DIGITALLY DOOMED: RESIDENT EVIL 1.5

We all have that one game that we were beyond excited for, only to find out it was canceled. Perhaps it was never even announced, quietly snuffed out to be discovered later. This can happen for many reasons, from the sudden closure of its development studio, to the unexpected decision to go in a different direction. These games were doomed to never see release, but that doesn’t mean the concepts were bad. Today I’m going to talk about one such game, known to fans as Resident Evil 1.5, which never saw the light of day.

Resident Evil is my favorite series, which will be obvious to anyone who takes a quick peek at my brief history here at MONG. Although my personal favorite is a remake of the original, more recently re-released as Resident Evil HD, many other fans of the series still consider Resident Evil 2 (RE2) the best overall. The reasons vary from the more relatable protagonists, memorable side characters or iconic enemies. What many people don’t know is that all of these aspects were once very, very different.

Origins

The very first Resident Evil (RE1) was a massive success when it launched on Sony’s flagship PlayStation console in March 1996. Its unique blend of action, horror and brain-teasing puzzles captured the imaginations of gamers everywhere — and they were quickly begging for more. Knowing this, Capcom began work on Resident Evil 2.

Alas, it was not meant to be. This first iteration of RE2 was cancelled at a time when it was 80% completed, with the development team ordered to start again from scratch. There are two (somewhat conflicting) reasons for this: the game was looking far too similar to the first Resident Evil, while certain Capcom executives also felt that it wasn’t connected enough to its predecessor.

The rest is history, and the decision may have ultimately worked out for everyone. The released version of RE2 is immensely beloved, but longtime fans of the series have often wondered how the scrapped game — now known only as Resident Evil 1.5 (RE1.5) — would have fared. Especially because there were some revolutionary ideas dropped from the final iteration.

Gameplay

There were to be several huge, impressive new features in the abandoned RE1.5. For one thing, taking damage would leave visible tears on the clothing of protagonists Leon and Elza (more on her later), and killing an enemy in extremely close range would result in red stains. Realistic details like these were ambitious for what was to be a game released in March 1997, only one year after its prequel.

re 1.5 leon_kennedy_and_elza_walker__resident_evil_1_5_by_6s_kill9-d81rywt
Various unused vests alongside Leon and Elza’s default appearance

Both Leon and Elza could also find different types of protective vests to guard against various conditions, similarly to the tunics later used in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The red fire vest would prevent heat damage in so-called “inferno areas,” while a safety vest increased the size of each character’s inventory.

As I’m sure most would agree, the number of zombies encountered in a game like this is quite important. While the final retail version of RE2 is no slouch either, RE1.5 seemed better equipped for delivering intensity through its increased number of on-screen enemies. Not bad for an engine known for being so haphazardly developed that it couldn’t be re-used.

In a move later expanded upon by Konami with Silent Hill, Leon and Elza were to have a slightly expanded arsenal of melee weapons. In addition to the starting knife, players could later find a metal pipe with greater range and damage to aid in ammo conservation. It’s unknown whether or not more melee weapons would have been in the game, but it isn’t difficult to imagine something along the lines of an axe being available as well. How else would Leon top off his firefighter cosplay? As if the differences in this version aren’t already plentiful, thrown grenades were also intended to be a part of the usable arsenal.

The undead denizens of Raccoon City were also more capable of chasing down survivors in RE1.5, able to climb up ledges and over obstacles. Compare that to RE2, where a small group of them are easily bested by a dumpster five minutes into the game.

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Resident Evil 1.5 enemy concepts

Most surprising of all, the Licker — one of the most iconic enemies of RE2 — was entirely absent from RE1.5. Instead, players were expected to do battle with hellspawn monstrosities born of an evil person’s mind: so-called “man Spiders,” the unGodly hybrid of spider and man — and not in the superheroic way! No, these things would be present throughout the game, sometimes bursting from grates in the floor. YEAH, NO THANKS!

Other enemies remained on the cutting room floor, such as the large baboons seen in the RPD garage. The biggest question mark here remains in the form of a monster called Golgotha, the original recurring, multi-transformative boss later replaced by William Birkin. This thing likely wouldn’t have been glimpsed even if RE1.5 were released, but initial concept art is said to draw attention to its tail, which was designed to resemble the face of Albert Wesker. Wesker would later go on to become the overarching villain of the series, but one has to wonder if he nearly ended up as a monster this early on.

