Ideas go through many iterations. That can simply be the first draft of a book, a demo phase of a song, a test screening for a film, or a vertical slice of a video game. It can also extend to offshoots, spinoffs, and entirely new creations. Experimentation brings freshness and means some tantalizing ideas can get left behind.
Resident Evil has a history of its games having multiple iterations or spawning other games entirely. Resident Evil 4, for example, went through three different incarnations until it changed into the final incarnation we’ve all played today, while also spawning Devil May Cry. Onimusha was a test of how the Resident Evil engine could work in an earlier time period, but further ideas and the team’s enthusiasm helped spawn it into its own series. But no other game’s history has been a topic of discussion for as long as that of Resident Evil 2 and the version that almost was.
From magazine clippings and videos sent from Capcom themselves in 1997, the fascination with what has been dubbed Resident Evil 1.5 has endured all the way up to the upcoming Resident Evil 2 remake, 21 years after the original’s release. To try and simplify what happened and why it continues to be a talking point amongst Resident Evil fans, I’ve written up a story of just what happened, and what the alternate history of Resident Evil 2 could have been.
We start in March of 1996, when the original Resident Evil was released to great acclaim and success around the world. The term ‘Survival Horror’ had been coined, and it’s a term that still lives on today. The producer of the series, Shinji Mikami, had begun work on a sequel only a month after its Japanese release, with an aim to release the game the following year.
The plot loosely followed what remains in the final version today, of the T-Virus spreading to Racoon City, and putting you in control of one of two characters. But the big-bad of the series, the ‘Umbrella Corporation’, had been shut down prior to the events of this game, so it was a story of finding ex-employees of the corporation.
Leon Kennedy is still there as the new recruit to the Raccoon City Police Department, virtually identical to the Leon we get in the final game, but with regards to the second character, instead of playing as Chris Redfield’s sister Claire, it was first set to be a college student and motorcycle racer, ‘Elza Walker’, vacationing in the city when the outbreak occurs. From the screenshots, Elza was a blonde college student, where she would eventually receive the help of Sherry Birkin and ‘John’, who would later be retconned as the gun-shop owner, Robert Kendo in the final version.
Unlike the scenarios and the crossing of paths that you would encounter with Leon and Claire in the final game, here they would each have their own self-contained story, but you would both start at the roof of the Police Department, near the Helipad.
With regards to the Police Department, it was totally different, with a ‘futuristic’ look which would have fit well into a film like Robocop, with metal, light blue and silver being a constant theme across the department’s rooms and halls.
Leon would be aided by two characters, both rejigged for the final release. Marvin would aid you across the game, eventually meeting you in the sewers, while Linda was an ex-Umbrella scientist, aiding you against certain bosses. If these sound familiar, that’s because they are. Marvin, a wounded cop, was reduced to a cameo appearance at the beginning of Resident Evil 2 (though he appears to get a little more screentime in the remake) and, when certain conditions were met in Resident Evil 3, you would encounter him again.
Linda was retconned into Ada Wong, the agent that would appear in Leon’s story, and become a favorite that went on to feature in Resident Evil games for years to come.
Even the enemies underwent an overhaul, from their effect on Leon and Elza, to their appearance. First of all, the developers wanted claustrophobia to be a constant theme throughout the game, and so the decision was made to reduce the number of polygons on the enemies so that more of them could appear at the same point. They would also have the ability to damage the players’ clothing and to have the effects be permanent as the game progressed, a constant reminder of the battles the player had faced along the way.
Two particular enemies were implemented, then later scrapped and have yet to appear in any subsequent game since. One highlight for me, was a zombified ape would have jumped through a window of an Umbrella truck in the RPD Parking Lot, and through the vents of the laboratory towards the end of the game.
Another which would have been a certain entry in a previous article of mine, was to be a man-spider. Not a Spider-Man inspired inclusion, but the reverse of where a man and a tarantula would have mutated, culminating into it roaming the laboratory as well, and even fighting this version’s Birkin monster, as seen in a trailer from early 1997.
Production was going full-speed ahead, but in the background, doubts had started to seep into the team. Namely to Shinji Mikami and director Hideki Kamiya. They felt that, even with 70% of the game complete, it didn’t feel fun, and hardly a worthy sequel to what came the year before.
In an interview a few years later, Shinji Mikami, mentioned that development had reached a point where it could be played from start to finish, and at this 70% completed rate, it felt boring to play, and they would have regretted the entry if it came to be released. With that, development was restarted and it resulted in two releases.
One was Resident Evil: The Directors Cut, which was Mikami’s way of ‘apologising’ for the game not meeting a 1997 release. The second was the final Resident Evil 2 we received in January of 1998, which happily resulted in critical acclaim and a legion of adoring fans, which certainly led to the upcoming remake being such a hot commodity.
Ever since the development story occurred, fans have been curious as to what could have been, and in 2013, fifteen years after the release of Resident Evil 2, a build was leaked to the community, showing a 40% complete version of what was now dubbed, ‘Resident Evil 1.5’. This build has the name of ‘Magic Zombie Door’, which was regarded as a holy grail of leaked games. Some famous game leaks had occurred before, such as a beta of Sonic 2, which had been in fact, stolen at a toy fair in 1992, and leaked to sites in 1998. Or Starfox 2, a game which was eventually released onto the SNES Classic in 2017.
This, however, had the unique recognition of being a game that was on a very different path compared to its final incarnation. The theme and story were similar to the final version, but the game itself was largely different to what we received, from Elza Walker, the more futuristic Police Station, and much, much more.
Playing through the leaked build was, of course, fraught with problems. It could crash at random if you enter a door or trigger a path that hasn’t been programmed as yet, leaving a bit of a broken mess, which is naturally expected for a build so early in its development cycle. What makes it unique and exciting, is that you’re playing something that could have been. An alternate path of what you could have been playing on your original PlayStation in 1998 (well, 1997 if all had gone right). That causes it to be immensely alluring and only makes you want to see what else the build could have contained.
The team that leaked it also have been attempting to rebuild what the game was leading to for its finished product, and to do this, they have been scouring magazines, trailers, and even asking Mr. Kiyama on Twitter for advice on where certain enemies were supposed to spawn from.
‘MartinBioHazard’ is known for updating the original Resident Evil 1.5 leaks with new connectors to other rooms. In this thread, he has has been able to combine the work of other teams’ efforts with restoring certain content to some rooms, while also adding dialogue to the characters.
For example, this video tries to remake what was originally intended for the final version, of the ape jumping out of the Umbrella van, while the character of ‘Linda’ is now renamed Ada, to better reflect who the character would later become.
A casual search on YouTube will show many videos of Resident Evil 1.5 uploaded, such as the one below from ‘BlackFox2240’ that features a ‘full playthrough’ of the build.
The build has become something of a touchstone for what the game could have been, and how the struggle of one game’s development led the next entry to become one that is still well-loved today. The developers are still asked about Resident Evil 1.5 of course, with interviews still being unearthed today (such as this one).
Curiosity is a human nature that defines many. It can drive individuals to seek out the truth of certain topics, while also working on certain passions to see what any further outcome could be. With Resident Evil 2, the story of its beginnings and what could have been, seems to be concluding with the coming remake.
A DLC costume of Elza’s uniform from Resident Evil 1.5 is going to be available to download for Claire, and it’s a great touch that acknowledges just what could have been. In an alternate history, perhaps we could have been downloading a DLC costume of Claire Redfield for Elza Walker, and reminiscing of stories of when we had to fight a giant ape.