The History of Resident Evil 1.5
How does a game once lost to time (and eventually pieced together by fans) hold up as its own entry to the Resident Evil franchise?
I recall reading my gaming magazine as a kid near nine or ten years of age alongside the cool soothing sounds of dial-up internet. I quickly became excited seeing the news that Resident Evil 2 was continuing the nightmare, a sequel to one of my favorite games at the time, and still, to this day. Like it was yesterday, the imagery displayed in the magazine of a cold blue-monochromatic police station with graphically improved rendered backgrounds, new enemies, and character models teased me. When it was finally released, however, I needed clarification. This game seemed different than what was advertised. Was I misremembering what I saw in magazines, or did I confuse it with another game? What happened to the police station I had briefly familiarized myself with, and why do the models look slightly different? It wasn't until I was older I understood what had happened.
Nearing the original intended release of Resident Evil 2 back in March of 1997, developers were dissatisfied with the results and pulled the plug on their nearly complete game. At an estimated 80% of completion and nearing their gold disc burn, Capcom trashed their upcoming Resident Evil sequel and rebuilt it from the ground up.
All the press releases in gaming magazines and advertisements, building up hype to its release, were meaningless, and this version of Resident Evil was lost to time. As those who grew up with the original Resident Evil 2, so did the internet. Around 2013, Resident Evil 1.5 leaked onto the net, and the mod community quickly jumped on this opportunity to rebuild this lost piece of art. This leak was the coup de grâce for diehard Resident Evil fans. Resident Evil 1.5 is the title given by diehard fans as it resembles what could have been and what so many dreamed of playing one day. As time passed, Resident Evil lovers of that era began diligently piecing together 90s code like a delicate puzzle, filling in gaps where needed, and uploading their findings, trying to rebuild what was once lost. As a diehard Resident Evil fan, I had to try this and play it for myself. This Resident Evil was the game I had always wished to play, and without a doubt, it's everything I had hoped for. Let's look at what Resident Evil 2 could have been.
Resident Evil 1.5 was quite different from its final retail release. The absence of Claire Redfield, S.T.A.R.S. team member Chris Redfield's sister, is absent and one of the more noticeable changes off the bat. She was replaced with motorcycle enthusiast Elza Walker who was returning to Racoon City from vacation. An ode to her can be seen in the recent remake of Resident Evil 2 as a bonus outfit for Claire. She dons Elza's motorcycle armored bodysuit.
In Elza's campaign, she runs into supporting characters such as Sherry and others named Roy, a police officer, and a civilian named John. When returning to Racoon City from vacation, she crashes her bike, presumably avoiding a threat, into the lobby of the Racoon City Police Department (R.P.D.).
John is found locked in a cell, much like Ben from the final version. John would become Robert Kendo of Kedno's Gunshop in the retail release. John and Roy appeared to be acquaintances in this prototype and played a part in helping Elza. In hopes of helping, Roy gives Elza the key to John's cell. Upon his release and joining Elza, they discover Roy sick and transformed into a Zombie, forcing John's hand in killing his friend. This mini-story is similar to Marvin's as, like Roy, Marvin gets sick and transforms into a zombie. It's assumed that Roy was changed in Resident Evil 2 into Marvin, who we all came to know and love. The overall story for Elza is essentially the same as Claire's (other than looking for Chris). She must find her way out of the police station and city while rescuing others. One big difference here, however, is the original design of Resident Evil 1.5 reveals Leon and Elza were never to meet as their stories do not intertwine with one another.
Leon's story is relatively similar to Resident Evil 2, with only one significant difference. He is still a rookie cop but is not arriving for his first day. He is already on duty during the outbreak and is left to defend the police station alone. Leon's story begins with him atop the station's helipad waiting for his evac chopper, which ends up crashing on its rendezvous with Leon. This incident forces Leon to find an alternate escape. Marvin is still a supporting character in Leon's campaign, though he was meant to be more prominent as he travels and escapes with Leon. Ada's story also resembles her final version, but she poses as an Umbrella employee named Linda, who was in police custody in Resident Evil 1.5. Don't let her fool you, though. She's still that sly double agent after the G-virus with whom we have that love-hate relationship! One character that did remain constant between both versions, though, was Chief Irons. However, the most significant difference here is he was a supporting character in both Leon's and Elza's campaigns as opposed to the wretched man we meet in Resident Evil 2.
Resident Evil 1.5 story is also different, other than the traverse for survival. In all actuality, this game is the polar opposite of the game we played as kids. In Resident Evil 2, S.T.A.R.S. members, upon their return from the Spencer Mansion incident, are mocked and laughed at when reporting their findings. No one takes them seriously, which leads to Racoon City's undoing. Though admittedly, no matter which version we go with, Racoon City is still doomed; otherwise, there'd be no game. That crafty Umbrella! In the world of Resident Evil 1.5, we find out that upon the findings reported by S.T.A.R.S. members, the R.P.D. dispatches throughout the city, taking down Umbrella and arresting executives concerning the mansion's outbreak within the depths of Racoon Forest; all leading to the outbreak of the T-virus into the city. This new outbreak was a deliberate attack by Umbrella to cease the R.P.D.'s meddling.
