Resident Evil 4 was released in 2005 as one of the defining titles of the GameCube/PS2 era of gaming. It changed the shooter genre as well as the Resident Evil franchise. What often goes unsaid while celebrating Resident Evil 4 is that it took six and a half years to complete, went through four game directors, six stories with three complete scripts, three different protagonists, and enough unused material to complete three new games. Let’s take a closer look at the Resident Evil 4s that could’ve been.
PlayStation 2 Ruined “Cruise Ship” Resident Evil 4 (1998)
Capcom’s first attempt at Resident Evil 4 was actually numbered “3”, which we’ll explain later. Internal Capcom developers Team Little Devils made this iteration with the director of Resident Evil 2 and Bayonetta, Hideki Kamiya, producing. To keep the series fresh, Kamiya decided the game should take place on a cruise ship populated by human-plant hybrids. HUNK, a side protagonist from Resident Evil 2, was their choice of protagonist. It was planned for the first PlayStation.
This version of the game did not last very long. Sony tipped off developers about the impending PlayStation 2 in mid-1998, placing the game in jeopardy. Capcom feared the new console would draw gamers away from their titles, and demanded big-budget projects be moved over to the PlayStation 2. Kamiya felt the console needed a game that would take advantage of its features, and ordered the entire development to be scrapped and started over with fresh ideas for a fresh era. The cruise ship idea was later recycled for the little-known 2002 game, Resident Evil: Dead Aim.
“Stylish” Resident Evil 4 Became Devil May Cry (1998-2000)
Team Little Devils started on the new version immediately and brought over Resident Evil 2’s writer Noboru Sugimura. It was midway through development that the game finally got the number “4,” with “3” added to another game. Putting the number on its small-budget Resident Evil 3: Nemesis on the PlayStation guaranteed Capcom bigger sales.
The plot to this Resident Evil 4 was more investigative in nature. The player was to unravel the mysterious origins of new protagonist Tony Redgrave, who had superhuman powers. Kamiya has since revealed that the ending saw Redgrave being the G-Virus-enhanced son of Umbrella’s CEO, Oswell E. Spencer.
Gameplay-wise, this was not a typical Resident Evil game for the time. Kamiya had always hated horror and wanted little involvement with material too creepy or gory to look at. With PlayStation 2 games finally able to generate impressive 3D backgrounds, the team abandoned the use of pre-rendered vistas to generate expansive 3D settings based on European castles. With the camera changed, Kamiya now wanted more physical attacks to enhance the game’s “coolness” with “stylish” visuals.
The increasingly distinct direction the game was facing got the attention of Shinji Mikami, the original Resident Evil’s director. Now the senior producer at Capcom’s Production Studio 4, Mikami was responsible for overseeing its games. Mikami believed fans wouldn’t like a game so different from the original, and refused to allow it to carry the Resident Evil name. Kamiya chose “Karniva” as a working title for what became Devil May Cry. The rewrites were relatively simple, mostly relying on name-changes and instead referring to various bioweapons as demons.
“Castle” Resident Evil 4 Couldn’t Load (2000-early 2003)
Desperately wanting a game for the PlayStation 2, Capcom began development of “Castle” immediately after “Stylish” was renamed. Hiroshi Shibata was assigned as the director with the story by Sugimura and Resident Evil 3: Nemesis writer Yasuhisa Kawamura. Since Devil May Cry used the old script, this Resident Evil 4 needed an original story.
The plot for “Castle” was a follow-up to the new CODE:Veronica. Leon S. Kennedy and a team of US-STRATCOM agents infiltrate Lord Spencer’s castle intent on shutting down Umbrella in a single strike. They mutually-destroy Wesker’s HCF army from CODE:Veronica, who attack the castle on the same day while looking for research data to steal. Leon is the sole survivor, infected with a virus from a bioweapon called “Black Fog”. As his body slowly mutates from the infection, Leon’s search for a cure brings him to an unnamed female protagonist and her mutant dog. The story would also introduce the mysterious Progenitor virus, that a team of archaeologists would discover in the remains of an ancient superhuman.
“Castle” was, unfortunately, a victim of its own ambition. Capcom had struck a deal with Nintendo for GameCube exclusivity to revive its popularity. In their attempt to best the PlayStation 2, the team accidentally went beyond the abilities of the GameCube. The “Black Fog” was one of the more infamous offenders, being impossible to animate with 2002 technology. Shibata looked for replacement ideas and threw the script out. Sugimura left the team to pursue other work and gave the script to the Haunting Ground developers who were interested in the female supporting character’s story, but not Leon’s.
“Hallucination” Resident Evil 4 Also Couldn’t Load (2003)
“Hallucination” was the brainchild of writer Yasuhisa Kawamura, who wanted to create a more surreal story to compete with Silent Hill. Kawamura was a fan of the psychological horror film Jacob’s Ladder. He saw Resident Evil’s horror themes as logical, and therefore predictable, unlike Silent Hill. After watching the movie Lost Souls, Kawamura created a new scenario focusing more on Leon’s infection, the only element of the “Castle” story remaining outside of the castle itself. The E3 2003 demo showed enemies that were entirely within Leon’s head, such as living dolls armed with knives, and a ghost emerging from a painting with a hook.
With this fact conveniently omitted, the presentation was met with acclaim from fans and press alike eagerly awaiting its release. Like “Castle” before it, “Hallucination” was again a victim of its ambition. To add tension, game makers created random hallucinations. For this to work, two versions of every room had to be loaded using up so much RAM that enemies could not actually load (the demo was deceptively scripted). Since scrapping the randomizer defeated Kawamura’s idea, they decided to just scrap “Hallucination” altogether. Kawamura then left the project to work another Studio 4 title, Under the Skin.
“Zombie” Resident Evil 4 was Boring (late 2003)
After “Hallucination” was canned, Resident Evil 4 was left without a script. Shibata stopped caring about creating an ambitious game and just wanted it finished. The team decided to just go back to formula-thinking. The only significant aspect known in this version was the presence of “dabamen”, creatures similar to zombies. They are theoretically similar to early Ganado concept art, which were notably more grotesque and zombie-like. However, no actual concept art of the “Zombie” build is known as this version did not last long.
After three years of looking the other way patiently, at the end of 2003, Shinji Mikami finally had enough. The GameCube-exclusive Resident Evil Zero and the 2002 remake did not achieve the financial success Mikami was expecting. Mikami saw the old formula as outdated and believed any return to it would poison the franchise. Mikami lost all confidence in Shibata, so decided to take full control of development and restarted the project yet again. This time, of course, it succeeded as the 2005 game we all know.