Wide-open sandbox cities, elaborate heists, and absurd car stunts are only part of the magic that has made the Grand Theft Auto franchise so iconic. Running rampant through the streets blasting civilians left and right is only fun for so long--eventually, everyone craves some structure amidst all the chaos. That's where all your criminal contacts come in: a host of intimidating mob bosses, small-time thugs, and social misfits that all have a job they want you to do. And miraculously, every character you meet is a unique, memorable snowflake that stands out from the rest of the virtual metropolis.
Everyone has their favorite, from the series protagonists (seen hanging out in the awesome Patrick Brown art above) to the supporting cast and hilarious bit parts. To reminiscence before we dive head-first into Grand Theft Auto V, we asked some staff members and associates which GTA role has stuck with them throughout the series. See which characters we loved, then tell us about your personal favorite in the comments section.
Little Jacob (GTA IV)
Most of Niko Bellics friends in GTA IV either cry about their sad lives, are sociopaths, or scream Titties! at you all day. Not so with Little Jacob; the chilled-out Rastafarian just wants to hang with Niko when they go out drinking, and is dependable enough to stand by your side until the final story missions. Yes, you have to help him deliver the herb from time to time, but his infectious relaxation makes it worth it.
What I love most of all about Jacob (and his friend Badman) is that despite the humorously heavy Jamaican accents, you come to understand and trust them more than all the shifty thugs you meet. By the games end, we realized that, while Roman is family and Brucie has a certain douchebag charm, our best friend in Liberty City is none other than the equal parts loyal and unintelligible Little Jacob. - Henry Gilbert, GamesRadar
Lazlow (GTA III)
I have fond memories of GTA III. When I wasnt busy introducing Liberty Citys populace to the blunt end of a baseball bat or showing my parents what I could do with a hooker if I rolled up in a set of wheels, I would bask in an open world unlike anything I had ever seen before. And while I basked, I always listened to one radio station in particular: Chatterbox FM. I loved listening to the host, Lazlow, make fun of his guests as I ran people down with a hijacked schoolbus.
Ill never forget his discussions with Reed Tucker, the pacifist martial artist who only eats organic food. I still smile when I think about his conversations with Fernando Martinez, who taught me that a struggling marriage can be saved by committing adultery. With Lazlow on the airwaves, I drove off into the sunset with the entirety of Liberty Citys police force on my tail. - Ryan Taljonick, GamesRadar
Yusuf Amir (GTA IV)
Who would have thought that The Ballad of Gay Tonys best character would have been an impossibly rich Arab real-estate developer? Yusuf is one of the most outlandish characters in GTAs history. Though he uses his absurd wealth to purchase ludicrous possessions (including a gold-plated helicopter), hes consistently kind to Luis, referring to him as a brother and throwing money at him every chance he can.
Yusuf never turns on Luis, either--he treats him like a true friend, from beginning to end. He also dances in his underwear singing Busta Rhymes Arab Money, which is sort of hilarious in its own right. - Hollander Cooper, GamesRadar
Carl CJ Johnson (GTA: San Andreas)
When the GTA series got its first real African American protagonist, it would have been really, really easy for Rockstar to fall back on tired stereotypes and make CJ a one-dimensional, thugged-out gangbanger. Thankfully, Rockstars nowhere near as lazy or crass as its detractors would have you believe, so instead, CJ turned out to be one of the series smartest, most complex and--strangely enough--moral protagonists.
He wasnt a hero, of course--he did way too many bad things for that--but when he wasnt massacring rival gang members, running over pedestrians or using other people to make himself rich, he was keeping his friends alive, fighting to keep drugs off the streets and trying to outmaneuver incredibly corrupt authority figures. He was also funnier than the psychopathic Tommy Vercetti and mute Claude, able to go from macho to self-effacing in a heartbeat. - Mikel Reparaz, Mac|Life
Phil Collins (GTA: Vice City Stories)
Yeah, thats right--Phil Collins. As in frontman of Genesis and star of wobbly heist-movie Buster. Hes in PSPs Vice City Stories, and he actually performs In The Air Tonight in the game. Together with his Brummy manager Barry, the duo take us through some of the most memorable moments and one-liners in the game. Collins is played dry-humoured and cool, while Barry flaps and flusters about Phils well-being.
Theyre a perfect double-act, and Collins fits perfectly into the Vice City world; he doesnt feel like a novelty cameo. Ok, so Vice City Stories is never going to be at the top of anyones favourite GTA games lists, and Collins only appears for a couple of missions--but its the fact that hes actually in the game, voiced credibly by Phil himself, that makes him a highlight for me.- Andy Hartup, GamesRadar
Bruce Brucie Kibbutz (GTA IV)
All wife-beaters, steroids and fake tans, Brucie was actually a shockingly ominous portent of the latent Jersey Shore phenomenon/unending nightmare that would later fall upon our nation when GTA 4 was released in 2008. The horrorthe horror.
