Twenty years after its release, Resident Evil 2 is looked at as one of the iconic games of the era. Its chilling environments, macabre story, and hideous creatures still put a chill down my spine. However, RE2 was almost a very different game. Development started just a month after the original game was completed and the projected release date was May 1997.
However, due to the breakaway success of Resident Evil, the whole project was reevaluated, and the original version of RE2 was scrapped at around 60-80% completion. Very few assets were reused from this first version, and the final product was radically different in story, environment, and structure than it was initially intended to be. Fans call this first take of the game Resident Evil 1.5 (which is what we'll use to refer to this version in the article), and below we go in-depth about this lost version of Resident Evil 2.
Resident Evil 1.5: The Characters
A lot of the aspects of Resident Evil 1.5 feel like a mirror version of RE2. Many of the characters from the final version were implemented in RE1.5, albeit in sometimes radically different forms. There were still two playable characters, but their history (and in one case their entire identity) was fundamentally different.
Leon Kennedy was one of the two playable characters. His appearance in the more complete builds of RE1.5 was very similar to his presentation in the final game, but there were some differences in how and where he started the game. Leon was a rookie cop in RE1.5 but wasn't traveling into town when it started. Instead, you start the game with him on the rooftop of the RPD, having already been on the scene and protecting the police department from the undead. Since the intro FMVs have been lost to time (or never created in the first place), we don't really have details on the events leading up to the start of his scenario. It's likely that it involved a helicopter similar to the scene on the rooftop in RE2.
In Leon's scenario, you would have met two survivors who would have helped you escape. You meet these two in the final game, but in RE1.5 their appearances and plot points would have been drastically different.
Marvin Branagh, who you will remember as the cop that gives you the Blue Keycard when you first enter the RPD as Leon and then later zombifies, played the role of one of Leon's sidekicks in RE1.5. Instead of dying right off the bat, he would help you out in the RPD and later escape into the sewers as you headed towards the Umbrella labs. His fate is unsure, but it's likely he lived for most, if not all, of the game.
One of the characters that made it mostly unchanged to the final game is Ada Wong. She plays much the same part as she does in the final game. She's an Umbrella researcher that's been sent to retrieve the G-Virus. The only real difference between her 1.5 incarnation and the final character is that she's actually a scientist in 1.5
Arguably the most significant difference between RE1.5 and the final game is that Claire Redfield wasn't originally intended to be in the game at all. Elza Walker was the original female protagonist, and though she had many of Claire's traits, including a love of motorcycles, she had no relationship with anyone in the RPD that we know of. She was a local college student in Raccoon City and fled to the RPD to seek shelter from the undead. She started the game in the lobby of the RPD after crashing her bike through the front entrance.
Elza would have had three supporting characters join her in her scenario. John was another civilian that was taking refuge in the RPD who you would have met in a prison cell. His role was divided between Robert Kendo (the gun store owner) and Ben Bertolucci (the reporter who locked himself in a jail cell in the RPD) in the final game.
Another RPD officer named Roy would have helped Elza in her adventure. He was likely Marvin's counterpart in Elza's scenario. Roy has some sort of relationship with John, and the two are likely brothers or friends. Elza would have met him in a smaller room and he would have provided the keys to John's jail cell. After rescuing John, you would have returned to find Roy was infected. He would have turned, and John would have put him down.
One of Elza's supporting characters that made it to the final game was Sherry Birkin. Just like in Claire's scenario in RE2, William Birkin would have chased after Sherry for the whole game. It's not known if Sherry was playable in RE1.5, but it appears she would have got up to the same scampering around that she does in the final game.
Characters That Appear in Both Scenarios
There were a few characters that appeared in the game regardless of who you were playing as. These three made it to the final game, but two of them were radically altered in some ways.
Annette Birkin, Sherry's mother, appeared in RE1.5 and seemed to play much the same role as she does in RE2. Whether she was as paranoid and psychotic as she is in the final isn't known, but it's likely you'd meet her in roughly the same place as you do in RE2.
One of the most shocking differences in character between Resident Evil 1.5 and RE2 is Brian Irons. Irons was originally supposed to be helpful and supportive and would have helped Leon significantly. His office wasn't the macabre mess that it was in RE2. Instead, it appeared as you would imagine an executive police official's office would.
The main baddie of RE1.5 was still William Birkin, but he lacked most of his transformations. We also don't know exactly what the circumstances of his infection is, or what his personality was like.
Resident Evil 1.5: Environments and Locations
The initial environments for Resident Evil 2 were completely different than what we see in the final for the most part. No real traces of the RPD from RE1.5 remain in RE2, though the factory and lab segments are more similar to the final product. The lab in particular retained many elements from the original design, though the puzzles and sequence of exploration were likely different.
