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So, I've had GTA4 for some time now, but I never really made much progress in it. A couple weeks ago, I started a new game, determined to see the ending.

One of the design choices is really annoying me: friendship. If you hang out with certain NPCs, it makes them like you more and eventually gives you access to a special ability of theirs. If Little Jacob the Jamaican drug dealer likes you, for example, you can call him up and he'll bring a car full of weapons to your location, and sell them to you at a discounted price. Convenient, but not earth-shattering, particularly given that you'll almost certainly have more money than you can easily spend around the midpoint of the game.

The problem is that friendship activities are, frankly, boring as fuck. Maybe it's just me, but I play GTA to drive really fast and blow shit up. Hanging out with NPCs means doing things like playing pool, playing darts, getting drunk, or going to a strip club. The strip club is really creepy, since GTA4's character models aren't quite good enough to get out of the uncanny valley, you know?

It feels like Rockstar decided to focus on a realistic portrayal of a criminal's life at the expense of making a fun game.
tasti man LH
...which, come GTAV, is no longer an issue as hanging out with NPCs is purely optional.
I think GTAIV was indeed fun from a story-telling, 'real world' standpoint. I did enjoy it, although at times it got tedious. And the change of pacing was nice. But you're right, it was too much. It was further complicated by the characters lacking any real depth. I didn't enjoy the dates because it was 5 minutes of idle chatter about work. I didn't care about the women because they were boring. I could enjoy a 'dating game' component, but it requires real investment on the part of the scriptwriters to get there. Playing bowling five times won't cut it.

My understanding is, that's what helped Saints Row do so well; it filled that niche better.
The friendship mini-game was all about giving you minor bennies for playing the other mini-games that went along with it. Some of the friendship benefits were useful as all get out, and some of them were just fun. Consider if you make friends with Dwayne, you can call him and get some gangsters to to drive-bys with, and one of the girlfriends will remove 3 stars from your wanted level. Packey's car bombs can help you breeze through some hard missions.
To me, the great joy of GTA4 wasn't the side games, or even the plot. It was exploring what Rockstar had done with NYC, since I was living in the area at the time. The only part of the dating thing i found amusing was reading the blogger's posts after taking her out. The rest were pretty dull, and the same was true for pretty much all the characters. Lost and the Damned and Ballad of Gay Tony were much better stories than that of Nico Bellic. I'll admit that seeing the three character stories interwoven was pretty neat, though.

As for the mini-games themselves, GTA5 is vastly superior.
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