When comparing these two games to one another, you can't forgo the environment. Racoon City is much more fleshed out than in the final release. Racoon City in Resident Evil 1.5 is larger and more complex than retail, with more snippets, and the R.P.D. was more of a more modern design. Similar to 90s architecture with its sharp-cut right angles, it paled compared with the final version of the police station. In Resident Evil 2, the memorable and luxurious R.P.D. was a repurposed museum showcasing its grand cathedral-like foyer and vaulted ceilings.
Resident Evil 1.5 and Resident Evil 2's locales are a night and day difference.
Within the world of Resident Evil 1.5, as mentioned earlier, the overall lighting and atmosphere seem alienated compared to the final release. The police station is saturated in blue and grey muted color schemes making it feel lifeless, abandoned, cold, and lonely. The only areas where you may find the warmth of light are those with survivors, plus or minus a hallway or two. Players will also find themselves escaping into the sewers and finding their way into the secret underground Umbrella lab, much like in the final release. These areas are familiar in some ways, yet entirely different as you navigate parts that never made the final cut, all still very much populated with Bio Organic Weapons (B.O.W.), complementary of Umbrella.
Enemies in Resident Evil 1.5 were also vastly different visually and even more mechanically speaking. The multiple B.O.W. you encounter throughout has higher-grade textures wrapping their models, yet fewer polygon counts, simultaneously allowing for more enemies on the screen. This trick was a clever use of the PS1's computing power. You also encounter notable creatures that failed to make the cut for Resident Evil 2. For example, the Man-spiders, spiders with human-like characteristics, and ape zombies were removed.
However, the most extensive changes were to the zombies themselves. These zombies on steroids are no picnic to deal with. Zombies were stronger all around, dealing more damage, had more health, and offered higher resilience. Unlike the final retail version, these zombies could also be dismembered more than what is commonplace for Resident Evil 2. If severed from the waist down, they would still be active and able to crawl and inflict damage. It may sound similar to the official version but with a minor tweak. If a crawling zombie latches onto a player's ankle, they could climb up the player and potentially kill them with lethal bites.
Zombies are also capable of running after players too. Well, maybe it's more of a speedwalk.
A zombie that took a headshot and lost their head would still be able to walk and grab onto players, injuring them if not shrugged off. Additionally, they can traverse different terrain, like climbing off or onto objects to reach the player. Don't even think about letting more than one group up on you, either. YIKES! I can't stress how resilient they were to common gunfire. During my playthrough, it wasn't abnormal for a single zombie to take an entire clip from my handgun to bring it down. Their high resilience could be due to the fact it was an unfinished game. The numbers plugged into their stats could have been placeholders and still need to be fully ironed out. However, they still make formidable foes even if they were to take fewer shots.
With zombies and multiple B.O.W.s with similar statuses, how can one survive this unscathed? Sadly, Resident Evil 1.5 had an impressive library of guns that didn't make the final cut. Many different gun types were designed to be in Resident Evil 1.5, such as Browning HP, Sig Sauer P228, Beretta 93R, Glock 18, Remington 870, SPAS-12, three types of grenades (frag, napalm, acidic), a grenade launcher, the RE 1 rocket launcher, machine guns, and many more. The combat knife also had its own inventory slot and could be used when holding the aim trigger and hitting the firing button. There was also meant to be a lead pipe used for melee, giving a more extended range and providing more damage than the knife. Sadly, if you used some of these items, the game would crash as either animation was missing, code, or a multitude of reasonings.
The armament was astounding, and I didn't even cover all the weapons that were to be. Even more, the healing system, though the same, was a bit different. Again, characters would no longer limp if hurt but show battle scars, as it were. Their idle positions would change as they cradled a wound, but that was the extent of it. Herbs were initially removed and replaced with medical vials (green, blue, and red).
The first aid spray came into play again with an added antidote spray, but the exciting thing was that there may have been a primitive crafting mechanic. You could still mix the different colored medical vials, improving and changing potency, but there were interactable stations throughout the game. A generic message would read, "<name of object> is not available in this preview." This leads me to believe the game could have a simple crafting aspect. It's not much to go off of, just a hunch.
My playthrough of Resident Evil 1.5 was a trip through nostalgia that never came to be when I was growing up. I relived those snippets from ads and magazines I vividly remember. It was a great experience to play through Leon's and Elza's campaigns and see the original vision Capcom had for Resident Evil 2. With that said, I understand why Capcom pulled the plug on this version. It was enjoyable but needed work to make the Resident Evil 2 we love today. Though this was an unfinished project, the entirety of the game took roughly two hours to complete. It's relatively the same as the final version. I played 1.5 utilizing the Magic Zombie Door hack while running on the Duckstation Playstation emulator. The links to these will be available at the end of this article. It may take a little understanding and time to get this to run, but I assure you it's well worth the trouble. If you look to play this yourself, you'll have to remember that it is unfinished. In some areas, enemies may clip through or be seen from behind a wall, there may be entirely untextured rooms, and the game may even crash a few times. Save stations and other features like the item box are also nonfunctioning, so you must use an emulator's save state feature if you wish to quit and resume where you left off. Again, the developers scrapped this project at 80% completion, so modders who have made this possible have worked long and diligently to try and piece a playable version together. I can't say how much I adore them for their efforts and accomplishments. They are the reason why Resident Evil 1.5 will never die. I tip my hat to you all and am humbled by your gift to us Resident Evil fans.
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