The wanted level system in the Grand Theft Auto series has changed over time, but has stuck with very similar principles all the way through. It runs on a basic six level system (indicated in the top right hand corner of the screen by stars), with one star being the least tough, and six stars being the toughest.
 Grand Theft Auto III era System
 One Star
A one star wanted level will normally be very easy to battle and evade, and runs of the principle that if a policeman sees the protagonist, they will go after him. A one star wanted level means that whilst the character is a wanted criminal, the police will not try too hard to catch them. Most police at this stage would chase on foot with nightsticks, or occasionally chase you in a cruiser. A one star wanted level can be evaded over time, or by visiting a Pay N' Spray, which will give your vehicle full repairs and new paintwork for a small fee. This wanted level can be achieved by killing multiple pedestrians, by discharging from a firearm, or by stealing a vehicle.
 Two Stars
A two star wanted level is slightly tougher than a one star wanted level and at this stage, the hunt for the police to capture you becomes a bit more ruthless, and the police start using their standard pistols to shoot at the criminal. Police will do whatever they can in order to stop you, even if it means shooting other people, and indeed their own colleagues. A two star wanted level can be evaded by bribe, changing clothing or by visiting Pay N' Spray at any time, and is normally achieved by repeatedly committing crimes in a short space of time, or by killing a police officer.
 Three Stars
At a three star wanted level, the chase really starts to hot up, and whilst the police work in a very similar way to how they do at two star level, they bring in a few extra resources. For example, they set up roadblocks in the street in an attempt to stop the criminal in their path, they bring in stingers to pop car tires, and they start to bring in armed helicopters, which will fire at will when they see a criminal. In Vice City, undercover police would also arrive in Undercover Cheetahs, armed with SMGs. A three star wanted level cannot be achieved immediately, and can be lost by bribe or by visiting Pay N' Spray.
 Four Stars
At four star level, things become even harder, as the local SWAT teams are called into the fight (in Vice City, the undercover cops disappear at this stage) and they start to descend from the helicopters and block the streets of the city off with their Enforcers, armed with SMGs and wearing body armour. On foot it is very hard to survive this kind of heat without being aided by the environment. As with other wanted levels, this can be evaded with a bribe or a visit to the local Pay N' Spray.
 Five Stars
At five stars the SWAT teams give up and the FBI is called in to take over. The streets become lined with FBI Ranchers (or FBI Washingtons in Vice City Stories), and the battle becomes even tougher than before. Whilst the helicopters, police and stingers are still posing a threat, the FBI are also crawling the streets, packing even more powerful SMGs than the SWAT teams were. Again, it is very difficult to survive this kind of wanted level on foot, but it can be evaded with a bribe or Pay N' Spray visit.
 Six Stars
The six star wanted level is very much different to any other wanted level. Whilst the police, helicopters and stingers still pose a threat, the FBI retreat and the Army are called in. They drive Barracks OLs and Rhinos, and are extremely difficult to take on. The tanks are almost indestructible, and can take a long time just to destroy one, and those who are not in the tanks are packing heavy assault rifles, which will take out any man within a couple of shots. As this is the last stage of the wanted level system, the army will stay on the scene until the person they are after is busted or wasted, or their wanted level is lost/lowered. The main advantage, however, of taking on the army, is that although clipping a vehicle with a tank will immediately destroy it, the tanks are extremely slow and take a long time to get up to speed. As with any wanted level, this can be evaded using a bribe or a Pay N' Spray.
 Police Bribes
Police bribes are located in several places around each map, and are represented in game as a small floating disc with a star on it. On walking or driving through one of these, the police will be given a bribe (not out of the money of the player) and the wanted level will be lowered by one star. This is a quick, cheap and easy alternative to having a car resprayed, assuming that there is an easy to get to bribe nearby.
 Pay N' Spray
The Pay N' Spray is a special garage in the Grand Theft Auto series which players can use to evade wanted levels. On entering the garage, the door will shut, and then re-open seconds later. The vehicle the player was in will then emerge, completely fixed and painted a new color, and the police (regardless of whether or not they saw the player enter) will no longer recognize the criminal they are looking for, and will give up chase. For around a few seconds, however, the wanted level in the top right hand corner of the screen will be flashing. If in this time period the player commits another crime, the wanted level is immediately restored and the chase begins again. Once this period is over, if the police have not discovered the player, they will stop the hunt altogether. Pay N' Spray does cost money, which varies in amount from game to game. It's very useful if the player has three or more wanted stars.
"Busted" is a term used throughout the Grand Theft Auto series and simply refers to when a player is arrested by the police. When a person commits crimes and attracts police attention, they will come after them. If the player is caught on the floor by the police, or with the car door open going at a slow enough speed, the officers will hold a gun to them and they will not move. A message will come up in large letters on the screen saying "Busted", and the player will re-spawn (with the game advanced by six game hours) at the nearest police station, stripped of any weapons, and a small sum of money worse-off (taken by the police as a bribe to let them go).
 Artificial Intelligence
The Artificial Intelligence of the police in Grand Theft Auto games has been questioned many times, for multiple reasons. Some of these reasons include:
- The police will kill anyone in their way, including their own colleagues, if it means that they can get to stop the player.
- Their driving is reckless, despite them supposedly being trained to deal with incidents professionally, they still drive into walls and lampposts.
- They are sometimes unable to enter a building to give chase to the character, hence players are safe as long as they remain indoors.
- They will not recognize the player after they come out of Pay N' Spray, even if they saw them go in.
- In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, you're safe under 1 star as long as you're on top of a vehicle. They will not pull out their guns to shoot you like in the other games. Instead, they'll be walking into the vehicle non-stop, as if you were still on the ground.
Much of this, however, was sorted out in the new wanted level system in Grand Theft Auto IV.
 Changes in Grand Theft Auto IV
In Grand Theft Auto IV, several changes were made to the wanted level system to make it more challenging and realistic.
- On the radar, a search area is displayed, representing the area the police are looking in. If the player manages to escape this area, the wanted level starts flashing and will be lost if the police cannot find the suspect again. If the police see the suspect on their way out of the search area, or they are spotted after they have left, the search area will be re-centralized. The area becomes bigger as the wanted level increases.
- Police are much more intelligent, and whilst they are still quite reckless, things have improved significantly from the previous games.
- If a player is seen by any police entering a Pay N' Spray, they will still know who they are looking for and the player will not have evaded their wanted level.
- Police will also go after other people who commit crimes, as well as just the player, and have the ability to stop cars, check in trunks and arrest other people, put them in their cars and take them to the station.
- When a player has a wanted level, if they come to close to a police officer, the main character Niko will put up his hands and starts to get down on his knees. If this sequence is completed, he will be busted, however if the player chooses to run, the wanted level will automatically become two stars if it is not at that level already.
- Authorities will respond to much more petty crimes if they are in the area at the time.
- Officers will usually only try to arrest you at a one star level. Any period beyond that, they will shoot. If a cop is nearby the vehicle you're in, under 2 or more stars, they still might arrest you.
- Police and any AI share your cover system.
Despite this added realism, which some see as a fun challenge, many see it as tedious, as the police come after them for the most ridiculous things, meaning they have to escape their wanted level every time they commit a small crime (such as throwing an empty coffee cup at someone). This can be particularly difficult on Algonquin Island, as there is a heightened police presence, with officers around virtually every corner.