I struggled with this one, and whether to write it at all. While I was playing, another shooter attacked a crowd in California. We (not just the U.S.) definitely have a problem with guns, and the “crazed postal worker” incident that the title references is no longer an isolated oddity. This is not what I want this review to be about, however, and it doesn’t seem fair to judge a game from 2003 on the events of ten years later. Just be aware that Postal 2 feels especially tasteless these days, though it isn’t (and wasn’t) setting out to make fun of any actual tragedies.
The first Postal was all about unfocused anarchy. There was no particular story, no particular goal, no particular message, and no particular point. Postal 2 tries to frame that same free-form chaos within five days of Postal Dude’s menial life. Each day finds the Dude booted from his trailer with a list of chores from the missus. Objectives include going to the store to get milk, paying off a traffic ticket, or returning an overdue library book. Against this everyday backdrop enters the wanton violence of typical FPS.
Gameplay is all about turning commonplace activities upside down. You could stand patiently in line at the bank teller waiting to cash your check, or you could klonk everyone in line with a shovel and stroll smugly to the front. You could do nothing when your boss laughs in your face as he fires you, or you could zap him with a taser until he cries and wets himself. Postal 2 likes to push you, testing your patience and resolve, until you finally blow off steam upon all the (literally) nameless, family-less humanoid obstacles in your way. If you’ve ever found yourself wanting to punch a howling baby in the supermarket, kick a condescending asshole in the junk, or run an idiot driver off the road, Postal 2 is playing to those fantasies.
It’s an… interesting setup, and certainly more conceptualized than the first Postal. It’s essentially a raw power fantasy. Unfortunately, it’s also annoyingly predictable. Nearly every task in the game plays out the same way – arrive at location with mundane goal, possibly stand in line, then watch as some enemy faction storms the place with assault rifles and shotguns. Book burning protesters start shooting up (and burning) the library. Anti-violence crusaders ransack the Running With Scissors offices (because of course they do). Butchers pull guns on you for stumbling in a backroom and discovering that their steaks are actually made from people. Many of these factions will then appear on the streets and shoot at you on sight.
To me, these inevitable raids sabotage the point, and turn the game’s world into some kind of hyper-right-wing parody. If the game’s supposed to be about you, and the chaos you choose to cause, then forcing satirical mayhem strips that from you. One of the higher difficulty modes (“Hestonworld”) even arms everyone in town and causes shooting matches between them at the slightest provocation. Maybe for gameplay purposes, it ensures there’s action even if you’re not providing it. Maybe it just sets context for your own atrocities in a world where you can’t even go to confession without Islamic suicide bombers (sadly, yes) intervening. Maybe I’m just overthinking it, because Postal as a series never seems to have been big on “message.”
It also throws a real wrench in the game’s famous claim that “it’s only as violent as you are.” Clearly, not true. However, it was promised that you could make it through the entire game without firing a single shot – a challenge which I naturally took on. Turns out, it is actually possible. It’s not easy – and the endless protestor raids mean it’s clearly not intended – but you can indeed run away from every encounter. Randomized police officers (and later, army guys) on the streets will even come to your defense, provided you’re not flashing a gun and shooting back.
Certain plot missions make a “peaceful” playthrough highly questionable though; one mission traps you alone in a meat packing plant with a bunch of angry rednecks, while another has you trying to escape the backroom of a toy store while the police storm the building. There’s no one to come to your aid, and your only recourse is to run past enemies absorbing damage all the way. You probably can’t survive on higher difficulties, but I lived long enough to flee on “Average,” albeit with the aid of many crack pipes which act as the game’s health boosts (of course). I should also note the run wasn’t completely without violence – I did have to kick a few people blocking doors or walkways, and with no way to collect money when you’re not killing people, a few missions could only be completed by running past furious guards and stealing the item.
On the other end of the scale, if peace isn’t your intent, Postal 2 is all too happy to let you go further than any game prior. The actual shooting is surprisingly mundane, with no wound decals or shattering limbs a la Soldier of Fortune. Only heads can be destroyed, or entire bodies vaporized by explosions (more dismemberment is added in the expansion). A basic, but fairly realistic fluid model has been included, so blood and vomit splash on walls and trickle down inclines. So does your pee, armed by unzipping your pants with R and firing a recharging stream at any and all passers by. You can even look up and let the stream cascade down to douse yourself if on fire. Later, your pee gets “upgraded” with gonorrhea. I feel certain this is the last time I’ll ever use that sentence in a review.
The fluid system further extends to a can of gasoline, picked up and deployed like a weapon. You can lay down an elaborate trail and strike a match, watching the flames accurately follow the path. Technically, it’s pretty neat stuff. However, the results are especially horrific. A little too much time was spent on modeling a burned body that weakly crawls forward before curling rigidly up. The whole game’s “a bit much,” but that addition in particular seemed almost out of place with its sadistic detail.
Graphically, the biggest complaint is the aggressive load zones. I assume to accommodate the memory requirements of rampant potential chaos, the town is divided into a series of very small maps (even for 2003). Load zones are clearly marked, but be prepared to travel through a lot of map changes across the course of a day. It also means the potential for exploration is limited, as nearly every area in the town will have a mission directing you to it. The rest of the engine and art is pretty par for the period, with enough detail to get the gags and dick jokes across.
Audio is similarly competent, with a return of the spacey humming from the first Postal in some areas (government mind control?). Rick Hunter as Postal Dude has the cynical delivery down, and some decent quips. And Gary Coleman as himself delivers an amusing cameo. Yes, you can kill Gary.
These days, a virtual representation of firing indiscriminately into a screaming, cowering crowd is, frankly, extremely disturbing. But Postal 2 was created well before examples of this in real life started stacking up on the evening news, and its only agenda seems to be to push the violent video game debate even further out of its comfort zone. On that, RWS and I can both agree – as long as what happens in a game stays in a game, it’s harmless. In that sense, Postal 2 is the ultimate power fantasy – where you’re free to do anything you want with no consequences and no one to stop you. Provided, of course, that what you want to do is at either of the two extremes of killing everyone in sight, or waiting passively in line.
Dumb as hell, but still more focused than the first Postal, with some legitimate examples of satire (even sports a “hanging chad” joke). Certainly treads ground other games don’t, even if it often does so just for shock value.
Loading zones are mighty restrictive. Singles out what I presume are supposed to be Pakistanis for some awfully overt racism. If you’re offended by pointless “murder simulation” then this is just as bad as you’re expecting.
“Hey, I’m just trying to exercise my second-amendment rights here, ya fuckin’ Communist!” — Postal Dude