Review by UnknownMercenary
A violently over the top game that is sure to stimulate the creative juices of pseudo-analytical gamers with itchy trigger fingers
Postal 2 was released back in 2003 with little fanfare and advertising, but soon gathered a small following and media attention. While the game has not been as big a target as Grand Theft Auto for aspiring politicians, several parental advisory groups did raise a somewhat of a furor about the game's violence and offensive humour, along with many stores either pulling the game quickly after putting it on the shelves or refusing to sell it altogether. Behind the thinly veiled sexual and racial jokes and shock-value violence lies a game that has more akin with Deus Ex than with Doom or Quake.
The story is pretty simple, as the game places the gamer in the shoes of the eponymous Postal Dude, known as The Dude for short. As The Dude, you must survive for 5 days in the glorious caricature of American society that is Paradise, Arizona, a mostly quiet and peaceful desert town where cars are nothing more but decorative explosives and everybody exercises their 2nd Amendment Rights. But, as anybody can guess, all is not well in Paradise. The game will task you with completing several errands per day. Each errand has its own little story, and along the way you will garner the hatred of several different factions. With the story, the game takes the opportunity to poke fun at Gary Coleman, video game protesters as well as terrorists and the Muslim stereotypes that have sadly become the norm since 9/11. As the week passes, things get to the point where all hell will break loose. It's not a particularly great story, and this isn't really one of Postal 2's stronger points.
For a game powered by the second generation Unreal engine, Postal 2 doesn't look too bad. The game looks fairly good for its time, but it still had its own share of problems. It's fairly obvious that all of the non-playable characters in this game were constructed from a pool of pre-rendered heads, torsos and limbs. These are all mixed and matched in a Dr. Frankenstein fashion, and the odds are fairly high that you will see the same man or woman dressed up as a cop, as a video game protester, and as a marching band member. Postal 2 also has a few clipping problems. You will get stuck in a piece of architecture from time to time, and, Running With Scissors, instead of fixing these errors in the maps, decided to give the game an ability to detect when the player is stuck, and then warp them out of their current position. This is a nice effect, but it would've been better if such problems didn't exist in the first place. Levels also tend to have plenty of sight gags, many of which are offensive purely for shock value, just like many other aspects of this game. The levels themselves need work. The outdoor areas a well designed, but as soon you step inside you'll find plenty of boring, recycled rooms with little or no furniture. Aside from these comments, the graphics do look fairly good.
The audio is definitely lacking in Postal 2. There is plenty of voice acting, but aside from Gary Coleman, all of it was done by the friends of the developers, or so it seems. The Dude throws out plenty of catch phrases, similar to Duke Nukem or Serious Sam. These comments are usually at least mildly offensive, often sardonic and comment on The Dude's current situation or the player's actions. Here the game takes the opportunity to break the fourth wall, with comments such as, "The funny thing is, I don't even like video games." Other characters have plenty of lines, but they're recycled quite a fair bit. Additionally, it's not uncommon to find pedestrians chatting with each other. These loose, disjointed conversations are usually just a bunch of random lines NPCs will exchange with each other, making for a laughably bad scene. The sound effects are definitely a mixed bag. The melee weapons, such as the shovel, sound great. Whenever you hit somebody with one you'll get a nice, satisfying DONG out of it. Other weapons, such as the machine gun or the pistol, sound terrible. There's no real music to speak of. A few times, you will stumble upon some dance tunes or dull, listless muzak being played in appropriate areas, such as at a dance club or the mall, but aside from that music is non-existent in Postal 2.
From the screenshots, Postal 2 seems to play like your average first person shooter: kill some people, accomplish this or that and stay alive. While these basic goals, which are basically the cornerstone of the shooter, still remain, how this is done is what makes Postal 2 a fresh experience.
