GTAV’s split personalities, and why Trevor should have been Rockstar’s leading man in Los Santos

Grand Theft Auto V characters


Early-ish in my GTA V playthrough, Boy-In-The-Hood Franklin was sitting on a bench with tubby criminal fixer Lester. Not a lot had happened in the last hour – I’d been photographing a boat as Trevor in preparation for a heist, which inexplicably required me to drive a big forklift around the Los Santos dock three times (I kept running over oblivious dock workers), then shift some shipping containers with a crane. I was bored, and itching to blow something up. Lester obliged with a mission to take out a suit and his entourage in a hotel car park with a grenade launcher I’d just bought – much more like it.

But during the conversation – on a park bench, eyes-front, just a couple of strangers making polite conversation – Franklin said something that threw me. Something along the lines of “I like shooting people in the head as much as the next guy, but…” I’m not attempting what he actually said, for fear of straying into some spectacular racism, but that was the gist. And it just made me think, ‘really?’ That didn’t sound like the Franklin I’d got to know in the past few hours – it sounded like an excuse for some extreme, out-of-character massacre.

This is the problem I have with GTAV: the uneasy compromises it has to make between the character stories it wants to tell and the series’ stealing-cars-shooting-cops DNA. I like the stories – I feel for Michael, constantly maligned by his whinging, bitchy family and struggling to escape his bank-robbing criminal past. It’s just much harder to do that when, apropos of nothing, he stops his stolen car in the middle of a freeway and start firing grenades into passing motorists. It’s not dissonant, in the usual sense – my problem isn’t that Michael and Franklin step out of character whenever free-roaming controls are passed to me. It’s that the sort of thing I’m doing runs directly counter to their characters’ goals. Michael’s laying low, so shooting down LSPD choppers for a laugh makes no sense. Franklin’s trying to escape the hood, so wasting businessmen in broad daylight so Lester can make a quick buck betting on a competitor’s stock makes no sense.

Like CoD, GTA is such a big franchise that there’s only so much tinkering Rockstar can do with under the hood. And, in a way, that’s a good thing – I like GTAV very much. But if you think about previous series protagonists, it’s a rogues gallery of psychopaths. Niko was arguably the series in transition, a man with an implied war criminal past starting out on the bottom rung of Liberty City’s underworld, but before him came C.J. (the cop-killing gangbanger), Tommy Vercetti (the Scarface tribute act), and before that, the murderous blank canvas that was GTA III’s mute villain/hero Claude. Running down pedestrians in GTA III couldn’t be out of character, because the protagonist had no character to begin with. Which is why when GTAV presents exactly the same formula (with some current-gen cosmetic updates) it comes across disjointed – trying to spin two plates on one stick.

I don’t buy that this is a fix that Rockstar couldn’t have written itself out of. I don’t believe it’s impossible to have an open-world crime sandbox and a good story as the same product – not just two separate products on the same disc.

At the same time I’ve been playing GTAV, I’ve also been charging my obese, top hat-sporting Boss around Saints Row IV (it’s been a productive fortnight). Saints Row has a story to tell – aliens have invaded Earth and put the Saints into a computer simulation ripped lovingly wholesale from The Matrix, and your protagonist justifies their super-powered dicking about in the virtual city of Steelport as damaging the simulation, thereby spoiling the aliens’ plans. It’s not the Tarantino gangster flick that GTA’s trying to be, but its story is coherent: the Boss isn’t, in his heart, a good guy struggling with a dodgy past. He (or she) is a psychopath who loves blowing shit up in stolen tanks. And on top of that, nothing the Boss does is really happening – it’s fine to lay waste to a park full of people with a helicopter gunship, because it’s all a simulation and no-one’s really getting hurt. It’s the same sort of chaos you can wreak in GTA, but in terms of consistency, Saints Row puts the bigger game to shame.

But I think there’s another way that GTAV could have told its same exact story without resorting to Saints Row’s wacky sci-fi get-out clauses. Rather than choosing to switch between its three protagonists, why not just make Trevor the hero?

