In 1996, one month after the release of the surprise hit Resident Evil, Capcom initiated development on a sequel, headed by creator Shinji Mikami. While several key elements will sound familiar to fans today – including a zombie outbreak plaguing the sleepy mountain town of Raccoon City and rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy’s desperate fight through an overrun police station – this original build of Resident Evil 2 would never see release.
Somewhere between 60 and 80 percent complete, Mikami scrapped the entire game, criticizing the gameplay and locations as “dull and boring." Now commonly referred to as Resident Evil 1.5, the initial build’s stark differences from the final game’s design seem anything but boring to fans who would go on to pour over short, blurry YouTube videos showcasing the cancelled title.
The development staff created two separate campaigns; one starring Leon and another featuring a young collegiate and motorcycle enthusiast, Elza Walker, the prototype for Claire Redfield. Unlike RE2, Leon and Elza’s paths never crossed nor did the events they witness overlap, and the survivors they encountered (such as Sherry Birkin, an early Ada named "Linda,” and Officer Marvin Branagh) played more crucial supporting roles, some joining you to the very end of the story.
The changes don’t stop there. The RPD station, instead of a retrofitted library, featured a more modern aesthetic with pre-rendered backdrops changing in reaction to pivotal story events. Damage received was realistically reflected on your character’s clothing. B.O.W.s that didn’t make the final cut populate this proto-Raccoon City. Even gameplay saw divergence; a lower polygon count on zombies allowed for far more of them to appear (everywhere), overwhelming players as they struggled to survive. To counter this, you could equip Leon or Elza with items like protective gear, predating RE4’s use of body armor.
Resident Evil 2 in its final form still ranks as my favorite game, bar none. Taking into account its universal praise, I’m not the only one that has mad love for the ‘98 survival horror. But RE1.5 is the illustrious white whale of unreleased video games. It’s a portal to an alternate timeline depicting a markedly different creative direction that was supposed to serve as a closed-ended conclusion to the Resident Evil saga.
Well, an early version of it, anyway. An enterprising roundtable of talented fans undertook the task of privately restoring the Alpha code for a game that, up until now, many figured would never surface. Download the game as is, however, and you’ll be treated to “an unstable mess." Calling the build glitchy undersells it; rooms are missing, saving doesn’t function properly, it’s prone to crash sporadically and the devs warn against a nasty bug named "Air Jesus” that they can only ominously describe to cause “…undesirable results.”
This isn’t a matter of “You Get What You Pay For." The restoration group made the tough choice to release this build to circumvent the devious efforts of a "Colvin,” a scam artist – (well, “artist” is stretching it; “asshole” is better) – who has actively tried to profit off of the non-profit efforts dedicated to the project. The Resident Evil 1.5 Restoration Project promises this unfortunate build far from represents their current progress on the game, and that the final release will be well worth the wait.
Again, Resident Evil 2 is tops in my book. But a workable build of Resident Evil 1.5 is a What If? I cannot, in good fanboy conscience, pass up. If you relished the item managing, ammo conserving, nerve wracking days of olde, chances are you can’t pass it up either.