In GTA III and Vice City there are cheats which allow the player to play as NPCs since those games have a single outfits mechanic; this was scrapped in SA and IV since these games contain buyable clothing, models, and dialogue lip syncing, which will crash the game during cutscenes. There are, however, mods that allow you to play as NPCs. Beware of playing as law enforcement officers, though, as wanted levels will rise much more quickly than normal (e.g. killing two people will warrant two stars instead of one).
The pedestrians in GTA III to Vice City Stories suffered from "clumping" in which the same models of pedestrian appear very often, sometimes even two pedestrians of the same model can be seen speaking to each other. This glitch was fixed in GTA IV. Though another similar glitch, "car clumping", which causes many of the same car models to spawn together, remains. Pedestrians throughout the GTA III era are identifiable due to the repeated clothing and models.
However in GTA IV, pedestrian models are varied and there are much more of them. Two pedestrians of the same model usually never appear together on the screen at one time. In addition, certain pedestrians are only found in appropriate places, and their behavior is much more realistic and distinguishable to that particular pedestrian. For example, homeless people will hang around in back alleys, lie around on the streets and ask other people, including the protagonist for spare change. Russian immigrants will hang around Hove Beach in Broker close to where the ships dock, wealthy businessmen can be found in Downtown Algonquin, and criminals such as muggers and carjackers will hang around Bohan. Also, prostitutes only appear at night around the gritty areas of the city, while businessmen tend to be seen more frequently during the day.
Behavior includes smoking, talking on the phone, sitting on park benches and reading newspapers, conversing with others, carrying home shopping bags and generally doing things one should expect a random person on the streets to do.
Pedestrians come in all shapes, sizes, ages and ethnic groups. Each have their own dialogue, and interact with each other as well as the player. There are no child pedestrians in any GTA game, however, which is likely due to the controversies that might arise from including them in the game, considering that the player can kill any NPC in the game; the beta version of Grand Theft Auto III had schoolchildren as well as drivable school buses, but these were scrapped in the final version. Gang members may also qualify as pedestrians, but feature different behavior by often appearing in groups or in a specific area of the city since their first appearance in Grand Theft Auto 2.
Until GTA III, standard pedestrians were often deprived of details, and as such, few distinctions were made in where certain pedestrians appear and their semblances. From GTA 2 onwards, attempts were made to program gang members to appear in respective gang turf, and from GTA III onwards, civilians reflect to what city, district, time, and setting the game is in. For example, in a college area, college students are spawned, while Chinatown, Portland may feature people of Chinese ethnicity. In Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, many civilians are dressed in 80s apparel due to its time period, while the game additionally switches between pedestrians donning swimsuits and those dressed in party attires for day and night in Vice Beach. The player will also never see a homeless person in an affluent area of town, nor would they see a businessman in the country. Also, certain pedestrians, generally, drive certain vehicles. More wealthy civilians typically drive more luxurious vehicles, and poorer pedestrians typically drive less-appealing vehicles.
Pedestrians can be run over by cars, shot, and beaten up. Many leave money when they die, which can be obtained by the player. Most of the time, if a pedestrian is killed, an ambulance will show up to heal the pedestrian, at which point the pedestrian will simply get up and continue with their business. In Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories and Grand Theft Auto IV, pedestrians and cops can also swim, but only in a limit of times before dying.
Aside from the civilians who accidentally hit you with vehicles, there are even much more dangerous pedestrians. Some examples include gang members, which are particularly dangerous as they are almost always armed and will almost always fight back. Up until GTA IV, they would attack you on sight if you strolled into their turf and you had bad relations with their gang, but in GTA IV they usually leave the player alone outside of missions, unless attacked or provoked. This can happen with the Russian Mafia if you rob the Russian Shop in Broker or with any gang if you attack or provoke a gang member. In GTA SA, if the player replies negative to wearing Grove Street colors, the gang might leave the player alone. Taxi drivers and other pedestrians will often respond to carjackings by trying to pull you out and beat you. Some pedestrians will fight back when provoked or call the police. Also to look out for are street criminals who are not common, but have been reported to carjack players, pedestrians, and even police. In GTA IV, sometimes, pedestrians will come to the aid of other pedestrians if the player attacks them, or if the player attacks a female pedestrian, men may come to her aid. Also, pedestrians will sometimes come to the aid of the player if he is being attacked. In certain areas, if the player fires a weapon, a pedestrian may pull a gun and fire at the player in an act of bravery. Sometimes, when a player is committing a crime, a pedestrian will act as a Good Samaritan and try to attack and stop the player.
In the GTA III era, if the "Pedestrians have weapons" cheat is activated, then some pedestrians that are armed with guns will kill anyone who has fired a weapon. This may be a gang member, another pedestrian, the player, or even police.
List of "note worthy" pedestrians
- Sometimes in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, a glitch occurs where a pedestrian will not get killed no matter how much punishment is dealt to the them, they simply become invulnerable.
- Sometimes, specifically in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Grand Theft Auto IV, the dialogue is completely off key. For example pedestrian one may ask pedestrian two, "Wow, are you ever ugly" and pedestrian two would reply "Yeah, my cell phone is broken too".
- In GTA IV, certain pedestrians (emergency workers) such as doctors, nurses, paramedics, and fire fighters, will attack the player if provoked. Yet unlike any other pedestrian, the LCPD will simply ignore the assault, and fighting back results in a one-star wanted level. This is unusual as LCPD officers normally arrest pedestrians for fighting, however their status as honest emergency personnel may make them exempt from arrest.
- In GTA IV, some male pedestrians have female voices they use for screaming and when in pain, this is somewhat unusual, but most of them won't fight back if attacked. These pedestrian models usually have effeminate mannerisms and styles usually associated with stereotypical homosexuality, so it may be a joke on the part of the developers.
- Before the GTA IV era, pedestrians, once killed, their bodies would disappear after 2-3 minutes if not revived. In GTA IV, their bodies do not disappear until the player leaves the area.
- In all the GTA III series games, citizens have a chance of dropping large sums of cash sometimes referred to as a "jackpot" by some players. This is possibly just a glitch in programming from the money drop rate. This programming is also used when killing a drug dealer in San Andreas where on death the dealer gives large sums of cash. (Up to a few thousand dollars). Some players have obtained over 3 thousand dollars before in one kill. Sometimes, even killing a bum they may leave a few thousand dollars. It is unknown if this is a glitch or a reference to people who act like homeless people just to get money even though they are not homeless (some are actually rich). This feature is more notable in GTA III though for some reason.
- Occasionally, pedestrians are seen engaging in unique behavior. For example, both GTA San Andreas and GTA IV have pedestrians who may be encountered in scenic areas taking photographs (in GTA IV if the player stops near this NPC, she'll turn and take a photo of Niko). Another unique behavior is an NPC scripted to be shown practicing Tai Chi; such an NPC has been spotted on the beach on the east side of Bohan in GTA IV.
- Observing NPC/pedestrian behavior is an under-reported pastime in the GTA games, especially GTA IV where the AI is more advanced. For example, if you simply stand on a street corner and observe you may see any number of "natural" behaviors, such as prostitutes soliciting and being picked up by other NPCs, passengers in taxi cabs throwing litter out of the car windows, and police chasing and arresting criminals and putting them in the back of squad cars before driving away. In The Ballad of Gay Tony, NPCs may be observed outside the various nightclubs acting drunk and even vomiting.