Resident Evil 1.5 RPD
Originally the RPD was meant to look like a typical police station. Chief Irons wasn't a weird psychopath on Umbrella's payroll in RE1.5, so the whole converted art museum plotline hadn't been thought up yet. As a result, the RPD of RE1.5 has a much more sterile, modern feel. From what we've learned from leaked builds of the game and old footage and screens, the RE1.5 RPD might have been quite a bit bigger than the version we see in RE2. It had two subfloors and three above-ground levels, a parking garage, an outdoor area, and a rooftop that would have been accessible by the player.
The puzzles in the RPD wouldn't have been art related, and the items the character received to solve them wouldn't have been as unique. One of the puzzles would have included recording a character's voice so you can unlock a voice-coded lock. Another would have had you moving targets in the shooting range to open a door or gain an item. The eventual objective while in the RPD is the same as it is in the final game. You and whatever survivors were still alive would escape into the sewers and head towards the factory.
Resident Evil 1.5 Sewers and Factory
The sewers in Resident Evil 1.5 seem like they may have been smaller than the ones in RE2, and had a cleaner, brighter look. It's likely that we wouldn't have run into many puzzles in the sewers, and the main event there was a boss fight with a giant alligator. This fight made it into the final game and looks to be one of the few enemy encounters that escaped without many changes.
The sewers would lead to the Factory, which was an abandoned Umbrella front. Here you'd find a dead team of RPD investigators that were searching the facility at the time of the outbreak. The factory in Resident Evil 1.5 was more substantial than the RE2 version, and you would have likely fought Birkin for the first time here. After the fight, you and your entourage would make your way down a warehouse elevator to the Umbrella labs.
Resident Evil 1.5 Umbrella Labs
The Umbrella labs of RE1.5 made it to the final game mostly uncharged. It's very likely at least a few of the puzzles from the labs in RE1.5 made their way to RE2, but the sequence of events was somewhat different. It's here that you'd fight Birkin for the last time before boarding the escape train. The fate of the labs in 1.5 was likely the same as it was in RE2, with it self-destructing. However, it's possible the labs could have burnt down or not have been damaged at all.
Resident Evil 1.5: The Story
The story changes between RE1.5 and RE2 are significant. In RE2, Umbrella skates by reasonably unscathed after the events of the original game, and Chris and Jill aren't really taken seriously when they tell their accounts of the events at Spencer Mansion and the labs beneath.
In Resident Evil 1.5, the STARS member's testimony leads to Umbrella being closed down and its executives jailed. However, creatures who escaped from the mansion's detention, and possibly a leak in the labs beneath the factory, have spread the t-Virus to the citizens of Raccoon City. Most of the population is dead or zombified, and the few remaining are locked in a struggle for their lives in the Raccoon City Police Department.
Both Leon and Elza's scenarios had their own twists and turns, but the outcome was the same for both for the most part. Your character starts in the RPD and explores it until they meet their supporting casts. At some point, you learn that a contingent of RPD officers were investigating a factory nearby that supposedly had ties to Umbrella. The factory is accessible via the sewer system beneath the RPD, so you collect the items you need and head down there.
Once in the sewers, you fight the alligator boss and proceed to the factory where you find all the RPD officers are dead. You then fight William Birkin for the first time. In RE1.5 Birkin is still an Umbrella researcher who was infected by the G-Virus, but we don't know how or why this happens.
You find an elevator that takes you down to the Umbrella labs, and eventually, make your way to the escape train where you fight Birkin for the last time and make it out.
A lot of the story details for RE1.5 are missing. Unfortunately, we've never gotten a chance to see any of the FMVs for the game, and much of the dialog in the leaked versions of 1.5 is either missing, triggers incorrectly, or has no context. Even though the leaked build has been out for around five years, no one has taken the time to document it thoroughly, so there may still be details of the story hidden away that aren't general knowledge yet.
Resident Evil 1.5 Enemies
One of the most iconic scenes in the Resident Evil series is in RE2 when you first meet the Licker. However, RE1.5 didn't include the Licker. It did have a few enemies that didn't make it to the final game though.
The two big enemies that actually made it into RE1.5 but were scrapped for RE2 were the Man-Spider and the infected Gorilla. The Man-Spider looks like it would fight a lot like the Chimera from the original Resident Evil, and would be found in the labs. The infected Gorilla would have busted out of a van in the RPD underground parking and likely constituted a mini-boss fight. They were set to later appear in the Umbrella lab where they had escaped after being used as test subjects.
Resident Evil 1.5's zombies were noticeably more gruesome than those we got in the final game. They were gorier, and you would encounter more that had been severed at the torso. However, because the team wanted to render more of them, each zombie would be constructed of noticeably fewer polygons. This would have allowed for swarms of zombies at the expense of graphical fidelity. However, in the final game, the number of zombies permitted on-screen at once is capped at seven because of the improved player character models.
