Some may argue that the overall subject matter of the Grand Theft Auto series is what has made it so successful. Obviously, there is a point to be made here. You can do plenty of things in these games that would get you locked away in the real world. From picking up ladies of the night, to drug deals, to full on gang-wars and mass murder — you can do whatever you want!
Like we said, the subject matter is most definitely one reason for the success of this franchise. A significantly underrated aspect, however, is the cast of characters, which seems to get better and better with each game. Whether they are gang members, local celebrities, NPCs who assist the main character (or antagonists), the characters have always made these games what they are, along with the story lines, not necessarily just the sadistic potential. Granted, the sadistic potential really helped.
While the series has come a long way from the top-down format of the first two games, they all exist in roughly the same universe. As such, there are plenty of recurring characters that appear in more than one game, some of these are obvious, like Lazlow Jones, the degenerate radio personality that has appeared in every GTA game since number three. Here are fifteen far less obvious characters that you may not have noticed were present in multiple games.
Karen Daniels is known as Michelle for most of Grand Theft Auto IV, and becomes Niko's girlfriend after a few successful dates. Later on in the game, it is revealed that Michelle is not who she said she was and that her purpose was to spy on Niko for the International Affairs Agency. They fight, break up, and she isn't seen for the rest of the game.
Fast forward to the events of GTA V, Karen is still with the IAA and is the first to torture Ferdinand Kerimov before Michael and Franklin come to his aid. She is the main agent doing most of the talking and abusing, wailing on Mr. K with a flashlight and, of course, threatening to stick it where the sun don't shine.
We first meet these two clowns while playing as Tommy Vercetti in Vice City. They come into the picture after buying the boatyard. Upon entrance into the yard, Tommy's first priority is to find the fastest boat in the place, and Dwaine and Jethro hook him up. They are portrayed as easy-going, jovial guys who know what they are doing when it comes to engines and high-performance nautical crafts. Still, they may just be a bit too laid back to be top tier employees.
Sometime after Vercetti takes over Vice City, the two headed to San Andreas, where they met The Truth and got hired by Carl Johnson to work in his chop shop in San Fierro.
While we never actually learn his real name, the U.L. Paper Contact becomes a significant character in GTA IV after Michelle's true identity is discovered. He employs Niko to do his bidding, which usually includes killing terrorists or people who could put his activities in jeopardy. Later on during GTA V, the U.L. Paper Contact can be seen at the end of "Monkey Business," a mission in which Michael De Santa has to infiltrate a medical testing lab to retrieve a nerve agent.
We saw him again in "The Wrap Up" when Michael was in a standoff with Merryweather and the FIB. He can be killed during the firefight that follows this opening cutscene.
While it is basically common knowledge that Lazlow Jones is in every GTA game since the third one, fewer people —especially those who don't pay a lot of attention to the in-game radio— will know that Fernando Martinez has been in every game since except for GTA IV. The details that make up much of his life are hard to pin down, as he is either an illegal immigrant or a man born in Upstate Liberty. He started out in Vice City during the '80s and winds up in San Andreas in the early '90s before making his way up to Liberty City by the '00s and finally, back to San Andreas by 2013. Always entertaining, Fernando is a sexual deviant, and is implied to be on the sex offender registry, and is one of the most entertaining characters that we never actually meet.
Why list these two together? Well, they formed a kind of master and apprentice relationship in Vice City and Liberty City Stories. Carrington was a very successful businessman whose fortune was made in real estate. While he was in Vice City, he took an aspiring entrepreneur, Donald Love, under his wing and taught him that, essentially, the ends justified the means in the world of business. Carrington hired Tommy Vercetti to carry out various missions in Vice City in order to make his business' expansion quicker.
Both built up their empires throughout the 1990's, but by the events of Liberty City Stories, Love has been bankrupted by his bid for the mayoral race in the city. Ultimately, he has Carrington killed, so that he can redevelop Fort Staunton.
Love isn't seen officially in any of the games chronologically after GTA III (2001 in-universe timeline), and his status after that game is unclear. It is implied that he lives past 2001 as he is listed on the Vinewood Walk of Fame as a TV personality and appears in newspapers in GTA IV.
It is safe to say that, with a lawyer like Ken Rosenberg, if Tommy Vercetti or Carl Johnson had ever gone to trial, they would likely be sent to the electric chair for jaywalking. Ken may be the most memorable of any of the characters on this list, and with good reason; the cowardly lawyer with the pesky cocaine problem and awkward non-charisma offered a great character foil for both Tommy Vercetti in Vice City and Carl Johnson in San Andreas.
It is hard to say whether his atrocious record in trials (by his own admission) is due to incompetence, or constantly representing criminals who are blatantly guilty. We also find it strange that despite representing major crime families almost exclusively, Rosenberg is almost always flat broke.
If you played the games in order as they came out, you first encountered Maria in GTA III, first as the begrudging trophy wife of Salvatore Leone, and later as Claude's girlfriend. The two walk off "into the sunset" at the end of the game. Claude shooting a pistol (either to kill Maria or simply get her to shut up) is the final event in the 3D universe.
Of course, she and Salvatore were also present for the events of Liberty City Stories, but only those with a keen eye and a great memory will remember the duo's cameo in San Andreas. Maria was working as a waitress at Caligula's Palace in Las Venturas, when she became the girlfriend and later wife of Salvatore Leone.
