I make no bones about Grand Theft Auto being my favourite gaming franchise. The series has always been a place in which I can escape the grind of real life. Part of why the series has held my attention for so long (almost 20 years!) is the endless cavalcade of entertaining characters who act as my playable and non-playable sprits in these engrossing open worlds. To pick a small group of my favourite personalities from the franchise is inherently subjective, but I want to share with you who I consider to be the top five most memorable GTA characters.
5. Salvatore Leone
Salvatore Leone, the boss himself is a near-constant presence throughout the 6th generation phase of the franchise. We first meet Sal in GTA III, being introduced to him by Toni Cipriani. What first appears as a pleasant, if paranoid patriarch is actually a devious despot who would double-cross anyone who perceivably slighted him, imaginary or otherwise. Reintroduced in GTA: San Andreas and GTA: Liberty City Stories, we find a mob boss in his prime, running casinos in Las Ventures, while fighting other encroaching Italian crime families. Witnessing the betrayal, he faces at the hands of Carl Johnson, as well as a litany of gang wars; it’s easy to see where his paranoid fear of outsiders and associates.
Big Sal’s time at the top comes to an explosive end at the hands of mute protagonist, Claude. Voiced by the late Frank Vincent and complimented with Rockstar Games excellent dialogue, Salvatore Leone is an instantly recognisable gaming bad guy that you can’t help but begrudgingly like. He is the franchise’s first real villain; for that, he is one of the most memorable GTA characters.
Fun fact: Sal’s original character model was heavily based on Marlon Brando’s Vito Corleone.
4. Ken Rosenberg
Everyone’s favourite bogus ambulance chaser, Ken Rosenberg is a neurotic corrupt lawyer, first introduced in GTA: Vice City. Ken acts as a handler for the recently arrived Tommy Vercetti, a member of the Forelli crime family. The mob lawyer spends every waking moment fearing that some gangster is going to put a bullet into his head. As Tommy starts making moves in Vice, Ken is quickly carried away by the nightlife and money of the city, plus the veritable snowstorms of cocaine. In a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, Rosenberg stands out as a constant source of neurotic funnies, cutting through Tommy’s acerbic style.
Popping up in GTA: San Andreas, things haven’t gone well for him. Back working for the mob, Ken is left running a Casino for Salvatore Leone. His movements between 1986 and 1992 are left vague, due to the before mentioned cocaine snowstorms. Thankfully, Ken Rosenberg doesn’t meet the ending that some on this list do. Why do I feel he is one of the most memorable GTA characters? It’s perhaps an extension of the impact the game had on me and my overall tastes in video games.
Fun fact: Sean Penn’s role in Carlito’s Way heavily influenced the character of Ken Rosenberg. The movie features a Jewish lawyer named David Kleinfeld, a neurotic who becomes addicted to his client’s mobster lifestyle.
3. The Truth
The Truth is out there… He lives in a small motel room in Flint County, San Andreas. Voiced by the easy rider himself (Pete Fonda), the Truth acts as Carl Johnson’s guide and wacky ally throughout his time in San Fierro and the mysteriously militarised deserts of the state. Though his real name isn’t revealed, the Truth’s personality is one of an ageing hippy who misses the golden years of peace, love and copious amounts of weed. While Carl will do several missions for this old hippy, you never find out much about the man, leaving his true intentions ambiguous. Whether through years of drug abuse or genuine secret knowledge, the Truth believe in almost every conspiracy going; aliens, deep state, etc.
You couldn’t waste having one of the best actors of the 20th century by giving him subpar dialogue. Thankfully, the Truth has some of the funniest lines throughout the mid/late part of the game. In a sense, this character represents San Andreas itself; a state that’s living in the shadow of better days, mired by drugs and littered with conspiracy and governmental distrust.
Fun fact: Though voiced by the late, great Peter Fonda, the Truth’s appearance seems based on the country music legend Willy Nelson.
Lazlow is, in a sense, the voice of the Grand Theft Auto franchise. He may not have appeared in person until GTA V, but we’ve been listening to his acerbic wit since GTA III. The character of Lazlow is a failure of a human being who somehow has managed to cling onto his radio career for thirty years. Despite being a washed-up, middle-aged, alcoholic womaniser, there’s still something likeable about him to keep me laughing. His voice acts as a near-constant companion while driving through Rockstar’s masterfully crafted open-worlds.
When we catch up with him in GTA V, Lazlow is co-hosting a talk radio show run by millennials. This is a position he loathes and shows that in aspects, the entire franchise is also the tale of the rise and fall of this unfortunate disc jockey. He’s also hosting a talent show that brings him into contact with Michael and Trevor. Where will Lazlow find himself next? Well, we’ll need to wait until GTA VI.
Fun fact: Lazlow is the only characters to remain canonical throughout the 3D and HD universes.
1. Trevor Philips
In the history of the franchise, few characters have stood out as much as Trevor Philips. A manic bank robber and drug dealer, Trevor is part of the trio of playable protagonists in GTA V. He is, to put it mildly, a terrible human being who takes immense pleasure in causing pain, terror and unease to everyone he meets. Despite his lamentable persona, I can’t ignore just how fun it is to play rage incarnate. No one else could have topped this memorable GTA characters. The frantically brilliant performance of Steven Ogg makes every scene drip with both comedy and depravity.
Fun fact: Trevor is the only GTA character to kill a former protagonist; Johnny Klebitz from GTA 4: Lost & Dammed.