It’s not every day that you play a game that doesn’t actually exist.
For more prominent and experienced members of the games media, it actually comes up pretty often, I’ve learned, as those are the people typically invited to look at incomplete builds of titles that often end up wildly different upon release, if released at all. It was actually the most recent episode of the Giant Bombcast where Resident Evil 1.5 was name-dropped, prompting me to remember that I actually had one of the older builds sitting somewhere on my computer.
If you were to ever look into the development of the Resident Evil series, it’s kind of amazing any of them were ever finished, as each installment often went through wildly different iterations before settling on their final form. There are two versions of Resident Evil 2, obviously, but its sequel was also several different games at one point. Resident Evil 4 went through four or five variations, one of which actually turned into Devil May Cry. Old RE4 trailers in particular are really tough to go back to, since they actually look way more interesting than what we eventually got. Of course, I say this realizing that the entire world disagrees with me and worships that game. It’s cool. We’re still friends.
1.5 is, not surprisingly, more interesting as a conversation piece than as a game, especially considering the form it’s in. Rumor has it that the game was actually about 90% finished before Capcom scrapped everything and started over, but the builds available are really only functional due to some very diligent fans who attempted to piece together the broken parts into something coherent, often having nothing more than a magazine screenshot of a room to go by. The build I have is from the Summer of 2014 and apparently it’s come a long way since then. I’d hope so, since all of the zombies in my version are completely immortal and I can’t switch weapons. Also, Elza (the character that was eventually nixed for Claire Redfield), walks on air sometimes. In retrospect, I can understand why they’d get rid of her; In the world of survival horror, flight is rather overpowered.
For someone that’s fascinated with not only game development, but the creative process as a whole, it’s really hard to find a comparison point for this kind of experience in another medium. Sure, there have been tons of incomplete or lost books and films, but the nature of how those are created make it impossible for the original vision to be replicated. No one can pick up an incomplete work of HP Lovecraft and continue the sentences as he would have written them. Sure, you could make an educated guess, scribble down something racist in between musing about an indescribable horror, but it still wouldn’t be the same. RE 1.5 and similar projects have the advantage of finished assets, a visual roadmap that allows for one to fill in the blanks. It’s all the more fascinating when you consider that most prominent game publishers have huge chunks of unfinished work sitting in a vault somewhere. For all we know, Super Mario 128 may actually exist and has probably been played at some point.
Even if “finished”, 1.5 will not be the same game that was originally intended, but it’ll be the closest we’ll ever get to that original vision; a world where Elza Walker went on to star in Code Veronica and Claire Redfield was just a girl on a missing persons poster, where Resident Evil became a series about fighting zombie horses on a motorcycle and Leon Kennedy probably never got off that damn rooftop, eventually pecked to death by an unkindness of ravens.
Oh well. A guy can dream.