game before completing the mission The Green Sabre without the use of cheats. If the player continues attacking pedestrians and police officers with their weapons while having at least four wanted stars without being Wasted or Busted, there is a chance that the wanted level will raise up to five or even six stars.
- In GTA San Andreas, it's possible to obtain between 4 and 6 stars by knocking a police biker off a police bike many times. This is easily done in the railway tunnel near Market Station, Unity Station, Cranberry Station, Foster Valley and Las Colinas.
- In Vice City Stories, sometimes the player could get arrested without having any stars; punch the air in front of a cop, and he will consider Victor is hitting him. While no stars appear, the cop will knock Vic to the ground and make his arrest (Note: This will not always work).
- In GTA Vice City, if the player has entered a building, exiting it will cause all cops chasing them to appear in front of the building.
- There are instances in San Andreas that if the player does not stop running while the 2-star Wanted Level changes into a 3-star, a police chopper can appear on the ground as if its rotors are the only thing revealed.
- In GTA San Andreas, if the player does an illegal action while their wanted star is decreasing, it will revert back to the originally-triggered number of stars.
- In GTA San Andreas, if the player attains a 4 star wanted level or higher and use the "turndowntheheat" cheat and get another wanted level under 3 stars, any SWAT, Army or FBI in the area will not go after them or shoot at them. Although if the player attains a 1-star wanted level, the closest law enforcement officer will try to take them down with their fists even if CJ is displaying a firearm.
- However, if Carl shoots at a soldier and SWAT member with a firearm, it will give a two-star wanted level just like regular police (the FBI however, one can only attain it if they kill at least two agents with a firearm or explosive weapons or four-five for the melee weapons).
- The police officer that is spawned at 2-4 star will usually continue to drive in their vehicle even if the car catches fire, which can be dangerous to the player.
- The police officers of the LCPD in GTA III will come at the player with fists instead of a nightstick at a one star wanted level, making them the only police force in the 3D Universe to do this.
- In the mission Decoy in which the player obtains six star wanted level, Rhino tanks and Barracks OL trucks do not pursue the player as Police cars and SWAT vans will pursue the player instead. This is most likely in order to make the mission easier to complete as the van needs to be kept intact for as long as possible. However Barracks OL trucks will still appear as roadblocks.
- Sometimes if Tommy Vercetti gets arrested, Ken Rosenberg can be heard saying something about having Tommy get out of the police station, such as "Tommy Vercetti is an innocent man".
- While inside a restricted area, the wanted level acquired cannot be lost; when triggering a cheat to lower it, the player will instantly re-acquire the wanted level. The only way to lose it is to use the "Lock Wanted Level" cheat. Also applies to the HD Universe.
- This also happens when the player displays a firearm inside the police station and enters a cheat unless its final letter chooses a weapon that does not gain a wanted level or goes outside.
- In almost all 3D Universe games (except GTA SA and GTA A), if the player slightly bump their car to a police officer rather than straightly crashing at them, there will be no wanted level obtained; if they do this until the officer is dead the wanted level won't be even given. In GTA SA doing this will cause a 1-star wanted level obtain (2-star if already have one) (Confirmed on PC and mobile versions).
- In GTA San Andreas, if the player gets a 1-star wanted level while being in a building and then leave it, a police officer will spawn outside and will use his fists instead of his nightstick, and won't shoot at the player even if they have a weapon, and he won't be able to bust you, he will instead pull you out of your car and throw you into the ground like the player or a NPC would do.
- In GTA San Andreas, if the player has a 1-star wanted level and is being chased by a police officer, the police officer will behave differently. If the player is being chased while having a melee weapon or other normal object on Carl's hand, the police officer will hold a nightstick and try to arrest the player. Changing into guns or throwable weapons will make the officer pull out his pistol and begin to shoot at the player, but he will still hold his nightstick and begin to fight with the player in a melee combat if the player changes their weapons back to handed ones.
- Commiting a crime next to a dead police officer will still give you a wanted level.