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5 Best Grand Theft Auto Protagonists, Ranked

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Grand Theft Auto has one of the most inconsistent protagonist timelines to date, no thanks to the countless spin-offs and mobile ports that only expand the family tree by a few hundred branches. But at its root, there are really only five interlocking arches; those that weave with the main series. And if you put it like that, then there really aren't that many protagonists to cross-examine with a fine-tooth comb.

Rockstar certainly know how to develop a compelling protagonist, that much is true. After all, Grand Theft Auto has seen one in nearly every one of its instalments since the series' debut. The question is, which leads have we found the most convincing, and which have been the embodiment of the series' heart? Well, looking back at every game to come out so far, here are the five we'd rank the highest.

 

5. Tommy Vercetti

Tommy Vercetti gracefully added salt to its preceding lead, otherwise known as Claude, a no-nonsense mute with little to no likeable characteristics whatsoever. Although the first to pilot a new and innovative three-dimensional world for revolutionary hardware, it was evident Rockstar cared little for its characters. This eventually resolved itself with the introduction of Vice City's outspoken Hawaiian tee-loving rebel, Mr. Vercetti.

Vice City was an all-round masterpiece for its time, and it helped that Rockstar actually employed a speaking protagonist to bear the torch for the first time in the series. Unhinged, slightly unorthodox, and undeniably sociopathic, Tommy checked all of the boxes that one would expect to see in a top-shelf Grand Theft Auto game. Though to be fair, it was probably the iconic blue floral shirt that did it for us.

 

4. Niko Bellic

After a long line of semi-serious tones and novelty aspects, Rockstar finally took the series to new heights, where realism collided with a rich noir setting. Grand Theft Auto was back, and it was darker and grittier than ever. And what better way to introduce a fresh perspective than to give it a cold-hearted Eastern European for a protagonist? It was something that had never been done before, and was a shift in gears even Rockstar wasn't sure how to operate. But it worked, tenfold.

Rather than being hurled into an origin story comprised of bloodlust and mayhem, we're given a softer induction, one that sees Niko desperate to atone for his crimes. Arriving in Liberty City with the hopes of becoming a new and improved version of himself, he immediately became a relatable character. His hopes, of course, were short-lived, as the criminal underworld beckoned for his return. Nevertheless, Niko made for one of the most compelling leads in gaming, and it saddens us to remember that his only real dream was to take a girl bowling. Sad times.

 

3. Carl Johnson

Our love for CJ goes far deeper than any old Grand Theft Auto protagonist purely because of his rags to riches narrative, which was of course a far cry from the psychotic tales the series was used to telling. For the first time, Rockstar had crafted an almost relatable character, one that didn't have all the senseless killings and shady wrongdoings to boot. Although placed as mere offspring of the criminal underworld, there was a heart that yearned to pound, and it showed over the game's lengthy story.

The reason why we cherish CJ so much really boils down to our love and respect that we have for San Andreas. As a timeless classic with an infinite wealth of quotes, characters, and locations, it automatically puts CJ up on a pedestal. And although new blood has since come and gone, there is still a strong bond that we find ourselves clasping on to. And honestly, that's a loyalty we'll never likely abandon.

 

2. Michael De Santa

Michael De Santa proved that not every reckless bank robber is destined for a lifetime of misery and isolation. Well, they are, but at least with a family by their side. And that's where Grand Theft Auto got real with us for a moment, with the Townley collective. For the first time since the series' inception, family was the most important thing, and the head of it had motives that went way beyond personal greed and private gain.

Sure, break all the meat and jelly down and you've got yourself the same old money-hungry degenerate. But there were additional layers that no other character had in other entries, and Rockstar took it upon itself to explore them through some pretty creative ways. Side quests opened up new story arcs between family members, and they all channeled through to Michael, an anchor point for the De Santa shenanigans.

 

1. Trevor Philips

If you want to talk about the human equivalent of an unruly video game known for violence and mindless bloodshed, then Trevor Philips is it. Trevor Philips is, all things considered, Grand Theft Auto. Like it or hate it, there's no denying the fact that Trevor is the most liked video game protagonist in not only the series—but the whole world. And honestly, it's hard not to like Trevor, even with his flaws and sadistic morals.

Pick any other protagonist, and chances are you'd know what to expect from them. Trevor, on the other hand, is a unit of spontaneity, and quite possibly one of the most dangerously unpredictable men on the virtual forefront. And yet, if we had to select just one character to back us up when going to war with the world, then it would be an easy choice, every time.

 

So, what's your take? Do you agree with our top five? How would you rank the Grand Theft Auto protagonists? Let us know over on our socials here or down in the comments below.

Jord is acting Team Leader at gaming.net. If he isn't blabbering on in his daily listicles, then he's probably out writing fantasy novels or scraping Game Pass of all its slept on indies.