Today, we continue our Biohazard journey with the Alpha version of Resident Evil 2. Thanks to various people on the Internet, such as Bioflames, we can now piece together what the original version of RE2 would have looked like. As before, the genesis of the project was fraught with difficulty, alterations and massive gameplay tweaks. Let’s start at the beginning.
Development began as soon as the dollars started to roll into Capcom’s bank accounts in 1996. The original managed the difficult task of becoming a well-respected hit with critics and gamers alike, making demand for a follow-up high. Resident Evil 2 had a lot to live up to in that regard, and Capcom didn’t rest on their laurels. It was to be a direct sequel, setting the game a few months after the first. The story is now classed as the highpoint of the series, so it’s fascinating to discover that the original plot-line was completely different.
To avoid any confusion, here’s how the finished game starts:
Set in a high-rise in modern Raccoon City, the Alpha set-up follows Leon S. Kennedy, a rookie cop who has barricaded himself along with several others inside the Raccoon Police Department. The reason being that after Umbrella were accused of engineering biological weapons, which resulted in a small contained outbreak and the deaths of scientists and S.T.A.R.S members, the company was taken to court and its owners and workers jailed. As a last-ditch effort at revenge, CEO Oswell E. Spencer decided to unleash the T-Virus upon the fair citizens of his city. Never trust the corporations, kids.
Kennedy is on the helipad roof of the RPD (guessing by the in-game dialogue, a rescue helicopter had crashed), before making his way downstairs to let his comrades know that rescue isn’t coming. But they have already succumbed to the onslaught. The only way out now was via the dangerous sewer system. However, Leon wasn’t alone in his fight for survival. A bike enthusiast and student at Raccoon University, Elza Walker, had just crashed her bike through one of the barriers of the RPD, preventing more zombies from entering the building. She then makes her way up the floors, looking for survivors and a safe place to hide, while Leon makes his way down toward the sewer entrance. Can you see where this is going? Drawn together, the characters attempt to escape the city alive. But it isn’t going to be easy… zombies, a corrupt government and mutated baboons (??!!) stand in their way.
Long-time fans will know how much this differs to the final retail version of Resident Evil 2. However, it wasn’t just the plot: the entire city backdrop was unique. Raccoon City was a towering concrete jungle, similar to Chicago or New York; its RPD was several stories high, covered with glass, painting our protagonists in a bluish night-time hue. It also seems that it included a more realistic jail cell, complete with zombie inmates, a shooting gallery puzzle room, and a modernised office for Brian Irons, as you would expect from the Chief of Police. All of these simple touches end up meaning a lot when all is said and done.
From the looks of things, the sewers were more-or-less the same, apart from what appears to be either a stunning cut-scene or a terrifying in-game moment, when they start to overflow and Leon has to reach a safe spot before the flood doors slam-shut. The Umbrella Lab areas seem generally unchanged, too, with the biggest alteration being the RPD area. You may think that aesthetics of setting are the only notable inconsistencies, but again you’d be wrong! There’s more to this than mere level construction – the character and enemy designs were in a constant state of flux.
First of all, Leon went through several revisions, looking more like Chris Redfield with a buzz-cut. Ironically, Redfield’s voice was used to fill-in before a voice actor was chosen for the role. This version of Kennedy didn’t last long, and after various minor tweaks to the model, a design for a mortally wounded cop called Roy or ‘DJ’ was chosen. DJ was intended to take the place of Marvin Branagh (the mortally wounded cop in RE2), who presumably had the same story role and fate as the final Marvin did. Yeah, I’m starting to get a little confused too.
The glasses were dumped and the hair was parted, creating the Leon S. Kennedy that we all know and love today.
Marvin would take a larger role as a supporting character (instead of the famous Ada Wong), that you could control at certain points to help solve puzzles and unlock doors. Not much else is known about him, but it’s good to speculate. Brian Irons was also a hero cop and deserving of the title “Chief of Police.” However it is unknown if his fate was similar to that of the released version.
But how about Elza Walker? Who was she and where was Claire Redfield? Redfield was non-existent, I’m afraid, but Elza was alive and well inside the RPD station. Apart from her reason for being in Raccoon City and motivation for staying alive, her role was identical to Claire’s in every way: she’d find Sherry Birkin and attempt to escape with Leon. The interesting thing about Elza was that she had a man called John as a playable supporting character, who was later used as the role of Robert Kendo, the gun shop owner in RE2. It seems that John was the same John from the letters of the first game, and was infected with the T-Virus. He would aid Elza much like Ada did for Leon in the final version, and there would be a choice later in the game whether he lived or died.
