Would an Updated Soundtrack Bring Back GTA V’s Offline Players?
Single-player may be the last thing on Rockstar’s mind, but a new GTA soundtrack might bring players like me crawling back
How do you begin to talk about Grand Theft Auto V? Do you start with the game’s incredible 2013 launch, which amassed $1 billion in revenue in just three days? Maybe with the rollout of multiplayer, which features a never-ending stream of credit card payments and random deaths by assault jets that somehow keep players (not me) returning month after month. You might even start by mentioning the rumored single-player DLC. Remember that picture of Franklin Clinton’s actor Shawn Fonteno gussied up in his mocap suit suggesting more story content?
I think it’s better, however, to start with the soundtrack. Despite the fact that GTA V is one of the greatest selling games of all time, the open-world heist film come to (digital) life has been a disappointment. Maybe not to the millions of players who continually log on to cash in their monthly million-dollar bonuses, but the game has certainly left me wanting. I put the game down some years ago when the single-player story was deemed no longer a priority and haven’t picked it up since. But I’ve never stopped loving the game’s iconic soundtrack.
Technically, my first experience with GTA V was through my college apartment’s bedroom door. A combination of paper-thin walls and noisy-ass neighbors meant I could hear everything (yes, everything). Thanks to my roommate, I went to sleep to the sound of Franklin’s engine roaring, Michael’s apathetic fathering, and Trevor’s psychotic rampages. It sucked, but I heard enough to entice me to return to the world of GTA for the first time since Grand Theft Auto 4.
Loading into Los Santos for the first time was mesmerizing. At the time I had never visited Los Angeles, but Grand Theft Auto was everything I expected it to be. Driving around the sun-drenched city was only amplified by the soundtrack, which featured everything from saccharine pop hits to synthy alternative to Latin and funk.
Stardust’s “The Music Sounds Better With You” was my first earworm from the game. Originally released in 1998, the French house cut, composed by one-half of the duo formerly known as Daft Punk (Thomas Bangalter), DJ Alex Braxe, and Benjamin Diamond, was evocative of the frivolous post-disco sound that would feel right at home in LA.
The track featured on Non-Stop Pop radio, and fit one of the many moods GTA V’s gameplay inspired. Cruising around South Los Santos in Franklin’s knock-off Dodge Charger meant my radio was dialed into Radio Los Santos while I prayed that Future and DJ Esco’s “How It Was” would play. (Kudos to Rockstar for featuring songs that weren’t tied to traditional album releases, like Tyler, the Creator’s “Garbage.” Sometimes the best cuts come from loosies or mixtapes.) If I was driving back to the city at night, the lo-fi alt-hip-hop on FlyLo FM pumped through my speakers, or when I ran mission prep I’d bump Radio Mirror Park and one of the indie Toro Y Moi tracks.
Like Grand Theft Auto games past, the GTA V soundtrack was a sign of the times. Cruising through 1984 in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City meshed perfectly with playing Luther Vandross or Mr. Mister just as flipping hydraulic switches in 1992s GTA: San Andreas called for bumping 2Pac or Zapp. Unlike these games, which largely stand as relics trapped in time, Rockstar would add to and update the soundtracks for its HD games, mixing in completely new radio stations or ripping out tracks that heard their licensing deals expire.
In 2018 for example, the PC and Xbox versions of the fourth game saw the removal of the majority of the songs featured on Vladivostok, a radio channel dedicated to Russian and Eastern European music. Notably, the removal of “Schweine” by Glukoza completely changed the tone of the game’s opening mission, swapping out a bouncy, carnival-esque tune emblematic of Roman Bellic’s forthcoming antics for the darker rap track “The Invasion” by Seryoga.
GTA V has thus far been spared the ax of mass-track removal, instead treating players to new radio stations from the likes of Frank Ocean and The Alchemist. Though some inclusions create a mild time paradox — the newer playlists feature tracks created post-2013 despite the main game occurring during that year — the music is largely on-brand. Ocean’s “Crack Rock” saddles up nicely to all of Los Santos’ broken dreams, while Curren$y’s “Fetti” is a perfectly low-key jam for a heist.
If anything, despite Rockstar’s ambivalence to improving, or even adding, single-player content to GTA V post-launch, the company’s knack for nailing the soundtrack is reason enough to anticipate the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S version. After years of waiting and wanting, I vowed not to touch Grand Theft Auto until it was accompanied by a different Roman numeral. I wouldn’t prioritize the series any more than it would prioritize its single-player mode. An updated soundtrack, however, might have me break that promise, even if my lonely solo experience is the last thing nagging at Rockstar’s incredibly deep pockets.