Excellent review, and for the first time, a reviewer has played the game long enough to realise the countryside is actually the biggest part of the game! You mad points I would have made, and just like you, I gave it about 4 hours first time out and put it away. I was too young for all that gangster talk! I came back to this game about six months ago - and am still playing it! With the enbseries mod it looks fantastic and still has all the great content! There are some fantastic mods for it too!
Along with games like Daggerfall and X-Com, games like this will never be made again, games are getting smaller and simpler (i.e. Morrowind versus Oblivion, GTA San Andreas versus GTA IV), this game, like those others will go down in history as a classic, and enduring classic, and still the best GTA even AFTER GTA IV has been released!