The thing is, Brucie is so much more likable than Americas favorite guidos; for underneath his walking-can-of-Axe-bodyspray exterior, hes actually a vulnerable, sensitive little puppy dog with a mountain of insecurities--a fact which, true to form, he does his best to hide, and it all somehow serves to make his excessive braggadocio all the more endearing. - Donny Tarin, GamesRadar
...also Brucie (GTA IV)
GTA IV is probably the most smitten Ive ever been with a douchebag. Seriously, as a loud and boisterous buffoon who sounded like a modern-day Biff Tannenshouldnt we all have hated Brucie? Perhaps, but that wasnt even close to possible, since his all-too-brief appearances came riddled with so many latent insecurities.
Who couldnt get behind this former fat kid and his quest for thuggish distinction when hes constantly stymied by his own repressed homosexuality and a brother who beats the sh*t out of him? Brucie wasnt just a douchebag--Brucie was an enormous douchebag. Not only did his lack of respect and desperation make him hysterical, his portrayal is probably the closest the Jersey Shore cast will ever get to looking humanized. - Chris Antista, Laser Time
Barry Stark (GTA: Vice City)
Sadly, I'll never truly know what my favorite GTA character looks like--but given that he's a clingy middle-aged nudist who got shot in the crotch, that might be for the best. When I wasn't jamming to Wave 103, Wildstyle, or Flash FM, I was guffawing at the insane conversations that transpired on NPR spoof Vice City Public Radio, with host Maurice Chavez. Maurice's banter was great, but his guest Barry Stark stole the show, given his obsession with the practical benefits of nudity and his constant need for bodily contact.
I would literally park my car just to listen to Stark's commentary on morality, why clothes are a lie, the dangers of wielding a flamethrower while nude, and the utter horror of the other panelists when Stark starts jumping up and down. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, you need to listen to VCPR right away. - Lucas Sullivan, GamesRadar
Luigi Goterelli (GTA III)
Rockstar set a fine precedent with Grand Theft Auto III by making up for the dull, introductory activities with one of the games strongest characters. As one of GTA IIIs first taskmasters, Luigi Goterelli serves as a fine example of the kind of mission-giver youll always return to. Hes brash, insulting and hilarious (thanks to the voice of Joe "Joey Pants" Pantoliano), and his home base (the hilariously anachronous Sex Club 7) is one of Liberty Citys premier destinations.
Plus, he orchestrates one of GTA IIIs most unique missions, "The Fuzz Ball, in which Claude must round up a group of Luigis finest workers to bring to a policemans ball. Thankfully, hes one of the few Mafiosi to survive the game, so theres a slight chance hell return in some way, shape, or form. - Dave Rudden, Official Xbox Magazine
Mohammed (GTA IV)
...actually, on second thought, I've changed my mind--there's another character who far outshines Luigi. Throughout the course of Grand Theft Auto IV, those who disrespect Niko Bellic either end up respecting the protagonist or end up dead. One man who keeps up the contempt throughout the entire game is actually being paid by the Bellics--its Romans car service employee Mohammed.
Once you unlock the ability to call Roman for free cab rides, Mohammed bursts onto the scene with anger, lambasting Niko at every opportunity for freeloading. When hes not busy yelling broken-English insults at Bellic (dog-lover!), hes bragging about his disgustingly-explicit sexual conquests (despite being married). Even up to your final mission, with Nikos power in Liberty City reaching its zenith, Mohammed wont ever let up with the zingers. Thats why we love him (and hope he returns in GTA V). - Dave Rudden, Official Xbox Magazine
Luis Lopez (GTA: The Ballad of Gay Tony)
Hes the toughest of all GTA protagonists, with Jason Statham-worthy missions that feature skydiving, base jumping, cage-fighting, train-hijacking, yacht-exploding, diamond-stealing, and golden-helicopter-flying as a matter of course. Hes the manliest of all GTA protagonists, too--a nightclub owner who will forcefully remove any drunk trying to take advantage of his female patrons, then quietly and effortlessly seduce two of those women in the VIP section mere minutes later.
Yet this young, macho playboy stars in a game titled The Ballad of Gay Tony and sees absolutely no problem or abnormality with having a homosexual character as his best friend and business partner. Why not? Because why should he? Luis Lopez is Rockstar at its progressive best. Plus, hes one badass dancer. - Charlie Barratt, @GAMER
Hare Krishna (GTA 1 & 2)
There isn't really a character I have particularly strong emotional feelings for in any of the GTA games. Now, I realize that I may come off sounding like a psychopath, but my heart would skip a beat every time I saw the line of dudes in orange running around in the original GTA. I mean, come on--these guys are just asking to be mowed over in quick succession.
If you didn't get all of them they would scatter before lining up again, running down side streets to avoid you. It was like a brutal game of cat and mouse, and I couldn't help but hunt them down until I got the whole set. I also like long walks on the beach, sunsets, kittens and a good hug. See? I'm not a monster. - Greg Henninger, GamesRadar
So many places, so many faces
We're willing to bet that you've got your own favorite GTA character--or maybe you agree with one of our lovely editors? Let us know in the comments, and feel free to get as obscure (OG Loc) or mainstream (Niko Bellic) as you see fit.
And if you're looking for more, check out What are your favorite places to visit in gaming? and What are the real world consequences for your crimes in Grand Theft Auto?