Here is my breakdown of the game from most important to least important quality.
The new system in Resident Evil 4 revolutionized the way I look at action games. The behind-the-back camera angle makes sure that you don't see an enemy until you would actually see him in real life. Furthermore, aiming takes form in an over-the-shoulder view in which your vision is realistically constrained to the area directly in front of you. An ardent fan of the previous Resident Evil games, I still appreciated the change in control scheme.
The plot of the game unfolds very well, and the pacing makes the game flow. Very little backtracking occurs without changing the scenery and upping the action. For example, the second time you go through the little village, darkness surrounds you. Lightning becomes your only friend, illuminating the area just long enough for you to catch a glimpse of your enemies. Settings such as that scared the hell out of me and changed the area entirely, making it not feel like backtracking at all.
The AI blew me away, seeming more human than most human opponents in top rated video games. Ganados will flank you, use siege ladders to reach windows, throw things at you when you're higher than them, and take advantage of cover and high ground. Also, they quickly learn to duck out of the way of your laser sight, which forces you to find new methods until you gain the quickness to pull off a headshot.
Each bossfight takes place in a unique environment, and they all unfold differently. Offering up unique challenges, the game's bosses each possess their own terrifying set piece and personalities, and I promise that the chief of the village will scare you out of your wits the first time you fight him.
Now the bad news. This game, though revolutionary, does not deserve all of the praise it receives for being non-linear. The opening village scene impressed me and sent me into new levels of amazement. Running from house to house, frantically fighting to survive, I leapt from windows and kicked down ladders until the church bell rang. Afterwards, I found myself disappointed at the fact that only three more action sequences like that occur. For the most part, many options for cover and escape exist in the form of interactive objects, but it sort of constrains itself by pitting you against obvious and tiresome battles in which the enemy will come at you from one direction until you've killed all of them
For the most part, the game does a wonderful job of removing the player from the video game sensation. Realistic sounds and eerie environments create an enveloping atmosphere that eventually ceases to feel like a video game. Overall, the gameplay was almost perfect, only because of the few spots where I felt like I was forced into the obvious task of "kill every enemy" that plagues so many games, when I really wanted to run away and find high ground from which to fight.
Stunning doesn't even begin to describe Resident Evil 4. Crisp, detailed environments present themselves in eerie detail, supposedly only possible on the Nintendo Gamecube. Lighting, shadows, and movements don't suffer from the usual lack of attention, and even Leon's jacket moves with him and bends in the right places. Realistically detailed, the ganados' lifelike looks almost match their AI and overall creepiness in terms of horror.
Now for the bad news. Every once in a while I experienced some nasty pixelation on Leon when the game zoomed in close. The lighting on his body, done very well most of the time, sometimes causes rings of pixels to appear where the colors fade into each other. However, I have yet to see a game in which this didn't happen, so I'm going to let it fly.
That small issue aside, Resident Evil 4 looks better than any game I've played other than FEAR, which just came out. You won't find a better looking game for consoles. Period.
Resident Evil games always contain top-notch sound, and no exceptions were made when Resident Evil 4 came to the Gamecube. The voice acting retains a B-movie flair just right for the sci-fi/horror theme, and the gun noises blasted me out of my seat the first time I played. Powerful sounding and beautiful, the guns in the game each have a unique, astonishingly real sound.
Perhaps even more horrifyingly realistic than the graphics, the ganados' sounds send chills down the spine of even the hardest veteran. Speaking to each other in Spanish, they'll coordinate attacks on you and taunt you with threats that only the deranged could create. Monks in the castle and church march toward you chanting, "Muere, muere, muere," roughly translating to "Death, death, death." It helps to know Spanish, and the language translates very well.
Value makes or breaks a game, and Resident Evil 4 possesses a level of value that puts most games with good multiplayer components to shame. Open exploration allows for a different fight through all of the intense battles, and the minigames are a fun diversion when free time needs blowing.
I've played through the game 8 times already, and plan to play through it again next week. The long and involving storyline still captivates me, and I find something new each time I play. Resident Evil 4 deserved the Game of the Year title, and I hope Resident Evil 5 further improves upon the near-perfection of Resident Evil 4.