Back in 1997 Postal was met with awful reviews and at the same time never found a resounding audience, but as time changes so does the people’s appreciation for games, such was the case with the sequel, Postal 2, that released in 2003. A game that was panned by critics and only loved by a small cult following, is now praised by many, both the press and a larger audience for how forward thinking it was, especially about player motivations in an open world setting and American social criticism.
So after Postal 3, a horrible sequel which wasn’t made by the original developers, Running With Scissors decides to launch a Kickstarter to do a re-release of Postal 2 on Steam. They not only end up being successful, but they now have the financial backup and the motivation to release a new expansion for Postal 2 (yes, eleven years later) and now a remake of the game that started the whole show.
Postal is a game about a dude who has a mental breakdown and starts shooting at everything that moves, set in a mundane place that could be your town, also meaning that you’re shooting regular people, including civilians that plead for their lives. This is a horrible way to set up your game, but this doesn’t make it bad, the power of the setting is in how it reflects on the gameplay and aesthetics.
There are two modes to play this game – Campaign and Rampage. So I’m going to start with the one that you’re most likely to choose first, since this is what happened to me too. I chose to play the campaign first and it is joyless, boring and unfairly hard.
The shooting in the game is sloppy at best and clunky at worst. It is hard to know where your shots are going to land, since there’s no clear indication on how the line of sight of the postal dude works, and this becomes extremely annoying when you’re using explosive weapons or tossing grenades. It is very easy to hit a wall or an obstacle that you might think is not there. When an enemy is in your line of sight they will get highlighted with a green crosshair around them, however, knowing how to land this crosshair becomes a guessing game between the postal guy’s position and the enemy that is trying to hit you, due to the fact they are constantly moving.
The movement also feels slow and weird, almost to the point where it just feels bad at times, but this is compensated by the overall flow of the game, it’s not really you that moves slowly but the whole game, since it has this gloomy and quiet feel to it, there’s no music and all you get is the sounds of your killing spree.
Enemies behave in a weird way, when they are not fooling you, they are easily fooled, when they are not hunting you, they are sitting ducks. But the worst sin of all is how some of them can shoot the postal dude in a range beyond your camera reach, meaning that you’ll lose health by an enemy that can see you from a place where you can’t see them. Also, the character’s model can get lost behind the background scenery so it’s easy to lose track of the postal dude, the only thing being visible a shadowy silhouette that melts easily with the rest of the background.
Which brings me to the overall look of the game which is very ugly, the backgrounds are hand drawn and hand painted, the character models are polygonal and simplistic and feel very disjointed with the whole background, however, both of them are serviceable. Just thanks to the dark washout color palette that somehow drags the game, making this shooting game about killing everything one of the most boring games I’ve ever played. However there are a few moments of dark comedy spread around the game, like when you can set a marching band on fire or how you can shoot ostriches in a level and they count as innocent lives, but the truth is those moments are so few and far between.
Also, you can execute dying enemies or civilians that are wounded in the ground, a pointless mechanic that doesn’t add any kind of reward for doing it, not even gory executions, which is surprising that, for a violent game, it lacks a lot of gore. But let’s say that they are aiming to be a serious game about shooting sprees in America, with a realistic tone to it, this is completely destroyed by the arsenal of the postal dude which ranges from rocket launchers to napalm launchers and the selection of enemies which also ranges from police officers to rocket launcher wielding truckers, those guns and enemies neither fit the serious theme of the campaign or feel violent enough for an over the top game.
Although there is not a well-balanced selection of enemies and guns, they can sometimes make the game fun and less tedious than it should be. But sadly this is how the campaign as a whole feels. Tedious, boring, joyless and just unfairly hard.
So it surprises me that the rampage mode fixes most of the problems I have in the campaign, still the same thing with the added difference that the levels have more enemies, there are more weapons and health pickups, enemies seem to be more aggressive and they add a scoreboard with combo multipliers, giving the whole thing an arcade feel to it.
The levels now have music and if you like industrial metal from the 90’s you’re going to like this soundtrack, the postal dude’s voice is amazing as always, and his catchphrases make more sense in the rampage mode, also the overall sound design isn’t that bad.
Another big positive is that the controls do feel less horrible now that you need to worry more about killing fast than ammo and health preservation, don’t get me wrong the controls and the looks of the game are still very bad, and the lack of gore still evident, but I cannot deny that there’s fun to have in this mode.
There are better games, if you want an ultra-violent shooter that challenges the perception of morality go seek Hotline Miami, if you want this concept well realized go seek the sequel Postal 2. However if you’re going to play this game no matter what, allow me to suggest the following: Avoid the campaign mode like the plague, and just play the rampage mode.