Resident Evil 1.5 Weapons, Items, and Gear
The weapons selection, what items were used for puzzles and healing, and what gear was accessible all changed between RE1.5 and RE2.
Resident Evil 1.5 Weapons
Originally Leon was supposed to be equipped with the Browning HP, Claire's starting gun in the final game. Elza would be equipped with a Sig Sauer P228, which did not make it into RE2 (however the image of this weapon is still located in the files of the RE2 Trial Version which accompanied Resident Evil: Director's Cut). The upgraded pistols for Leon and Elza would have been the Beretta 93R and Glock 18 (which would be Chris and Claire's handguns in RE: Code Veronica).
The more powerful weapons stayed largely the same in RE1.5 and RE2, but with some being cut for the final product. The Remington 870 shotgun was available for both characters, first in a version with full furniture, then later changed to what we got in RE2, a tactical version with a pistol grip. The upgraded shotgun was a SPAS-12 (which we'd finally get in Code Veronica). The Grenade Launcher was exclusive to Elza, just like it is to Claire in the final game. In RE1.5 though, Leon gets an equivalent with the Hand Grenade (which is absolutely horrible to use).
The magnum pistol for RE1.5 was the Ruger Super Redhawk, a powerful revolver instead of the semi-automatic Desert Eagle. The MAC-11 also appeared in RE1.5 but was joined by the HK51 which was more powerful. Leon could also find the Flamethrower in RE1.5, but he would get it earlier in the game by finding it in a locker in the Factory instead of in the Umbrella labs.
Resident Evil 1.5 Items
A lot of the puzzle items in RE1.5 weren't implemented in the leaked build, so we don't know exactly what they would be or how they would work. It looks like instead of the card suite keys, the RPD would have used a more conventional keycard or key system, and it's likely the sewers wouldn't have been unlocked by chess plugs or weird stones.
The most startling difference between RE1.5 and the rest of the Resident Evil series is that green herbs weren't used for healing. Instead, vials of green medicine could be used to the same effect. It's likely that there was/is a red medicine that can be used to strengthen the green medicine's effects, much like red herbs did in the final game.
Resident Evil 1.5 Gear
In the final version of Resident Evil 2, the only gear you can pick up is the sidepack that expands your inventory by two items. In RE1.5 though you could get different types of armor that would increase your resilience to attacks. Both Leon and Elza could get two levels of armor, an RPD bulletproof vest, and a large and futuristic-looking set of Umbrella Security Service armor.
In addition to armor, Elza and Leon's clothing would become bloodstained and tattered as they were attacked. This was replaced in the final version with the limping mechanic showing when the characters were in caution or danger health status.
Resident Evil 1.5 Why Was it Changed?
Development was started on Resident Evil 2 only a month after the original game was completed. Because the team didn't know just how much of a hit Resident Evil would be, they wrote the scenario behind RE1.5 like it would be the conclusion of the series. Umbrella was gone, and by the time the game ended, all the questions posed by the first game were to be answered.
Project supervisor Yoshiki Okamoto was the one who said the game needed to be more open-ended, and that it should leave room open for a continuation. Elza was changed to Claire to give a tie-in to the character Chris Redfield from the original game, and several roles were altered or dropped.
The most prominent change between RE1.5 and RE2 was the police station. Producer Shinji Mikami found the modern look of the police station to be too dull and boring, and a redesign was necessary to meet the quality desired for the game. Almost all the original art for the RPD was scrapped, and aside from the Umbrella labs, virtually all of the environments in the game were made from scratch or heavily modified.
Resident Evil 1.5: Its Legacy
Resident Evil 1.5 was a holy grail of unreleased game enthusiasts, and there was a ton of fanfare when a build estimated around 40% completion leaked onto the net in 2013. Though it's fairly broken and incomplete, fan projects have sprung up to try and fill in the gaps to make it playable from start to finish.
As I said above, there's a ton of info that's still locked away inside the leaked build that would likely shed even more light on the saga of RE1.5. However, the game is in Japanese, doesn't have the most logical file structure, and is different enough from RE2 to make many of the modding and hacking tools for that game not work. There are also rumors of more complete versions of the game in collector's hands, so perhaps one day we'll get a build that's close to where the team scrapped it that will give us a clearer picture of just what RE1.5 would be like had it been finished.
A lot of the ideas and items from RE1.5 made it into later Resident Evil titles, and as cool as RE1.5 seems, the final version almost unquestionably has more character and a more exciting story. Hopefully, we'll see the full picture of RE1.5's scenario someday, but I still feel fortunate that we got the version of the game we did. It's an absolute classic, and that makes the road leading to it all the more fascinating.