You’re moving as fast as you can, but you can hear the sirens getting closer. You hop a fence and straight across the parking lot is your escape. With a final surge, you push toward your only chance for freedom. Finally, you reach the car. You break open the window, hot-wire the ignition, and…
Change the radio station! Because who could possibly narrowly escape Los Santos’ finest to country music?
With Grand Theft Auto V finally releasing to the masses it’s time to take a look at the wonder that is in-game radio. For a long time now radio has been a must in open world games set in realistic locales. Every game has music, and that’s great, but I’m talking about full on, real deal, radio that blasts from your vehicle as you go to wherever the hell you want. Grand Theft Auto does it best, in my opinion, but those games certainly weren't the first to create this wonderful heard but not seen aspect. Let’s take a look at some of my favorite and most memorable radio buzzing in the virtual ether.
Grand Theft Auto
Okay, let’s get this one out of the way. The mac daddy of all in-game radio belongs to Rockstar. Each game has had a multitude of stations: from classic rock, to reggae, to the always brilliant, and hilarious, talk radio. Scripted talk in between songs and gut-busting commercials made it feel like you were actually listening to a psychotic city’s station. It’s hard to top the righteous amount of licensed 80’s tunes that Vice City managed to string together in a comedic and unforgettable way, or easy to match the gangster vibe and chill California tunage that San Andreas blasted. GTA 4 had a decent and sizable selection, and allowed personal playlists, but it felt a little less fun and goofy (much like the rest of the game). I personally think Grand Theft Auto 3 had some of the best laughs with Chatterbox FM, and Lazlow always knows how to make me laugh. In fact, I thought it was so good I even thought about getting into radio at the time. Really glad I didn't…
Chatterbox FM with Lazlow - GTA III
Emotion 98.3 with Fernando Martinez - Vice City
Every Single GTA Commercial
Grand Theft Auto’s younger, crazy step-brother that got in to all the wrong stuff; Saint’s Row is a cavalcade of bizarre and awesomeness that’s nicely packaged with some sweet, sweet tunage. Admittedly, I haven’t played the third or fourth installment, but radio is radio. The best part is a lot of the tracks aren’t insanely popular songs that everyone has heard a million times before shopping at the mall. No, I was wrong. The actual best part is that you can take the tracks you like and compile them into a mixtape that plays instead of a station, allowing you skip past all the fluff and songs that make you want to run over innocent pedestrians. Wait… maybe I’ll just crank the radio station.
KRHYME 95.4 - Saints Row 2
K-12 97.6 - Saints Row the Third
Radio Commercials - Saints Row the Third
Ah, Fallout. There is not a lot about these games I don’t like. The gameplay is superb, the story is terrific if you get into it, and there’s an unusual creepiness that seeps out of every locale in the game. If I had to complain, however, I would say the radio stations were too short! They have some great music, and some cool story elements that you can get involved with, but don’t let that radio of yours loop too long… Unless you want them spurs to jingle jangle jingle again. The track selection is truly great, though, and who doesn’t like the wise and soothing voice of Three Dog?
Galaxy News Radio – Fallout 3
Kay Kyser & His Orchestra "Jingle Jangle Jingle" - Fallout: New Vegas
The Ink Spots "I don't Want to Set the World on Fire" - Fallout 3
I love the Mafia games, and their setting is why. Driving around in classic cars and taking care of business Mafioso style called for a soundtrack that was period and powerful. The traditional jazz sounds and soft tempo of the vocals take you back in time to where a nice suit and respect was everything. In Mafia 2 the story goes from the 40s into the 50s, you get two generations of classy music. Another cool thing is certain songs will play through the radio at specific scripted times during missions. Finishing a job and walking calmly back to your car, turning on the radio and listening to a sad singer croon made me feel like more of a badass than any heavy metal shred could. Now what do I do with this bloody bat?
The Andrews Sisters "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" - Mafia 2
Empire Central Radio "That's Amore" - Mafia 2
When Crackdown came out it was exactly what I wanted. I wanted an open world, I wanted to be a cop, and I wanted to feel like a super-powered crime sweeper. Thank you. The soundtrack was pretty epic, featuring 105 tracks! Each gang had their own type of music and you could always tell what part of Pacific City you were in. Not every aspect of the game is perfect, but I could jump around collecting orbs, listening to this game’s sinister soundtrack all day.
Civilian Radio - Crackdown 2
Jet Set Radio + Jet Set Radio Future
Where to begin!? The Jet Set games are some of my favorite of all time, and not just for the music. Skating around Tokyo couldn’t have sounded better, and with each track Hideki Naganuma blasted your ear holes with mixed stereo magic. I ordered the soundtrack from Japan the moment I finished the game, and I still listen to it regularly. The tracks are instantly recognizable and so is the freshest voice in future Tokyo, DJ Professor K. The set up for the radio isn’t quite as realistic as GTA’s, but I bet you a pair of shiny new roller blades that you rock out while you tag up the city.
Jet Set Radio
Hideki Naganuma "The Concept of Love" - JSRF
Jet Set Radio Future
Simcopter was my first experience with in-game radio and one of my favorite games when I was younger. I played all the Sim games and helicopters were an obsession when I was a kid, so this game was a no-brainer. I was completely blown away when I realized you could get out of your chopper and walk around, and the radio was something entirely new and pulled me into the game. It wasn’t much, but it sounded like real radio and made flying around the city putting out fires that much more enjoyable. The graphics are dated now, but they still have a certain charm to them, and the sense of humor the game carried itself with was excellent. From the moment I played SimCopter the first time all I wanted was more games with legit sounding radio.
I know is there so much more great in-game radio out there, but these are just some of my favorites. Feel free to post other examples below and share the radical, radio goodness. In-game radio is here to stay, and it looks like Grand Theft Auto V is going to take it to the next level. Hopefully there’s some good talk radio in there with my favorite host; the snarky, sarcastic radio god Lazlow. So, good people of the game world… DO touch that dial, find your favorite station, and crank it!
Bonus! Here are a few GTA V radio samples to get you excited if you haven't heard them (or if you're not playing already!):