Celebrating 20 years of horror – in both the survival and action flavours – there’s no denying Resident Evil has made a great impact upon the gaming landscape. In a special series of articles, Stevivor will honour the iconic series by recounting its dark roots all the way through to its dramatic revitalisation at this year’s E3.
- Part one: The original Resident Evil
- Part two: Both Resident Evil 1.5s, bookends to Resident Evil 2
- Part three: The great PlayStation drought
- Part four: The (Capcom) five Resident Evil 4s
- Part five: Action horror and its extremes
- Part six: Those Resident Evil movies…
The title Resident Evil 1.5 has special significance as it denotes two separate games. The first was introduced to the world as a demo bundled with Capcom’s Resident Evil: Director’s Cut: Dual Shock release in 1997. Called Resident Evil 2, it’s not representative of the RE2 we actually received a year later in January of 1998.
Reportedly scrapped after development was over 70% complete, RE1.5 featured the same basic outline of the Resident Evil 2 we know and love — the zombie outbreak seen at the Spencer Mansion in Resident Evil had made its way into Raccoon City itself. Two months after the mansion incident, the Umbrella Corporation had been found out and shut down, but that brought no comfort to those trapped within the fallen city. It featured two new protagonists — a rookie police officer named Leon S. Kennedy, and a college student and motorcycle racer vacationing in Raccoon City named Elsa Walker. As in the original game, you played as either character and that choice determined who assisted you in-game. Elsa was joined by a young girl named Sherry Birkin and a scientist named John, while Leon had the help of fellow officer Marvin Branagh and a researcher called Ada.
While those familiar with the actual release of Resident Evil 2 can already see similarities, not everything planned in Resident Evil 1.5 made it to fruition. Both Leon and Elsa could equip protective gear in the demo, and a decreased polygon count in enemy models meant far more zombies could be rendered on-screen at the same time. Over time these mechanics were scrapped; so too were many of the principal locations, replaced with more extravagant, exaggerated options like the museum-esque Raccoon City Police Department. The biggest omission in the changeover from Resident Evil 1.5 to Resident Evil 2 was Elsa, replaced by Claire Redfield, the sister of Resident Evil‘s protagonist Chris.
It was too late, though — the cat was out of the bag; Elsa had already cemented herself in the hearts and minds of Resident Evil fans. To this day, a loyal group of enthusiasts continue work on the Resident Evil 1.5 restoration project, with the intent of making a playable version of the game available to the general public. You can see their work — and what Resident Evil 2 could have been in its 1.5 iteration — above.
This isn’t to say the final delivered product disappointed; quite the opposite, in fact. Split over two PlayStation discs, RE2 had four different scenarios to play through, termed Leon A and Claire B and — you guessed it — Claire A and Leon B. Its Zapping system meant gameplay in either A campaign affected its B scenario; take a weapon or an inventory-increasing side pack in one, and it wouldn’t be available in the other. Ada and John remained in the finished product, but in different roles; Ada’s would lead to several reappearances in subsequent sequels.
Zombies continued to be a staple, but Hunters made way for a new enemy — the iconic Licker, a demonic-looking being with an exposed cerebellum, viciously sharp teeth and a ridiculously long tongue. Realising the Umbrella Corporation had engrossed players, Capcom wisely left the company in operation, further expanding the universe with the G-virus, a strain made by Sherry Birkin’s father, William. Said virus also made for horrifying new Umbrella constructs such as Birkin, a hideously deformed being with a giant eye upon his shoulder — perfect for hunting down his own daughter.
Resident Evil 2 remains my favourite game in the franchise, captivating me as a 16-year-old. As the first of my friends to have a copy, I remember filling my lounge room upon purchase, showing classmates just how lifelike the opening FMV was (note to 16-year-old me from 34-year-old me: it wasn’t). Unlike Resident Evil two years earlier, no one stayed around to watch me play afterward — everyone wanted to experience Resident Evil 2 first-hand.
Like Resident Evil before it, the final version of RE2 has seen its fair share of re-releases and ports. First, a Dual Shock Version on PlayStation, followed by ports to Windows PC, Nintendo 64, Sega Dreamcast and finally a release on the Nintendo GameCube (but unlike Resident Evil, RE2 was ported to GameCube unmodified, not remade). It’s also available on PS3 and PS Vita thanks to its PSone Classics program. In recent months, Capcom has confirmed a Resident Evil 2 remake is in the works, presumably done in the style of the GameCube’s Resident Evil remake, which has since been restored in HD for PS4 and Xbox One. More than likely, the remake won’t feature the amazing — originally Canadian — voice acting talents of Paul Haddad as Leon and Alyson Court as Claire.
As an aside, it was pretty damn weird as an adult to realise one of my favourite children’s entertainers voiced bad-ass Claire.
The Return of Resident Evil 1.5
Series creator Shinji Mikami has a cruel sense of humour. He gave both the unpublished Resident Evil 2 demo and what eventually became Resident Evil 3 the same codename (of a sort): Resident Evil 1.5. What we know as RE3 was first called Biohazard 1.5 (or 1.9) by Mikami, in line with the Japanese naming convention. He intended for the codename to make it to retail, but the idea was scrapped in order to keep the established numbering system continual and simplified. Even though work on the game began after Resident Evil 2, the codename arose because RE3 starts before RE2 and then jumps, midway, to a point in time after the second game.
Released in 1999 with a story penned by Capcom writer Yasuhisa Kawamura — an outsider to the franchise — RE3 was originally slated to follow a new protagonist before Resident Evil‘s Jill Valentine was slotted into the role. Like the Elsa-to-Claire swap, the change to Jill was made to help build up the Resident Evil franchise like a Hollywood blockbuster. Using many franchise staples — set camera angles, pre-rendered backgrounds and tank controls — RE3 was the first to have a single main protagonist in one campaign; though Valentine is aided by U.B.C.S. soldier Carlos Oliveira, who becomes playable at one point.
Resident Evil 3 also took the notion of the Tyrant — a high-level boss in previous games — and modified it so that one stalked you throughout the game. The titular Nemesis to Valentine herself, you can see the behemoth in action below.
A new addition to the series, seen only in RE3, occurred directly after the sequence above. After the Nemesis attack, the action pauses and presents the player with two choices; in the case above, it was fight or flee. Choosing one or the other impacts gameplay significantly — if Jill chooses to fight, she can (hopefully) avoid the Nemesis’ attacks and run to the corpse of Brad — the now-deceased S.T.A.R.S. member seen above — to get his keycard, providing easier access within the Raccoon City Police Department. If Jill chooses to flee, she can’t get Brad’s card and is forced to find another down the track. These interactive choices occur regularly within the storyline.
RE3 is also to thank for the first introduction of The Mercenaries, a take it or leave it arcade-style bonus mode. More welcomed were bullet crafting mechanics and the ability to perform a quick dodge and 180-degree quick turn, the latter of which becoming a staple in Resident Evil 4, 5 and 6.
As is standard, Resident Evil 3 has seen subsequent ports to Windows PC, Dreamcast and GameCube, and too can be played on PS3 and Vita via the PSone Classics program. It also holds the honour of being the last main title in the series to debut as (at least, a timed) exclusive on PlayStation. In fact, it would be a good long while before a main Resident Evil game would get back to a PlayStation of any kind.
But that’s a story for another time.