Patrick "Packie" McReary is one of the main characters in Grand Theft Auto IV, and makes appearances in both of that game's DLC's: The Ballad of Gay Tony and The Lost and the Damned. By 2013, he had moved to San Andreas but was up to more of the same. As a lesson to always explore and do as much as possible in any GTA game, one might actually play through GTA V and never encounter Packie.
In a random event that takes place in Strawberry (Los Santos), any of the three protagonists will encounter two men robbing a drug store. While there is the option to kill them, one is McReary, who, if you help him out and drive them to safety, will pledge his aid to you in all subsequent heists. He is a solid gunman and makes no mistakes, but demands a large cut of all money earned.
Rocco Pelosi is one of the main villains in the GTA IV expansion pack The Ballad of Gay Tony. A racist, arrogant, and overall unpleasant fellow to everyone, Rocco's survival at the end of TBoGT was infuriating, as his incessant taunting of protagonist Luis and, of course, Gay Tony Prince (mocking their Hispanic heritage and sexual orientation respectively) was frustrating and made us want some revenge.
Pelosi continued to be a worthless scumbag in GTA V, as he fled the Liberty City area after the events of TBoGT. He left official organized crime and became a dirty talent agent, who specialized in getting bigger paychecks for poor actors by getting them to essentially hold productions hostage, but refusing to work and demanding more money. His run-in with Solomon Richards turned out to be his last mistake, as an infuriated fan-turned-employee of Richards, Michael De Santa, caught up with Rocco and his accomplice Gianni, and killed both.
Willy is the bassist for the band Love Fist, along with band mates Jezz, Percy, and Dick, who appear or at least get some mention in several GTA games. Interesting to mention is that they are among the only characters who have crossed over from the 3D universe into HD. In Vice City, we learned several things about the band members, including the fact that Willy likes to wear women's underwear.
The band is mentioned in San Andreas and then again in GTA IV. Of course, while we get close to meeting them in Vice City, it never actually happens on-screen, despite Tommy Vercetti doing jobs for them. We do, however, hear them sing and talk off-screen, and we do hear them in the car haphazardly defusing a bomb in the mission "Publicity Tour."
Later on, in GTA V, the band is mentioned several times, and Trevor actually meets Willy. Of course, their meeting isn't a pleasant one, as Trevor beats Willy up, stealing his golden tooth to deliver to the celebrity-crazed English tourists Nigel and Mrs. Thornhill.
The first time we meet Marnie in GTA IV, she is in a sad state. While Nico is by no means a good guy, he definitely has a heart, and treats some people, such as Marnie, very well despite her serving no purpose to him. He first takes her to see her dealer when she's strung out and craving, and later drives her to the train station so she can return home. Nico learns later on (through email) that Marnie has enrolled in college and is no longer using drugs.
Five years later, she has completely turned her life around and is in San Andreas (Los Santos) working for Epsilon Program. This cult has several missions in GTA V, and (in a couple of them) Marnie is Michael's contact within the organization.
While we have no complaints against any of the protagonists from Tommy Vercetti to the Grand Theft Auto V trio, there was something eerily awesome about silent Claude from GTA III. Our first encounter with Claude (and his then-girlfriend/later antagonist Catalina) was in GTA III, wherein Claude was our protagonist. His mission was to hunt down Catalina after she shot and abandoned him during a robbery.
Before all this, however, Claude and Catalina were in San Andreas, and while not much was known of this part of Claude's life prior to this, but we know he was a great driver with an ambitious and irritating girlfriend. He raced Carl Johnson (at the request of Catalina...after she and CJ stopped "dating"), but lost the contest, then giving CJ the deed to a garage in Doherty, San Fierro.
Carl "CJ" Johnson is the main protagonist of San Andreas, and takes over the city along with his brother Sweet. Ryder is their friend and accomplice at first, but becomes one of the main antagonists over the course of the game.
There is a way to see these three during the campaign in GTA V. They do not speak, and their appearance is not official in accordance with canon, as Rockstar has stated that crossovers between universes (2D, 3D, and HD) will never happen. But nonetheless, if you head into the mission "Hood Safari" you can see these three riding their bikes in what is nothing less than an awesome Easter Egg.
Johnny Klebitz and Ashley Butler were minor characters in GTA IV, and Johnny was the main character of the DLC The Lost and the Damned. After the events of the game, Johnny, Ashley, and a couple of members of their gang moved to the San Andreas area, settling in Blaine County.
At some point during their time there, both he and Ashley became addicted to methamphetamine. Looking to the events of GTA V, Johnny's first and only appearance in the game occurs after he finds out Trevor Philips has had sex with Ashley. During this confrontation, Trevor is able to calm Johnny down, but then brutally stomps him to death.
Chronologically speaking, Phil Cassidy's first appearance in the 3D Grand Theft Auto universe occurs when he is working for Jerry Martinez during Vice City Stories. Later on, he helps Tommy Vercetti rob a bank, but later blows his arm off while drunkenly demonstrating his "boomshine" explosive.
Sometime after the 1980s Phil moved up to Liberty City, and started a gun shop up there. He has a very tiny appearance in Liberty City Stories, and is featured in a mission in GTA III, in which he and protagonist Claude defend Phil's gun shop from a team of Colombian Cartel members assigned to steal firearms from Phil.