Tommy Vercetti - Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

Rockstar Games recently announced a Spring 2013 release for their anticipated Grand Theft Auto V, the first major title in the series since fans got their hands on GTA IV in 2008. With the second trailer coming in just days, we take a walk down memory lane, recalling the main characters of the franchise’s major installments, starting with its breakout title: 2001’s Grand Theft Auto III.

Claude (Grand Theft Auto III)

Claude - GTA III

Claude is the silent protagonist of GTA III, as well as a minor character in a future title. His adventure begins when he is left for dead after a bank heist with his girlfriend Catalina, resulting in his arrest by the police. Claude later escapes with another prisoner, 8-Ball, when a bridge is blown up and his transport overturned.

While Claude’s name is never disclosed in the game, it is “found deep within GTA III’s data files,” as reported by Wikipedia. He isn’t officially introduced until his appearance in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, where he races its main character “CJ.”

In GTA III, which takes place in Liberty City (a fictional city, based on New York City), he takes on a slew of bad guys before taking off with Cartel head Don Salvatore Leone’s wife Maria, and eventually gets revenge on his ex-girlfriend Catalina for turning on him, nearing getting him killed, and almost sending him to prison.

Claude was definitely the strong silent type, not uttering a single word throughout the game. The trait is even mentioned by Maria, when she says on the Chatterbox radio show that she has a new man, but “he don’t talk too much.”

Tommy Vercetti (Grand Theft Auto: Vice City)

Tommy Vercetti - Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

In Vice City, the game takes players to a Miami-inspired city using the game’s name, where Tommy Vercetti is the lead character. He is voiced by actor Ray Liotta, best known for his role as Henry Hill in the mob classic Goodfellas.

Unlike Claude (from GTA III), we get a lot more background on Tommy. He is a seasoned mob hit man, who murdered eleven men when ambushed during a hit. For his trouble, he was sent to prison and placed on death row, but due to his mob family’s influence (Forelli Family), he serves just 15 years and is released. This is in 1986, and Tommy, wanting a fresh start, is sent to Vice City… and the rest is history.

While in the Miami-like city, he takes over, but doesn’t pay tribute to Forelli Family boss Sonny, so he comes down south from Liberty City to deal with him… and his hit squad has stand-off at Tommy’s mansion in a Scarface-like finale.

Tommy carries the typical mob characteristics. He is easily angered and resorts to violence — killing with no hesitation. However, he is also depicted as both intelligent and temperamental, and is definitely a much deeper character than his predecessor.

Carl “CJ” Johnson (Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas)

CJ - Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

Rockstar Games introduces the fictional state much like California in San Andreas, comprised of three cities: Los Santos, San Fierro and Las Venturas. There, where the game is played, Carl “CJ” Johnson is the protagonist. However, he travels out west from Liberty City, where he is working as a car thief for the mob. When he learns of his mother’s murder, he returns to Los Santos, reunites with old friends, and his gang (Grove Street), and eventually unravels the plot behind his mother’s murder.

Voiced by rapper Young Maylay, CJ is blackmailed by corrupt police and becomes embroiled in the city’s gang lifestyle from the beginning. Attempts on his life are around corner, and he doesn’t know who to trust, not even his longtime gang family.

By the end, he leaves a multi-millionaire, with assets and business interests that include the city’s various gangs and his friend Madd Dogg’s record contract, a car garage and several other properties in San Fierro, and shares in the Four Dragons Casino in Las Venturas, as well as the government’s $60 million jetpack.

Niko Bellic – (Grand Theft Auto IV)

Niko Bellic - GTA IV

Niko is the main character of the franchise’s last major title, 2008’s GTA IV. He grew up in Yugoslavia, present day Serbia, where he fought in the Yugoslav Wars, before coming to States to chase the “American Dream.” But, he gets involved in organized crime syndicates as a hired-gun.

Niko is actually tricked into coming Stateside by his cousin Roman, though, who claims he’s highly successful in Liberty City. However, as soon as he arrives — he is smuggled in on a boat — it’s apparent that Roman isn’t doing as well as he claims. In fact, he’s running a struggling taxi business and criminals around the city — to whom he owes money to — has placed a price on his head. Because of this, he invites Niko, partly to help him with his debt problems, and partly, to reunite with his cousin.

Niko is the first probably the most complex character in the franchise to date, offering deeper meaning behind his philosophy, and critiques of American culture and life in general.

We’ve yet to be introduced to the protagonist of the upcoming Grand Theft Auto V, but reports say it will revolve around the story of a character named Michael. Also, the setting comes back to Los Santos, the fictional version of Los Angeles and its California surroundings, including Hollywood (“Vinewood”) and rural hills and valleys, as the teaser trailer has shown.