Can you believe Resident Evil 4 was released in Europe 10 years ago this week? That reminded us of a feature that Mike Harradence (editor-in-chief) wrote for PlayStation Universe back in 2008. What better time than to pay it another visit…
Waiting for the release of one of your most highly anticipated games may seem like an arduous task at the time; however, for many (myself included), playing the waiting game is merely an integral part of the overall enjoyment of a particular title. It isn’t just the influx of news items, images and fan conjecture that hauls you in, either; beta versions in particular have achieved a massive cult following worldwide, and can prove a compelling example of how a game evolves in the arms of its developer, from early similarities to the final product, to the elements that were ultimately scrapped, never to see the light of day.
Capcom’s Resident Evil 4 is no exception to this, having been documented at going through no less than four different stages of development over the course of half a decade with each possessing a unique concept in its own right.
With this in mind, PSU decided to take the time to dissect the development of this crucial release, and showcase the numerous incarnations that preceded the final version of the game, which would ultimately go on to re-invent a classic franchise.
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#1 – Origins
Although Capcom and Nintendo announced an exclusivity agreement in September 2001 to bring six major titles in the Resident Evil series to the GameCube, Capcom themselves had originally conceived Resident Evil 4 as a Sony PlayStation 2 title many years before the contract had even materialized.
Initial planning commenced as far back as 1999, with Capcom teams visiting locations in Spain, eventually leading to the creation of several environmental and character drafts. Much of these early designs remain unreleased to the public, although one memorable character shot did eventually surface, depicting a tall, white-haired male of noble stature, of which many fans believed to be an early conception of Oswell E. Spencer; one of three founders of the Umbrella Corporation.
Internet rumours and fan speculation ran rampant through 1999-2000, including the appearance of the now infamous hoaxed box-art for the title (taken from the movie ‘Psycho 2’), which issued the game a subtitle of ‘Umbrella Rising.’ I myself can recall numerous reports around this time of the main character being that of Hunk; the Umbrella Special Forces agent who was ordered to retrieve a sample of the G-virus during the events of Resident Evil 2. Capcom, however, were reluctant to reveal any specific plot details.
The company later reiterated plans to release RE4 on PS2 at its annual Gamer’s Day event in early 2001, although there was little information to go on in regards to how the title was progressing. The firm also announced plans to port the game to the GameCube the following year. Eventually, however, development of this version would ultimately cease, and soon enough, the title was assimilated into Capcom’s exclusivity contract with Nintendo in September 2001.
It later transpired that this initial concept was thought to be too much of a departure from the traditional Resident Evil experience; as a result, Shinji Mikami and his team would embark on a new project based on this early design of RE4, creating a fresh Intellectual Property – Devil May Cry, which was finally to be released on the PS2 in late 2001.
#2 – “Fog”
Capcom unveiled the first official incarnation of RE4, running on Nintendo’s GameCube hardware at the Tokyo Games Show in 2002. Gamers were finally able to catch their first ever glimpse at in-game footage of the title, along with official confirmation on its protagonist; namely, Resident Evil 2’s male lead, Leon S. Kennedy. According to reports at the time, the plot surrounded the former R.P.D cops attempts to penetrate the Umbrella Corporation’s secret headquarters in Europe.
The trailer itself depicted Kennedy exploring a number of environments, including an Airship and castle/mansion-like setting; complete with fully 3D rendered visuals, along with atmospheric lighting effects and real-time shadows. However, the most prominent feature showcased was a strange, fog-like entity that would pursue Kennedy throughout the trailer seemingly possessing him at its climax.
Read more overleaf…
The words ‘The Cradle of the Progenitor Virus’ and ‘Possessed’ flashed on screen, implying Kennedy would in fact become infected with this particular virus (of which received mention in Resident Evil Zero, released that same year) during the course of the game. However, it was never made clear as to whether or not the mysterious fog creature was an actual manifestation of Progenitor itself, or whether Kenney was in fact battling against some unknown form of Bio-Weapon.
Unbeknownst to the gaming public, Capcom would unceremoniously scrap this second incarnation, known as the “Fog Version”, and later introduced an entirely fresh concept in 2003.
#3 – “Hook”
The next version of Resident Evil 4 to surface made its debut at Nintendo’s press conference at E3 2003, preceded by a rather memorable video message delivered by series creator, Shinji Mikami. Dressed in black and sporting a pair of dark avatar sunglasses, Mikami asserted that the game was shaping up in a particularly “scary” fashion, before promptly warning us, “Don’t pee your pants.”
This version had Leon Kennedy investigating an ominous Mansion setting echoing back to the theme and location of the original Resident Evil. However, the game appeared to have taken a decidedly paranormal twist, as evidenced by the appearance of several objects – including a mounted Deer head – that would apparently come to life and attack the player.
Furthermore, Kennedy was believed to suffer from severe hallucinations at various points in the game, and would also find himself stalked by a mysterious, human-like nemesis wielding a large hooked blade. Thus, this incarnation of RE4 was colloquially dubbed the ‘Hook Version’ by fans and media alike, and went on to become perhaps the most iconic of the four betas.
Interestingly enough, the Hook Version also appeared to combine elements both new and old to the series, featuring dramatic camera angles, along with the inclusion of the highly extolled over-the-shoulder perspective seen in the final version of the game. This amalgamation can be seen on the Biohazard 4 Secret DVD released in Japan, and showed the player switching from a traditional third-person perspective to an over-the-shoulder camera when aiming (intriguingly, the standard third-person viewpoint seen in earlier games was also used in combat on one occasion) Further similarities with the final product included context-sensitive events, requiring the player to push a button when grappled by an enemy, the ability to throw grenades, along with the appearance of suits of armour which would attack Kennedy in close proximity.
Although this version was to show up for a second time at the 2003 Tokyo Games Show, Capcom ultimately ended up cancelling the project, citing the fact it was considered too paranormal for a Resident Evil game.
#4 – Unknown Version (featuring Zombies)
Capcom surreptitiously commissioned yet another version of RE4 at some point in 2003 following the cancellation of the Hook Version; however, unlike previous betas, this one was not shown off to the press in any shape or form. In fact, details of the project did not even surface until late 2004, and even then Capcom neglected to reveal any significant information.
The only concrete details available on this version are that it allegedly contained the standard zombie enemies found in previous installments, although little else is known. Aside from this small tidbit, Capcom would only divulge its reasons for canning the project, claiming that the game was fundamentally too generic and “not scary.”
However, all this was set to change in early 2004, as Capcom announced would what become the final incarnation of RE4 in an exclusive scoop with US publication, Game Informer. Gone were the zombies, evil corporations, fixed camera angles and "tank controls" of old, instead replaced by a brand new perspective, human-like enemies and more action-orientated gameplay.
More importantly for Sony fans, Capcom confirmed later that year that the game would finally be making its way back to the PS2, eventually releasing on the system in October 2005, with all-new exclusive content. With Resident Evil 5 on the horizon, one can only hope that this latest instalment in the critically acclaimed Survival Horror franchise offers as much of a compelling insight for fans as its predecessor has done over the years.
In the mean time, be sure to check back with PSU for all the latest information on the series as it becomes available.