This October marks the 20th anniversary of Grand Theft Auto. As much as that makes me feel incredibly old, I shall weep later and focus on celebrating one of the landmark series in video games by looking at some of the greatest characters Rockstar has conjured up within the realms of Liberty City, Vice City, and Los Santos. This week’s Raptor 6 looks at the top six playable characters that we have had the pleasure of controlling over the two decades that Grand Theft Auto has been around.
6 - Michael Townley (Grand Theft Auto V)
Michael Townley, AKA Michael De Santa, is one of Rockford Hills’ many mansion residents, a former North Yankton bank robber, and a professional when it comes to pulling off big scores. Unlike other GTA anti-heroes, his life of crime is a means to an end; he’s a man that merely dreams of a comfortable life sipping whiskey and watching old movies.
Michael is arguably the most relatable of the three playable characters in GTA V, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the most fun to play. Michael’s pessimism is palpable throughout the story and while he tries to act with his family’s best interests at heart, his destructive nature and violent tendencies usually only escalate volatile situations. His wants for a quiet existence are completely understandable, but his demeanor and attitude make him the least enjoyable character to play as in the three man team.
There is an element of sympathy with Michael, as you can see he’s trying to do what’s right, he just lacks the frame of mind to do that in a non-homicidal way. His bullet time styled special ability, however, is awesome.
5 - Claude Speed (Grand Theft Auto 3)
Many may not even know his actual name, but the Liberty City mute is a treasured symbol of the first foray into a 3D Grand Theft Auto setting.
I understand that Claude is almost completely devoid of any real character, largely due to his lack of any vocalization. That said, Claude has more relevance in the Meta universe for being a beacon of the Grand Theft Auto series, making it as a must have title for any gamer. He acted merely as a conduit for your interactions within the playground of Liberty City, but this marked one of the first times people could experience anarchic levels of freedom on a home console. GTA 3 is far from the best game in the series but its nostalgic value and revolutionary qualities will often place it at the top of most people’s lists as their favorite title as “the one that started it all."
Claude is the mascot for the beginning of Rockstar’s dominance of the open world genre and a symbol for the inception of gamers’ relationship with the series.
4 - Trevor Phillips (Grand Theft Auto V)
If this was a list for the most psychotic, volatile, unashamed, unbalanced, and emotionally unstable character, Trevor would literally shoot his way to the top of the pile.
For all his flaws, Trevor is a man who simply cares too much. His inability to control his reactions or think rationally is far and away his biggest downfall as it creates enough friction in the few personal relationships he has to cause a forest fire. This is, however, down to his infallible loyalty to those close to him and in some rare moments during the story, you can see Trevor’s vulnerability, which allows the player to sympathize rather damning him. Despite these mental and emotional wounds, Trevor is incredibly fun to play as. His reckless nature, dark humor, and unbridled fury make it a pure joy to play as a man who is at his happiest with a grenade in one hand and a beer in the other.
Trevor embodies the players who play GTA to cause havoc and destruction in their own virtual playground, his “rage mode” special ability perfectly complimenting his inclination to mayhem.
3 - Franklin Clinton (Grand Theft Auto V)
The youngest and hungriest of GTA V trio, Franklin is a modern take on a classic story of a young man struggling up through a tough upbringing. Make no mistake, there is much more to him than his well-versed background suggest thanks to Rockstar’s fantastic flair for storytelling and fleshing out its characters.
Often caught in the middle of heated exchanges between Trevor and Michael, Franklin trumps his partners as the easiest to relate to with his hunger and desire for a better life for himself, his criminal lifestyle carved out of necessity rather than greed. Franklin also sees the most character progression of the three. From his humble beginnings just around the corner from another well-known Los Santos gangster to taking part in the almost impossible feat of robbing the Union Depository, he’s a smart and grounded man surrounded by many negative influences, which he manages to rise above without sacrificing his integrity, as seen in the true ending of the game.
Michael sees and nurtures Franklin’s ambition throughout their time together, with his intelligence and willingness to learn from those who can teach him making him in to a well-rounded and loyal character.
2 - Carl Johnson (Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas)
The beauty of Rockstar’s design philosophy is that no two characters in any of their universes are the same, and they meticulously craft each person in their worlds with Academy Award winning levels of depth and purpose. This is evident with Carl “CJ” Johnson in San Andreas, who couldn’t be further away from the powerful and dominant personality of someone like Tommy Vercetti or Toni Cipriani.
Carl’s aim isn’t one of a vast reaching empire and criminal supremacy over his rivals, it’s merely to right the wrongs that have occurred in his life, both prior to and during the game. They do share one trait in that they have both been subject to betrayal by what they considered to be friends in the form of Sonny Forelli, Big Smoke, and Ryder. He isn’t always the best or brightest man for the jobs that he takes, but of all the playable characters in any of the games, he is the one least motivated by money or power. His humility and loyalty keeps his focus on doing what’s right for himself, his friends, and to see those who have wronged him brought to his own form of justice.
Carl is the most sincere of all the protagonists. His noble motives for a peaceful existence for his loved ones is beaten only by the ultimate badass-ery of one man…
1 - Tommy Vercetti (Grand Theft Auto Vice City)
Of all the avatars in the gargantuan entity that is Grand Theft Auto, none are greater than the kingpin of Vice City, Tommy Vercetti.
The Harwood Butcher starts out in the Miami inspired setting with a simple mission of revenge and slowly ends up building an empire with everything from adult film studios and nightclubs to ice cream factories and taxi firms. Tommy makes his name as a man who does whatever it takes to get things done, and I believe what you would produce if you put all the GTA V protagonists in a blender: he’s got Michael’s professional mindset, Franklin’s determination to succeed, and Trevor’s ferocious intensity. Tommy fears no one and will face (and ultimately defeat) anyone who opposes his criminal aspirations, including former acquaintances. Keep your friends close …
His ability to turn his hand to almost any task, willingness to blow up anything or silence anyone, and the air of respect and almost fear-like emotions his mere presence creates is why he is a clear number one choice.