Resident Evil celebrated its twentieth anniversary in 2016, and like any long-running series, it’s had its share of ups and downs. The first three games are classics of the old school survival horror genre, but the formula it pioneered had been thoroughly rung dry by the time it reached Resident Evil Zero in 2002. The series had grown stale and predictable, and needed a dramatic facelift.
Then it shed its skin and gloriously reinvented itself with Resident Evil 4, which upset purists by focusing more on action than horror, but there are few who would disagree it’s a highlight of the series. It was a mixed bag from that point on, with duds like Resident Evil 6 and Operation Raccoon City crossing with gems like Revelations, The Darkside Chronicles, Resident Evil 7, and the Resident Evil 2 remake.
Over the years, developer Capcom has racked up a reputation for canceling titles that don’t meet its standards for the series. Devil May Cry famously started life as the original version of Resident Evil 4 before being reworked, and there are websites dedicated to Resident Evil 1.5, which was the original build of the second game that was scrapped when it was around 70% complete. This is the abandoned game Resi fans still lust after, and there are even mods online where they’ve attempted to reconstruct it using left over code.
Resident Evil 4 also had a famously tricky birth, and went through no less than three revisions before it was finally released. Besides the aforementioned Devil May Cry version, there were also iterations that featured Leon fighting standard zombies, and yet another with the character being chased around a gothic castle by a fog monster while hunting down Umbrella founder Oswell E. Spencer.
These versions were rejected because they were either too familiar or too far removed from the core gameplay of Resident Evil. The idea that held the most potential out of all of them—and could have been a revolutionary title in the franchise—is the version where Leon is infected with a virus that causes violent hallucinations.
The concept came from Capcom scenario writer Yasuhisa Kawamura, who also worked on Dino Crisis and Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. Kawamura wanted to tackle what he felt was a recurring issue with the series formula: in his mind, by the time players reached the midway point in any of the games, they were well-equipped and knew what the threat was, and could generally deal with any problem they encountered.
He was looking to pioneer a mechanic that would keep players on their toes, and introduced the idea of Leon battling hallucinations in addition to the other creatures in the game. This led to what’s been dubbed the “Hook Man” version of the game, where Leon is investigating an eerie mansion and is constantly under attack by a ghostly man wielding a large hook.
Kawamura got the idea for adding this supernatural twist from Adrian Lyne’s superior chiller Jacob’s Ladder, where Tim Robbins plays a war veteran plagued with terrifying visions of demons that may or may not be real. This movie was also a major influence on rival series Silent Hill, which pioneered psychological horror in video games and would ironically also help inspire the whole “Hook Man” concept.
Surprisingly, the last source of inspiration came from the long forgotten Winona Ryder vehicle Lost Souls. This horror effort from 2000 was directed by Steven Spielberg’s regular cinematographer Janusz Kamiński, and while the film received some praise for its visuals, many critics and audiences found the story wanting, and it was a box office failure. Nonetheless, it does contain one creepy sequence with Ryder’s character having a vivid hallucination in a bathroom, where she’s attacked by a killer. Kawamura showed this sequence to his team at Capcom to give them a sense of the tone he hoped to achieve.
Using assets from a previous build, the team quickly assembled a playable prototype. There was no solid storyline in place for the ‘Hook Man’ concept, and what they made was just an experiment to see if it could work. The footage certainly looks atmospheric, and while it bears a resemblance to the final game—namely with the over the shoulder aiming system, the attacking suits of armor, and use of a secondary weapon—it feels much different.
Leon being swarmed by creepy killer dolls is certainly something new for a Resident Evil game, and while the notion of an unstoppable enemy had been done before in the series—think the Nemesis or Mr. X—the Hook Man has a unique presence of his own. There are shades of Alan Wake in this enemy since he has what appears to be a protective shield of darkness surrounding him, which can only be broken with Leon’s flashlight or the lightning strikes that occur throughout this sequence.
Capcom was obviously feeling pretty confident about this take since the trailer for Resident Evil 4 premiered during E3 2003, and was coupled with an introductory video featuring Shinji Mikami, who told those assembled not to “pee their pants.” Heed his advice and watch the trailer for yourself.
In spite of the promising concept of taking Resi in a new direction, the team soon hit a wall. To execute it properly, two possible versions of every stage would need to be designed—one for the real world and one for Leon’s hallucinations. In addition to this approach being cost prohibitive, a game that big was simply too much for the poor Nintendo GameCube to handle, and it would have been impossible to add more enemies—a bit of an issue for a survival horror title.
The radical approach of having only one enemy for the entire game was briefly discussed, before the whole thing��was scrapped and Shinji Mikami had to come in and rework everything. He started from scratch and went on to create one of the most enduring action games of the last decade. There are shades of the Hook Man left over with the Chainsaw enemy, but other than that, very little of the concept survived the transition.
It’s hard to look back on the “Hook Man” iteration of the game and not think of the possibilities it held. It would have moved the series in a more supernatural direction and introduced a whole new psychological angle. It’s difficult to say for sure if it would have worked, but the idea was positively brimming with potential.
Since the series hit something of a creative wall with the muddled Resident Evil 6 in 2012—which tried and failed to please everybody—maybe it’s time for Capcom to revisit the idea. The technology is now in place to make the Hook Man concept work, allowing the developer to add a fresh mechanic to a series that’s stuck in a rut. The franchise has survived patches of creative drought before, but it feels like Capcom really needs to pull out something special for the upcoming Resident Evil 7 if this franchise is to survive another night.
This article originally ran on June 7, 2016.