The first Postal was a tongue-in-cheek pathological thriller. The protagonist Postal Dude mistook himself for the begrudged hero in his own story. In reality, he waged war against a town defending itself against a mass murderer. It entertained as well as evoked a psychological disturbance, while its isometric perspective diverted from a market saturated with first person shooters.
By 2003 a violent, do-as-you-please sandbox franchise called Grand Theft Auto was selling millions. Running With Scissors then announced Postal 2, a sequel in once-rebelled-against FPS form, promising a plethora of sociopathic activities. Decapitate people! Club them to death! Launch their heads with a shovel! Kill dogs! Use cats as silencers! Sic docs on cats! Slaughter elephants! Expose your wang in public! Piss on victims until they vomit! Set them on fire, watch them run around in agony and then piss on them! Piss in their mouths! Piss on yourself if you’re engulfed in flames! Piss, piss, piss!
Or…don’t do any of the above! They’re all choices! Even pissing!
Entertainment marketing dictates that whenever something becomes popular a dozen studios must release a dozen clones before the trend fades. Postal 2 was Running With Scissors cashing in on Grand Theft Auto but without the acknowledgement that GTA had more to it than rude humor. Thus, I avoided it until a Steam sale. Now, as I continue working through my amassed hoard, it’s Postal 2’s turn for scrutiny.
Postal 2 retcons the previous game’s story. Postal Dude is a low class, passive-aggressive underdog instead of a rampaging madman. He lives in Paradise, Arizona, a cynical hellhole where political incorrectness lurks around every corner.
The game chronicles a week in Postal Dude’s life. Every day there are benign tasks to strike off his checklist, such as picking up milk, buying the hottest eBay scalper item or pissing on dad’s grave. Nothing is as simple as returning a library book or finding a Christmas tree. Terrible luck always finds Postal Dude, and he gains violent enemies ranging from anti video game protesters to rednecks to the Taliban.
Your response to mayhem is your choice. The game’s tagline “it’s only as violent as you are” holds some truth, as it is possible to finish the game without reaping a soul.
If you choose to be a pacifistic Postal Dude your journey starts easy, though completing tasks the peaceful way often means standing in long, boring lines. Increasing hostiles intensify the environment. At first you can easily avoid them, since cops are abundant and will exchange gunfire.
But there are areas where protectors are few and far between. Sometimes backup is absent, like when rednecks capture Postal Dude Pulp Fiction style. It gets intense enough that first time players may wish to forego the no-kill Achievement in favor of justified retaliation.
Now, the pandering. In the Grand Theft Auto franchise you could kill hookers, steal tanks and customize your own murder sprees. Postal 2 banked on players unleashing their inner sociopaths with antics a hundred times more grotesque.
An anything-goes sandbox needs a good foundation underneath, but Postal 2’s gameplay is a mess. Bugs and A.I. problems abound. The standing-in-line parts require precision handling. When I accidentally unholstered my pistol at the bank the line stopped moving. I had to exit the bank and return to reset it. Sometimes the clerk at the front wouldn’t respond, which meant resetting and standing in line again.
Strafing is useless since a hostile’s bullet always finds its target. You’ll get hit even if you’ve taken cover. Worse, the game’s shoddy hit detection means your return fire may do little to no damage at all. Much of a first person shooter’s challenge lies in maneuvering and outwitting heavy gunfire, but when the bullets are homing missiles that’s not a challenge, it’s the game cheating.
Then there’s the humor, which doesn’t sustain itself for the whole ride. Maybe I’m getting too old for this shit, or maybe I’m sensitive to people trying too hard.
Postal 2 tries too hard. Jokes derive from places like a Gary Coleman cameo, a hangout called The Grossman Arcade, a testicular mascot named Krotchy, and the ethnic stereotype at “The Lucky Ganesh” who sells “Jihad Goat Milk.” Postal 2’s overall punchline is akin to dumping cynicism into a blender and painting the world with the gooey mess.
When the humor burns out the game gets boring, reduced to staring at bland textures. Everything is just there, with no flavor or substance to maintain interest. At the risk of spoilers, Friday ends with a walk home during an apocalyptic maelstrom, but even that feels uninspired.
The Steam version includes the original game as well as an expansion pack, Apocalypse Weekend. AW adds Saturday and Sunday to Postal Dude’s Week. There is an option to play the first five days or entire seven. Understanding that I shouldn’t attempt analysis without the full experience, I chose “A Week in Paradise” mode.
Apocalypse Weekend drops the free-roaming gameplay for a more ‘traditional’ FPS divided into short linear levels. This time Postal Dude has a fixed personality, as killing is a necessary requirement rather than an option.
I laughed at the Mad Cow Disease infected zombies with stereotypical Tourette’s Syndrome. I giggled like a school child when Postal Dude’s head injury turned levels into hellscapes reminicist of Silent Hill’s Otherworld. But just as before, the humor dried up and I faced the blandess that lay beneath.
Apocalypse Weekend‘s biggest problem is repetition. You’re often given an objective to “kill x amount of x” which might mean killing 20 zombies, 20 cows or 20 elephants. Then you do it again in the next level and the next. When you aren’t filling a kill quota you’re trekking through tight maps and having shootouts like the core game.
As much as I hate moral soapboxing, I have issues with animal cruelty. In main Postal 2 I didn’t revisit the cat silencer often. Here a game is telling me to slaughter innocent life. Not going to lie, I complied, but it was gross.
Postal 2 is decent until the humor wears thin, but before that the buggy gameplay proves problematic. The good parts haven’t aged well, and the result is a gimmicky product that loses its luster. Perhaps I shouldn’t have picked “A Week in Paradise” mode; by “Friday” I was ready to quit.
FINAL GRADE: D