The Grand Theft Auto franchise is nothing if not controversial, but that pursuit of the edgy style comes paired with some incredible narratives and truly memorable characters. It's easy to give credit to the main protag-- err, anti-heroes, but too often ancillary characters are left by the wayside and forgotten when we look back and fondly remember series history.
Consider this our way of righting those wrongs. Here's to the sidekicks and secondary characters, good or evil, that have won our hearts in the years and installments since 2001's GTA III. They may not be playable, and they may not directly influence shocking plot twists and endings, but we can't help but smile every time they reappear to light up our playthroughs with goofy personalities or remarkable intrigue.
The first friend you encounter in Grand Theft Auto III really needs no explanation. From the first knock-out punch he delivers in a prison van escape, we knew we'd get along with 8-Ball just fine. His explosive personality is matched only by his penchant for explosives. This habit is shown off in triumphant fashion in the final mission of Act 1, where you watch from the lens of a sniper rifle while 8-Ball blows up a cargo frigate with thousands of pounds of narcotics onboard. He stays by your side, too, always ready to rig up your car with an undercarriage bomb.
GTA: San Andreas' resident hippy is the source of heaps of hilarity throughout CJ's Californian odyssey. Two of the game's most memorable missions - stealing a farming combine capable of chewing up pedestrians and burning an entire field of marijuana - come courtesy of our paranoid friend. His distrust of the government eventually grants you the game's coolest item - on The Truth's word, CJ sneaks into Area 69 to steal a fully-functional jetpack. Of course, the same distrust also puts him at odds with government spook Mike Toreno, but more on that in a bit.
Lance's inclusion on this list owes a lot to the diabolical way in which he betrays main character Tommy Vercetti very late in the GTA: Vice City timeline. After serving as your loyal sidekick and token emotionally insecure gangster for much of the game, Lance has enough when Tommy begins mistreating him and begins claiming much of their criminal empire as his own. In a move of unprecedented late-game villainy, Lance sells Tommy out to Tommy's old mob boss Sonny Forelli and storms their mansion with dozens of Forelli's goons. Tommy wins out in the end, but victory does not come without loss, and we're forced to say goodbye to our favorite sidekick-turned-backstabber.
Salvatore Leone's right-hand capo may run one hell of an Italian restaurant, but that's not why's here. Rather, Toni Cipriani is the first man of real power you encounter as GTA III's silent protagonist, and is responsible for instigating war with the Triads and placing you right in the middle of it. His difficult missions helped prepare us for the game's cutthroat gameplay, but as a side character, he's also uniquely special - Toni received his own game in the form of GTA: Liberty City Stories, and his rise to power as a Mafia capo is a thrilling journey full of cameos and compelling character development. No, he may make a mean lasagna, but his place in our hearts is won through being the most fleshed-out side character in franchise history.
Our first pick from the GTA IV era happens to be a hardened thug seasoned by prison life. We think he's a softie. Through the course of several missions and opportunities to go on "friend dates" with Dwayne, you discover that he wishes to regain a shred of the criminal empire he ran in the past and needs your help doing it. As you complete these missions, the layers of cynicism and dread peel away, revealing a man who desperately WANTS to have a positive outlook on life. He gains just that by spending more time with Niko, and as a result, becomes one of the few characters in GTA IV to actually undergo a true redemption. That is, if you decide not to betray him under Playboy X's order. Dwayne is a perfect example of Rockstar's push for mature storytelling that began with the current generation of consoles, and things only got better from there.
What Candy Suxxx lacks in personality and innocence, she most certainly makes up for in sexuality. Of course, that's not why we love her. Rather, the frequent reappearances her character makes throughout the GTA III-era games are a pleasant reminder of the sprawling mythos Rockstar created on PlayStation 2. Tommy Vercetti is her first beneficiary, using her considerable sex appeal to blackmail a prominent politician into allowing the sale of porn throughout Vice City. GTA: San Andreas sees her return on a Los Santos billboard and on the walls of hundreds of San Andreas residents. Posters with her likeness in GTA: Liberty City Stories cement her place as a series mainstay, nay, icon, and we wouldn't want it any other way.
It's no wonder that The Truth would distrust Mike Toreno, the mysterious government official voiced by James Woods. Toreno's ambitions are, at first glance, to reduce the power of rival drug dealers and make a dent in CJ's new crew the Da Nang Boys. Before long, things take a turn for the seriously weird. Toreno begins meeting you at a secluded ranch house and sends you on all manner of outlandish missions: blowing up a plane full of aliens disguised in tuxedos, shooting down enemy planes with a V/STOL fighter jet... We love Toreno for his nonchalance in the face of lunacy, and when all is said and done, he makes good on his word and secures the early release of CJ's brother, Sweet. He may be cynical and ruthless, but he's far and away one of San Andreas' best personalities.
As the youngest brother of the McReary family, it's odd that we first encounter "Packie" as a mostly independent criminal running bank robberies and the like with his pals Michael and Gordon. It's through that connection that we experience some of GTA IV's most exciting missions, but we also like Packie for his humorous dialogue and sarcastic outlook on life. Spend enough time with Packie, and his very troubled past will rear its ugly head. Of course, that only makes us identify with him more - Niko and Packie are cut from much of the same cloth, making it all the more powerful to see Packie depart from Liberty City and his life of addiction and crime during the end credits of The Ballad of Gay Tony. You'll also find no better darts competitor in the entire game (though the mini-game isn't particularly difficult anyway).
GTA: Vice City's coked-up, paranoid lawyer is another series mainstay, showing up in San Andreas to play... well, pretty much the same role, really. His part in Tommy Vercetti's odyssey takes the cake, though. The two meet to make an exchange with the Vance Crime Family, but when the deal falls apart, Tommy must depend on Rosenberg for legal advice and guidance in his hunt to recover the Forelli family's money. Of course, Rosenberg's cocaine addiction is an obstacle to that, and eventually drives the two associates apart. Hell, he even teams up with Lance Vance and betrays Tommy over the empire! Still, his trainwreck of a personality is great fun to watch as it evolves over two GTA games.
Gamers who didn't see GTA III through to completion (let's be honest, that game was hard as nails) may not recognize the Catalina that appears in San Andreas as the same girl who betrays Claude during the intro of GTA III. Of course, it's a ten-years-younger Catalina that we cruise around the San Andreas countryside with, but she's also ten-years-nastier. Cesar Vialpando hooks up CJ with his cousin so our hero can make a quick buck running heists during his Los Santos exodus, but we soon find out that Catalina is a sex-crazed dominatrix with dangerously violent tendencies. That said, her missions are an introduction to the vast expanse of land between San Andreas' cities and an eye-opener for the wild possibilities just recently opened to the player. Bonus points for a Claude cameo later in the game. He takes her from us, but karma's a bi***, ain't it?
These are our picks for the best 10 sidekicks and side characters in the GTA franchise. Agree? Disagree? Shoot us a comment below and tell us some of your favorites, and any that we missed.