Right away, you will notice that you have been given a map of Paradise. You will have to navigate around the town, which has been broken up into several different chunks. To move in and out between these areas you will have to pass through loading zones, which are conveniently marked with a yellow sign. You'll also notice that you start out with no weapons, but if you take the time to break into a few houses or "Employees Only" areas, you'll find plenty of free shotguns and machine guns for the taking. The initial release was plagued with long loading times that hindered exploration, but with a patch, these were fixed.
The game wholeheartedly encourages the player to explore his or her surroundings, but not without penalties. If you break into somebody's house and they find you, they'll most likely call the cops or pull out a gun and take care of you themselves. However, in order to find the "good stuff" for free, such as sniper rifles, rocket launchers or armored vests, you're required to perform more than a few instances of breaking and entering.
Unlike any other FPS that I've played, Postal 2 features a cop system that rivals that of the Grand Theft Auto series. Unlike in GTA or any other shooter, you cannot walk around freely with most weapons. Innocent looking household items such as a shovel, a set of matches or a gasoline cannister won't get you any second looks, but walk around town toting your prized napalm launcher and the cops will begin to actively pursue you. When you do have the attention of the police, a meter will appear. How much of this meter is filled depends on the nature of your crime. Steal some money or parade around in public with your gun and you'll have a relatively low wanted level and the police will only attempt to arrest you. Commit several murders, or better yet, open fire on the police, and they'll shoot back and attempt to take you down. This meter will decrease over time, but only if you quickly and quietly make a getaway and lay low. If you get spotted, the meter will surge and you'll have to repeat the process. This does tend to interrupt the gameplay and force you to sit around for a few minutes doing nothing, but you can opt to ignore it and just blast any cop that gets in your way.
Dealing with the police, like just about everything, is about moral choices. Postal 2 openly challenges the player to not commit any violent acts, but does actively tempt them with weapons and characters that just beg to be killed. Heck, if you manage not to kill anybody and complete the game, it will congratulate you for doing so. You can choose to explore the game world, steal money from that cashier or ATM, break into that person's house and steal his guns and incur the wrath of the police. From there, you can choose to let yourself get arrested and then have to deal with breaking out of jail, or you can go Rambo and hit the cops hard. The police do get more aggressive later on in the game, and you will have to deal with SWAT members and the National Guard later on as they're called in to catch a mysterious serial killer loose in Paradise. The police, unlike in other games, won't just attack you - they will attack anybody committing a crime, and often you can get them to take care of any angry faction members that happen to spot you on the streets or any angry pedestrians that decide to take out their frustration on you.
You can choose to avoid these hypothetical situations altogether and complete the game without harming anybody. Postal 2 does grant you a few choices in completing this task, but you'll be hard pressed to do so without committing some sort of felony. Postal 2 has a much lauded ability to urinate. Simply press the key mapped to unzipping your pants and your privates will start dangling about at the ready. Hit "fire" and streams of yellowy goodness come out. Urination not only puts out the player if they're on fire, but is also useful for stunning enemies and making a getaway. You can shock enemies into submission with a taser, and if you zap them long enough you'll leave them on the floor urinating themselves. The Dude also has a kicking ability, useful for bashing down doors and kicking people out of the way. Health items and armor can be found or purchased, and their availability depends on your willingness to explore or spend money. Several of the game's errands will put you in incredibly dangerous situations that are hard but not impossible to get out of in a pacifist manner, facing multitudes of armed and angry enemies.
However, if you choose to give in and make your life slightly easier while playing this game, you'll find it has plenty to offer you as well. You will get your standard FPS arsenal here. None of the weapons need to reload, which is strange for a more recent game, but it's not a bad thing. You'll get the usual compliment of pistol, shotgun, machine gun, as well as sniper rifle, grenades and molotovs, as well as your rocket launcher. More unusual implements of death include scissors, which are thrown with deadly effect; a cow head filled with anthrax with the ability to make people get sick, barf and then die; a napalm launcher that sends canisters flying in the air pouring out gasoline, before exploding and igniting a trail of flames.
