Cops, Pedestrians, and Lap Dances
Yet even though the character of Liberty City isn't quite as pronounced as its preceding burgs, there are more buildings that you can enter, giving the game more of a sandbox feel than its predecessors. Pedestrians all seem to look different, too, giving the streets an authentic urban vibe. No more clone factory workers or Latino thugs patrolling their neighborhoods. Body types are similar, although clothing is so varied that you might as well be looking at totally different people. Car models still seem to get stuck on repeat, though. It's a little jarring to see what looks like a parade of Stallions driving through what otherwise appears to be a totally authentic city. Dialogue variety is incredible. It even changes if you have to repeat a mission. At times, you're tempted to fail a couple of times on purpose just to hear what else Niko has to say, as these repeats inevitably give you greater insight into his character. And through some 50 hours of play, I can't remember hearing the same comments from passersby twice.
I wasn't quite as enamored of some of the other added attractions. GTA IV offers up all sorts of pastimes to keep Niko occupied when he's not killing to win friends and influence people, though most of these options are repetitive and rather dull. They flesh out Liberty City as a real place, yet at the same time aren't all that engaging. Dating and socializing with friends (which involves the same activities, less the chance of getting some action at the end of the night) are both kind of lame. Still, you've got a good half-dozen options for every date or night out with a friend. You can throw darts, shoot pool, go bowling, get hammered and drive drunk, check out a surreal cabaret show, line up dates via an online matchmaking site, and hit a strip club for some amazingly raunchy lap dances. Seriously. There are more sex positions mimed in the lap dances than anything available in a Hot Coffee-enabled San Andreas, so I'm a little amazed that the game got an M rating from the ESRB.
Anyhow, I got some chuckles out of all of these options, although they mostly wore out their welcomes pretty fast. Only the internet dating had me enjoying coming back for more, just because the potential of hooking up with freaks was too hard to resist. Unfortunately, you're sort of roped into taking part in these mini-games, as you need to go on nights out to make friends, and you need friends to open up all mission opportunities as well as make available sideline business opportunities like driving Roman's cab, making deliveries for an incomprehensible dope king, and more. Buddies can sometimes help you out in missions, as well, but the payoff isn't very good considering the incredible amount of time you have to waste on boring nights out to gain their friendship.
And the radio stations, well, suck. Although randomized track lists and more mentions of what's happening in your game are impressive changes, there just isn't anything close to the song variety that was present in San Andreas. You can spin around a dial with loads of options than run from talk radio to ambient rock, but most tunes are either third-raters you'll barely remember, like Heart's "Straight On" and ZZ Top's "Thug," or anonymous rap or alt-rock. Yes, I'm a mid-30s white guy, and maybe not the core audience for GTA anymore. Still, I can't really see even a young 20-something getting all fired up over a soundtrack featuring Murphy's Law, Juliette and the Licks, and Jill Scott. I actually found myself listening to the jazz station, as it included some catchy Count Basie and Duke Ellington, and wasn't as irritating as the alternatives. Man, I may be older than I thought. Oh, and one more gripe--whoever decided to cut off the end of Black Sabbath's "Heaven and Hell" with DJ patter needs to be shot.