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 Capcom Five
Capcom isn’t the best at learning from its mistakes.
Resident Evil moved from PlayStation to the last Sega console ever made, the Dreamcast. Not to be outdone, Capcom then made an exclusivity deal with Nintendo that not only saw the entire Resident Evil core back catalogue on the failing GameCube, but the next, new iteration of the franchise as well: Resident Evil 4.
RE4 was part of the fabled Capcom Five, a handful of titles released between 2003 and 2005, each designed to boost GameCube sales and show that Nintendo’s troubled console could still garner third-party support. RE4 was joined by P.N. 03, Viewtiful Joe, Killer7 and Dead Phoenix, though in the end, only P.N. 03 would remain an actual GameCube exclusive.
Things turned sour almost immediately. Dead Phoenix was cancelled, never seeing the light of day. Killer7 wasn’t exclusive at all, heading to both PS2 and GameCube upon its release in 2005. Both Resident Evil 7 and Viewtiful Joe could only muster a period of timed exclusivity; Viewtiful Joe was released in 2003 and resulted in low sales before being ported to the PS2 a year later, while a PS2 port of RE4 was announced just two months before its GameCube debut.
Series creator Shinji Mikami famously said he would “cut his own head off” if Resident Evil 4 was ever ported. Seeing as how I met him years later at E3 2014, I can attest that he didn’t follow through with the threat.
Despite Capcom not learning from its past errors, I sure did – I ended up skipping the GameCube version of Resident Evil 4 to instead play an expanded edition on PS2. The game I ended up playing, however, was drastically different from what I and the rest of the world was expecting.
The four Resident Evil 4 prototypes
Ahead of the Capcom Five nonsense, four RE4 prototypes were made — and scrapped — before the game was released as we know and (arguably) love it. Perhaps the most famous of the four was one started in 1998, originally intended as Resident Evil 3 on the PS2. Directed by Hideki Kamiya and with an emphasis on combat and action, the title was pushed back to become RE4 after what we know as Biohazard 1.9 became Resident Evil 3.
Starring a new protagonist, Tony Regrave, and focusing on Resident Evil 2’s G-virus, the game took great inspiration from the gothic feel of classic Spanish and English architecture. In the end, Mikami felt the game was too much of a departure from the Resident Evil franchise and had those elements removed. Tony made way for a character renamed Dante; the game itself became Devil May Cry. It debuted on PS2 in 2001.
The other drastically different versions that followed were all loosely connected. Like the finished product, all three scrapped prototypes revolved around Resident Evil 2’s Leon S. Kennedy. The first iteration, known as castle “Castle”, was first shown at Tokyo Games Show 2002 and featured Leon as he moved through antagonist Oswell E. Spencer’s European castle whilst investigating the Progenitor virus.
The “Castle” version was expanded for E3 2003. Now known as “Hallucination”, it continued to develop the newly presented scenario. It was confirmed that Leon would be infected the Progenitor virus of some type, causing hallucinations generally telegraphed by a camera shake and blue filter. Whereas the “Castle” scenario showcased set camera angles, this new version moved to an over-the-shoulder camera to aim and fire. This combat camera would become a staple for the franchise and action games in general.
Perhaps the most identifiable aspect of this scenario is the fabled hook man, a supernatural enemy that was said to stalk Leon throughout the game. Ever one for grandiose statements, Mikami was quoted telling fans, “Don’t pee your pants!” in reference to this horrific iteration of the title. Footage from this prototype was included in Japan’s Biohazard 4 Secret DVD release, offered to those who pre-ordered the game.
Finally, a third version of the game was created and scrapped when GameCube technical limitations proved too much for “Hallucination”. Dubbed “Zombie”, the final prototype featured classic zombies as Leon’s cannon fodder. Considering it too formulaic by Mikami himself, Hiroshi Shibata was dumped as Director of the GameCube “exclusive” so Mikami could work some magic.
The finished product
That, Mikami did. Love it or loathe it for what it did to the franchise, it doesn’t change Resident Evil 4‘s impact on the gaming industry. The recipient of myriad Game of the Year awards in 2005, it marked a departure from survival horror to action horror. Static camera angles were dropped in favour of the aforementioned over-the-shoulder third-person view. Rather than zombies, Leon went up against Las Plagas-infected Spanish villagers, all of whom were able to strategise and work together to bring our hero down. Quick-time events littered most cutscenes, powering Leon as he dodged gigantic boulders and got into knife fights with nasty mercenaries. While the Resident Evil of the past likened to a B-grade Romero movie, RE4 was a Hollywood blockbuster, moving away from franchise tropes just as Mikami had intended.
The first twenty minutes of Resident Evil 4 is the perfect little cross-section of what to expect from the game. A dash of mystery is presented, then thrown to the wind as Leon find himself up against the entirety of a small village. As Leon tries to hole up in a small home, wave after wave of infected villagers tries to attack, pitchforks and torches in hand, as the sound of a chainsaw starts up in the distance. What follows is a balls-to-the-wall sequence where Leon has to use his wits and his pistol to come out on top. As 23 year old, I thought gaming had reached its peak, then and there.
A tension-packed experience, RE4 drew a lot of criticism from franchise faithful. For starters, Umbrella went bankrupt and folded in between the events of Code: Veronica and 4; in the end, red tape was able to do more than S.T.A.R.S. ever could. While the action-centric gameplay of RE4 is undeniably polished, many fans were expecting a style found in “Castle” and “Hallucination” and were sorely disappointed. Sales on both GameCube and PS2 spoke more to Capcom than unhappy fans — and are continually boosted with releases on Wii, Windows PC, Xbox and PlayStation. Those mostly positive reception to the title meant Resident Evil was off and running in an entirely new direction.
But that’s a story for another time.