Postal 2 also makes use of an array of inventory items with unusual abilities. Crack health pipes are littered throughout levels and can be smoked, granting The Dude an extra 25% health. Like in the real world, The Dude will become addicted to the drugs and will require a regular hit. If he doesn't get one, he'll suffer from a loss of health and lose the addiction. The game also features money, which can be used to purchase items including ones vital for completing errands, or just about any other item in the game. You can eat a variety of different food items to replenish bits of health slowly, or find medkits for bigger health boosts. Donuts can be used to lure police officers. Cat nip can be used to lure cats or can be sniffed by The Dude to trigger slow motion gameplay. Heck, animals can be used too. You will find enemy dogs that you can befriend by feeding them cats or food items, and they'll follow you around and bite your attackers. Cats can be used to silence certain guns or can be used to distract dogs or scare elephants into violent rampages. You can find a radar with the ability to track people with or without guns, as well as police officers and members of enemy factions. This radar also comes with an add-on that triggers a little Pac-Man styled minigame.
The errands themselves will seem blaise on paper. These range from picking up milk from your friendly convenience store or cashing in your paycheck to visiting church or picking up a package from the post office. You'll usually get trapped in a dangerous situation, either because of something you've done or someone you've angered, or because of the dim-witted happenings of the citizens of Paradise, all of whom seem to be aching for the Darwin Award. For example, when you go to cash in your paycheck, a group of heavily armed thugs will attempt to rob the bank. When you go and visit the local library, some violent anti-book protesters will pick that day to burn it down and kill everybody inside. The errands do have a sense of non-linearity to them. You can complete them in any order that you would like to, and there is usually more than one way to do them. Let's take the paycheck errand as an example. If you decide to wait in line, which will take you anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes, you can get your check without worry and nary a scratch. If you wanted to, you could break into the bank's vault and do a little on-hands withdrawal yourself. Another errand will have you attempting to purchase a popular children's toy. It appears to be sold out, but you could try breaking into the store room at the back or try bribing the mascot outside the toy store for a toy. Yet another errand has you attempting to buy a copy of Gary Coleman's new autobiography. You could wait in line for an autographed copy, or kill Gary and take one off of his corpse. Better yet, you can skip the line altogether and get yourself over to the bookstore and buy a copy.
Ignoring the errands, there are literally hundreds of things you can do if you're feeling violent and creative enough. You could spend hours running around peeing in people's faces and getting them to barf, or see how many dogs you can befriend. You can try stealing a police uniform from the police station, which grants you the ability to do just about anything without penalty. You can try sniping people in the legs, which will force them to crawl slowly until they die. At this point, you can drop a few hand grenades in there path and watch them crawl to their doom if you're feeling sadistic enough. You could pee on some donuts and then drop them somewhere for some poor cop to eat. You can visit the elephant zoo and drop some cats into the arena, causing the elephants to go on a rampage.
There are literally a ton of things you can do in the singleplayer campaign. Unfortunately, once you complete it you won't have much incentive to play the game anymore. If you beat it on a difficulty level of Average or higher you will unlock an enhanced mode that starts you off with special weapons and abilities, as well as the being able to pee napalm and fire exploding bullets if you have a sniper rifle. The first release of this game didn't feature any sort of multiplayer mode, so you're out of luck if you ran out and bought this game when it first came out. Most stores that do stock the game usually stock the newer version, subtitled Share the Pain, which includes multiplayer.
This is a game with lots to do, and challenges the player in creative ways, but it does fall flat in some areas and feels unpolished in others. It's definitely a unique experience.
+ Decent graphics and sound
+ A talking protagonist
+ Exploration and unique items and weapons
+ Excellent police AI
+ Fairly interesting level and mission design
- Offensive humour will turn off many
- No multiplayer
- Loading times... fixed in a patch, but there are still too many
- Attempts to play non-violently very difficult in practice
- Boring indoor areas
- Wanted system does interrupt the game flow a lot
Final Score (not an average): 7/10
Rating: 3.5 - Good
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