At least there's no difficulty in deciding who to hang out with. As you progress through the story missions - which, by the way, are structured almost exactly like every other GTA, with initials on the map indicating characters who have a job for you - you'll meet a lot of people. Some of them, Niko will become friendly with - usually after running a series of missions for them - and when that happens, you can call them up on Niko's cell phone and arrange to pick them up for activities like bowling, drinking, eating or hanging out in strip clubs. There are actually a ton of hangouts hidden across Liberty City for you to discover (including a comedy club starring a digitized Ricky Gervais), and your friends will like some better than others - meaning your relationship will improve faster if you take them there.
Once your friendship gets strong enough, you'll unlock certain benefits that your friends can provide. Roman, for example, will make his cab service freely available to you, while Rastafarian arms dealer Little Jacob will deliver high-powered weaponry to you at a fraction of the price you'll get them for in the city's back-alley gun shops. In general, these benefits are extremely useful, and well worth the occasional eye-rolling every time the needy bastards call you when you're in the middle of something else and ask to go and play pool right then.
Niko can also go on dates, and while only two girlfriends will be introduced through the story, he'll be able to meet more through a dating website. Take these women on fun dates (like with everyone else, there are places they love and hate), and they'll eventually invite Niko up for coffee, which leads to nothing more than a bunch of suggestive moaning as the camera slowly pans around outside her house. Implied sex is really the least of your rewards, though, as these women can lend you their professional expertise; call them up when your relationship is doing well, and they can give you a quick health boost, or get the cops off your case.
GTA IV's presentation is almost as staggering as its gameplay. Visually, the game looks incredible; it's no Gears of War, but it's got a whole hell of a lot more to render than a straight-up shooter does, and it makes it all look beautiful without slowing down or getting choppy. It's also got performances by what seems like a couple hundred actors (most of which recorded lines for random pedestrians), as well as 19 dynamic, diverse radio stations. The licensed music this time around runs the gamut from Eastern European pop and hardcore punk to more recognizable pop and rock songs, and of course, there are also a couple of hilarious talk stations, one led by series favorite/real-life radio personality Lazlow.
While the PS3 and 360 versions of the game are functionally identical, the PS3's visuals sport noticeably smoother edges, along with a warmer color palette that makes everything look slightly more realistic. If you're looking to compare Accomplishments with your Achievement-hoarding friends, though, forget it - GTA IV ignores these half-assed consolation prizes altogether. PS3 owners also have to put up with a nearly eight-minute installation the first time they start the game, which puts the normally slower Blu-ray load times on par with the Xbox 360 version. (That is, unless it's running on a 360 with no hard drive, which we're told will face much longer loads.)
Really, though, load times are something you'll only have to deal with during startup and when you make sudden transitions from one area of the city to another - and even then, they rarely last more than a second.
To say there's a lot to uncover in Grand Theft Auto IV is a gross understatement. There's an absolutely phenomenal amount of stuff in here, and even after you finish the story mode (which involves 90-plus missions and took us close to 40 hours, in a week spent doing almost nothing except playing the game), there's enough here to keep you occupied for months. Hell, even Niko's cell-phone is completely customizable with new themes and ringtones, and there's a ton of weird, silly things hidden on the in-game internet that many players will probably never even read. Frankly, the thing is a ridiculous value for the price; it's easily the most ambitious game ever attempted, and that it came through with only a few notable flaws is outstanding.
All that, and we haven't even talked about the multiplayer action. Better click "Next."