GTAV is Trevor’s game – he’s the only character who could, believably, be driving to a side mission, get clipped by another motorist, then flip out and kill 50 people with a rocket launcher. That’s just who Trevor is. So what if, after the game’s bank heist intro, you wake up as Trevor ten years later, not Michael or Franklin. You still follow the same narrative, finding out Michael’s alive and planning heists together, but Trevor does all the point-to-point, free-roaming legwork. And if you feel like nicking a plane, beating up a pedestrian or knocking over a liquor store on the way, well, that’s just Trevor being Trevor.

You wouldn’t have to get rid of Michael and Franklin, or even relegate them to NPC status. You’d still play as them, but it would be contextual. So, once Trevor has sourced whatever macguffins are needed for a heist, you switch to Michael stepping through the revolving doors of the Maze Bank of Los Santos. The heist is Michael’s show – any and all security that needs to be bypassed, tellers that need intimidating, police shootouts that the robbery incurs are his to deal with. And once you’ve made good your escape, you switch back to Trevor.

Yes, that would shift the balance of gameplay time toward Trevor and away from Michael and Franklin. But so what? Outside of their storylines (and ignoring superficial special abilities), all the characters play the same way anyway – same guns, same vehicles, same city. All you would lose would be a few hours of Michael or Franklin driving from one checkpoint to another, replaced by Trevor driving the exact same route. That’s not a big sacrifice.

I don’t have issues with GTAV’s story and characters. It’s sleazy and misogynistic, for sure, but true to its protagonists – at least in the cutscenes. But now that Rockstar has fully committed to telling grown-up stories with the series, it needs to find a way to connect the dots between what its antiheroes have to say in their story moments and what they’re allowed to do once control over them is handed back to players, who mightn’t give a toss about narrative and just want to steal a fighter jet. As the series moves to grown-up storytelling, Michael and Franklin are the sorts of characters it needs. But Trevor is the hero it deserves.


  • VoiceofTruth

    could not disagree more. hated Mike and Trevor not amused one bit found Franklin kind of bland and boring as well. Terrible characters in general for a game that was way overhyped and sold way more than it should have. Nothing special but it was fun and alot better compared to that shit piece known as GTA 4. Still San Andreas will be held as my favorite GTA for all times. I dont see any way they will top it.

    2/10, interesting attempt in reasoning but it is flaud and regardless just your opinion and nothing more.

  • Emmanuel Abner Fernandez

    I agree, one thing that threw me off was when Trevor teams up with Franklin he tries to talk gangster. In one of the missions he said “Chemberlain gang for life homie” lol this doesn’t add up, Trevor sounds out of place talking like this. The other is when Franklin tells Micheal and Trevor to shut the F*** up, the real Trevor wouldn’t allow for that, the real Trevor goes on rampage when some does something as small as talk about his mother. The last thing, Trevor and micheals dispute seemed rather childish, one second they are trying to kill each other the next they are doing missions together.

  • Matthew Farmer

    I disagree, you are all making Trevor out to be what you want, yes he is crazy and wild but from the story he is actually a little mummy’s boy and did have a softer friendlier side at times and he liked Franklin that’s why he didn’t care he used the word duck when trying to calm his “homies” down. I understand the story completely and i thinly was good, no complaints from me except they could have added more missions that effected the stock market and morcjpices to make between characters in the game. I liked the fact they had different clothing but couldn’t change some shoes with certain clothing. The most annoying thing for me in the games was that when I used to switch to Trevor he would be miles from any where with no car. I would have also liked if they were randomly dressed in things bought for their walldrobe instead of the same outfits randomly. I liked the fact Michaels family was failing and he bought them back together but think dialogue choices and activating conversations with people would have been better with positive and negative questions and answers similar in San Andreas. I also enjoyed Franklins part and gaining two crazy friends to do work with and liked the assassination missions he done for Lester; because Lester is the brains and new how to make the money in the stock market WHICH all Franklin was trying to do was “Make a bit of paper”. Loved all the different stories and characters even tho some were really annoying like that FIB agent I just wanted to ground and pound! I had hoped there was more property to buy tho rather than businesses only. 5* for me personally.