Story

Most people are familiar with the story of Resident Evil 2. Rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy arrives in town at the worst possible time, finding Raccoon City overrun by the undead victims of Umbrella’s T-Virus. In another part of the city, Claire Redfield (sister of Chris Redfield from RE1) rides in on her motorcycle, finding herself in the middle of the same horrors.

That’s not what was originally planned, though.

RE1.5 featured very few connections to the first game. Umbrella had been defeated following the events of the first Resident Evil, for one thing. Only its scattered ex-employees remained to stir up trouble, waiting to be arrested for their involvement in a greater conspiracy. This is in contrast to the rest of the series, where Umbrella stuck around until its stocks tanked in-between Resident Evil: Code Veronica X and Resident Evil 4.

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Elza Walker

Claire Redfield was nowhere to be seen, and in her place was a character named Elza Walker. Both young women were college students who shared a love of motorcycles, but Elza was just an ordinary citizen without any greater ties to the lore. Not much is known about her personality, though initial concept art was based on Alicia Silverstone, so chances are Elza was just a little bit Clueless. Her scenario started in the lobby of the Raccoon City Police Department (RPD), shortly after crashing her motorcycle through the front door.

While Leon was still set to be a police officer working for the RPD, his career had already started before the viral outbreak. His story began on the roof of the precinct, trying his damnedest to protect it from a relentless horde of thrashing corpses.

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The evolution of Leon S. Kennedy

The differences don’t stop there, and the plot of this canceled title is what intrigues me the most. Ada Wong, the traitorous spy who returns again and again in the series, was originally known as Linda here. Though her allegiances and morality were said to be just as grey as in RE2, she would be a scientist and former Umbrella employee not so dissimilar from Annette Birkin.

Sadistic Police Chief Brian Irons, who would go on to hunt down innocent women for sport in RE2, was instead a uniformed ally in this scrapped game. Robert Kendo, the ill-fated gunshop owner, was to be a man named John who aided Elza and could possibly survive the game. Kindly RPD officer Marvin Branagh, who dies early in the retail version, had a much larger role here and would even be playable for short portions of Leon’s story.

Although this wouldn’t inherently change the plot in any meaningful way, even the RPD precinct itself was conceived as an entirely different setting. Its final form in RE2 was that of a museum-like building renovated by the city, whereas the version in RE1.5 was actually based on American police departments. The reason for this change makes sense: in an era before widespread internet use, the development team found it impossible to obtain sufficient pictures of New York City’s precincts. Using the renovation excuse mentioned above, they would eventually skirt the issue altogether.

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Annette Birkin, Marvin Branagh, and Brian Irons’ original concept

Final Thoughts

Resident Evil 1.5 would have been an entirely different beast from what we ended up with, and I’ve always wished Capcom would polish it up and release it in some form. That wish was partially granted when it leaked to the internet in 2013. Although that particular build was only 30% completed, it contained enough data for a dedicated team of talented fans to begin restoring what seemed to be an especially promising PlayStation title. You can see their efforts in action by viewing my video above.

Beyond that, I’m holding out hope for some kind of reference to Re1.5 in the upcoming remake of Resident Evil 2. A bonus scenario featuring Elza’s struggles to survive the outbreak would be an amazing treat for fans. Or perhaps we could finally see the implementation of its best ideas, like the dynamic battle damage or additional melee weapons left out of the final release.

If nothing else, it’s interesting to ponder the alternate reality where this game was released. I like to imagine that it takes place in a time where Paul W.S. Anderson took up a career as a baker, at least giving fans a chance to get a halfway decent movie out of this franchise.


Chris Cobb works as an Associate Writer at MONG and is getting a little tired of writing about Resident Evil. Don’t be surprised if he turns to Marvel/Star Wars crossover fanfiction in the near future. Give him some plot ideas on Twitter.

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5 thoughts on “DIGITALLY DOOMED: RESIDENT EVIL 1.5”

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  2. This was a great read Chris! I enjoyed it very much. The slam to Paul Anderson at the end lol. I’ve never talked about 1.5 on my channel but it’s always interested me. I’m part of the group on facebook. I really would love to see Capcom do something with it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Capcom always fascinates me because of how drastically they’ll change each Resident Evil during development, from 1.5, the hookman version of RE4 and even the lesser-known version starring HUNK, plus the Revelations teaser which seemed to hint at a darker story with Chris Redfield.

      1.5 is especially intriguing because of how close it was to being finished. I’ve spent a lot of years thinking about it and wishing I could play a completed version, and put that passion into this article. I just wish more people read it. :p

      Like

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