Which brings us neatly onto NPC characters. We know about Brian Irons, and DJ, but who else was there in the supporting cast? There was an Umbrella scientist that supplied NPC support for Leon – just think of her as Leon’s Sherry Birkin. The most interesting thing about Linda is that her character model would be re-used and given a sexy red number as Ada. It is speculative as to what kind of help or hindrance she would provide in this version of events, but you can see the original character design in Resident Evil: Outbreak File 2; this time as an African-American Umbrella scientist.
Finally let’s look at Annette and William Birkin. In this version, William is mutated but in a different form. We can only guess that he’d mutate further. In the Alpha incarnation, however, it is Annette who infects herself with the G-Virus.
Believe it or not, there were more dramatic refinements during the game’s brief two-year development. The all-important enemies would have been more threatening. Zombies were far more individual, using the basic archetypes – male, female, fat, skinny, black, white – and feeding them through a “chop and change” system for clothes, and features (such as skeleton arms, being set on fire etc) to make each individual zombie a little different from the last. Alas, it was too much for the RAM to handle and zombies ended up blocky. Pre-rendered backgrounds had to sacrifice details such as illumination effects and other gameplay perks started to bug-out. This element of chopping and changing clothes to make individual zombies would later be used in Capcom’s Dead Rising. The great thing about the Alpha zombies is that they NEVER die! They’d go down, but they would get up eventually. The only way of killing them for good is blowing off their noggin’ with a well-aimed shotgun/magnum blast, showering the screen in a large red haze of blood far greater than the gore factor in the released game. These bastards could also climb up on higher ledges, making no surface safe.
“Cerberus Zombies” made an appearance, but it seems that in some areas you would get Alsatian breeds of police dog instead, mixing it up a little. Spiders came back too, but with a feature not used until Code: Veronica – they would creep out of ventilation shafts. One could imagine this being used for well-executed jump scares and even be expanded upon by having spiders grabbing characters and dragging them into their nest.
Remember our old friend from Resident Evil – the Chimera? It made an appearance toward the end of the game, but this time it was half-human half-spider, a terrifying example of what should have happened to Peter Parker. Presumably, the green “Lickers” in the released game were originally going to be these Beta Chimeras. Next were, according to some theories, G-Virus infected baboons followed by a boss – an infected gorilla that would hang from the ceiling in an attempt to kill you.
We also got three sewer alligators similar to how we got three sharks in the original game. But the most interesting enemy by far is the design for the Tyrant sent in to destroy any survivors. Looks familiar doesn’t he, almost like Nemesis from Resident Evil 3? Yes, that’s right, the scrapped Mr. X design was reused for Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. Pretty awesome!
Gameplay was also scrutinised. You can see in some videos that shutters in the RPD could be sealed to prevent enemies from entering the area, even cutting in half any flesh eaters that happen to be underneath. Lovely. We also got an “armour system,” in which characters could change clothes that would enable them to be more bite/injury resistant or carry more items. This would (kinda) be implemented in Resident Evil 3 with the pack Carlos gives you in the second half of Nemesis, allowing you to carry more items, as well as RE4, which enabled you to buy upgrades such as the weapon resistant flak jacket. Small details would also occur with costumes such as tears, blood staining and spatter from either enemies that you blew away or from enemies attacking you. Again it was either RAM or disc space issues that took these features out of the game.
A few examples of different clothes concepts showing off what kind of armour may have been available, including an early Umbrella Security Service costume:
This game was over 70% complete by the time it was scrapped and started from scratch, taking very few elements from the original with it.
While the “mid-western town” style to Raccoon City is very enjoyable, I can’t help but wonder why they scrapped certain elements of 1.5. Small details such as the armour system, spider Chimeras, Alsatian dogs and more realistic zombies could have made a great game even better. One hopes they remake Resident Evil 2 like they did with the original, and bring back some of the elements they wanted to use but were limited by the hardware at the time. It needs to happen… and I love the current version.
Resident Evil 2 was eventually released a year after its original date on January 21st 1998. It was a massive hit and gamers praised Capcom for their efforts once again. The release was also blessed with commercials directed by none other than George A. Romero. Tipping his hat to his own Living Dead films as well as the games, this 30 second ad is superior to any of the Resident Evil movies. Can we remake those too?