The Grand Theft Auto games have always been about granting the player freedom, but since GTA III that freedom has been supplemented with a tightly woven narrative containing a colourful cast of characters. So as the release of Grand Theft Auto V looms closer and closer, we thought that now would be as good a time as any to remember the personalities that have made GTA one of the most popular video game series of all time. Here are the top 10 most memorable characters in GTA history.
Over time the Grand Theft Auto series has matured and, just like any series in the 21st century worth more than a grain of salt, has developed something of a political edge. But long before GTA IV's damning of the corrupt so-called "American dream", there was the nihilism of the original Grand Theft Auto and Grand Theft Auto II. While these games didn't feature characters as memorable as the ones we would encounter in later iterations in the series, they did introduce us to the Hare Krishnas who, in what was obvious censor-baiting on behalf of developers Rockstar North, we were actively encouraged to kill for bonus points. The lampooning of the religious group throughout the first two GTA's showed early signs of Rockstar's trademark dark humour, and as such made the Hare Krishnas the most memorable characters from the series' humble beginnings.
GTA III's Silent Protagonist
The silent protagonist of Grand Theft Auto III's inclusion on this list is obviously not due to his charm, but rather due to him being the face of a video game that inarguably changed the shape of the industry forever. While the only real character development he received was through a humorous cameo in San Andreas wherein his name was finally revealed (it's Claude, by the way), GTA III's anti-hero and his trademark leather jacket were as important to a generation of gaming as 8-bit Mario and his blue overalls.
San Andreas' Carl "CJ" Johnson may not be cool enough to be as memorable as Tommy Vercetti nor sympathetic enough to be as memorable as Niko Bellic, but he still made for a worthy protagonist. Considerably less violent than all of the GTA series' other anti-heroes, CJ was often hesitant to resort to gunfire, even showing remorse for killing Big Smoke despite Smoke's involvement with his mother's murder. While it was refreshing to take control of a character who was considerate about when and when not to commit wanton mass-slaughtering, CJ's relatively low placement on the list is due to him being overshadowed by a cast of weird, wild and wonderful supporting characters.
Maccer and Kent Paul
San Andreas was set in the early 90s, which in Britain was an era of excessive drug use soundtracked by bands such as Happy Mondays. So Rockstar, being as thorough as they are, decided to incorporate two wired Brits into GTA: SA and have one of them voiced by none other than Happy Mondays frontman Shaun Ryder. Maccer (Ryder) and Kent Paul (returning from Vice City and voiced by walking English stereotype Danny Dyer) only have small roles, but their dialogue remains the most quotable in the entire game. "I can't feel me legs, our P – I've wanked the use out of them!"
Voiced by Iranian-British comedian Omid Djalili, The Ballad of Gay Tony's Yusif Amir is an exponentially wealthy, imbecilic real estate developer with a penchant for gold-plated vehicles and saying the "N word" (much to protagonist Luis' annoyance). Yusuf was the stand-out character of the second episode of GTA IV's add-ons, and initially seemed to be just another selfish, money-hungry member of Liberty City's elite. However, he later proves that he is more than high-class prostitutes and "Arab Money", coming to Luis' aid in his golden helicopter in the final mission.
Betrayal is a common theme in the Grand Theft Auto series. So common, in fact, that it is often more surprising when a supporting character doesn't betray the protagonist (see Ken Rosenberg for evidence of this). However, when Tommy Vercetti's partner-in-crime Lance Vance (voiced superbly by Miami Vice's Philip Michael Thomas) betrays him by joining forces with villainous crime boss Sonny Forelli, despite Vercetti having saved him from death at the hands of Ricardo Diaz's men, well, that's just plain cold. But despite Vance's questionable moral choices at the end of the game, it's difficult to remain angry at the inventor of the Lance Vance Dance.
The world of Grand Theft Auto has featured some loathsome individuals over the years, but none inspire more hatred than Officer Frank Tenpenny. The crooked cop character has been done many times across many different mediums, but rarely are they as obnoxiously and relentlessly evil as Tenpenny. From the minute you encounter him he frames San Andreas protagonist Carl Johnson for the murder of a police officer who he himself killed, and then proceeds to spend the rest of the game doing everything within his vast power to make CJ's life a living hell. It also didn't hurt that his dialogue was voiced with menacing conviction by the inimitable Samuel L. Jackson.
If there's one character that Rockstar is skilled at creating, it's the idiot. From Red Dead Redemption's Seth Briars to Bully's Russell Northrop, each title in their back catalogue includes at least one individual who you wouldn't trust with a pair of scissors. However, Grand Theft Auto IV's Brucie Kibbutz reaches another level of idiocy, and is all the more memorable for it. The GTA series is well-known for its colourful cast of characters, and they don't come much more colourful than Brucie. A 'roided up, exuberant, closeted homosexual, Brucie steals every scene he's in with his childlike enthusiasm and, in The Ballad of Gay Tony, even manages to inspire some sympathy thanks to his strained relationship with his overbearing brother Mori. The greatest non-player character in GTA thus far.
After the voiceless, nameless protagonist of GTA III, Tommy Vercetti was a breath of fresh air. Voiced by Ray Liotta, Rockstar's inspiration for Vercetti was clear (a former small-time, Italian-American drug dealer who eventually builds an empire before engaging in a climactic shootout in a mansion – hmm, who does that sound like?), but Vercetti does have a few advantages over Tony Montana. He doesn't get addicted to the stuff he's selling, for instance. Oh, and he doesn't die at the end. But regardless of the glaring similarities Vercetti's story shares with Scarface, he's still one of GTA's most memorable characters, second only to…
Following the era-specific narratives of San Andreas and Vice City, Grand Theft Auto IV's tale of searching for success in a city which seems to award wealth only to those willing to kill for it was, in a year where the words "global recession" made their way into every newspaper on an almost daily basis, uncomfortably poignant. Niko Bellic's arrival in Liberty City under the false pretences of his brother's "success" in America, only to then find himself doing unsavoury and undignified things all in the name of keeping himself and those around him safe, made him more sympathetic and human than any of his predecessors. While he was relatively joyless and stoic by nature, his ongoing battle with his own morality made GTA IV's narrative the most compelling and engaging in the entire series, and as such made him the most unforgettable character we've yet seen in a Grand Theft Auto game.
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