Guilty Pleasure: Postal 2

Postal 2 puts the “guilt” in “guilty pleasure.”  It is an anti-social behavior simulator masquerading as a first person shooter.  As such, it was mostly panned although a few outlets were kind enough to give it middling scores.  In the 11 years since its release, there has been absolutely nothing else like it (which, if you care about human decency, might be considered a good thing).

There are games like Grand Theft Auto, which piss off parents and activists groups, but still have merit as games beyond that initial knee jerk hatred.  And then there is Postal 2, which unapologetically exists to piss off parents and activist groups.  Even the developer’s name, Running With Scissors, signifies rebellion against conventional wisdom or concern for well being.  Heck, even the name “Postal” is sort of a sick joke, one that makes light of the phenomenon of mentally ill people going on violent workplace rampages. Almost everything in the game is either a sight gag or a great big middle finger to people who are easily offended.  It is a gigantic trolling effort – a video game backlash against political correctness.

Postal 2 was an interesting curiosity.  It was one of the first games to use the Unreal 2 engine, and a lot of people were eager to see the new technology at work.  Beyond some excellent use of ragdolls (which were still in their infancy), however, Postal 2 wasn’t very impressive technologically.  It had an “open world” city, but the city was actually a bunch of relatively small areas separated by long loading screens.

There were scripted linear first person shooter levels, but they weren’t the main attraction of Postal 2.  The shooting, in general, was pretty poor.  Weapons had no kick to them and the game didn’t even have a reloading mechanic.  The best part was running around the city of Paradise in between levels, causing whatever havoc you could possibly muster.  One of the funniest aspects of Postal 2 were the mission objectives – getting a gallon of milk, returning a library book, picking up some meat, picking up your paycheck, voting, etc.  The game was a hilarious take on one man’s drab, boring, and depressing life. The game’s tagline was “it’s only as violent as you are.”  It wasn’t entirely true, since the linear levels always required you to shoot your way through.  It wasn’t totally false either though.  Most of the sick stuff in the game was something optional that had to be discovered on your own.  It was possible to complete the game without finding some significant features, like getting arrested so that you can steal a police uniform and impersonate an officer.

Postal 2 had the wacky weapons loadout perfected years before Saints Row came along. Beyond the usual staples, pistol, shotgun, and a assault rifle, Postal 2 had weapons like a gasoline can and a diseased cow head.  It had NPCs like Gary Coleman and unique game mechanics like peeing, which you could do pretty much anywhere.  The game even chastised you if the quick save key was spammed too often, prompting the main character to say things like “my grandmother could beat the game if she saved as often as you do.”

As much as it relied on pee and vomit to get its points across, Postal 2 never got the credit that it deserved for having robust AI.  Without it, the emergent gameplay and constant unscripted hilarity wouldn’t be possible.  The NPCs in the game were remarkably effective at responding to almost anything thrown at them. The world of Postal 2 was well simulated to accomplish what the game needed to accomplish.  Thanks to the game’s AI, you could string together all kinds of wacky events and then sit back and watch the havoc that you created unfold with a smile on your face.  There were tons of little game mechanics to discover.  Give a dog a biscuit to get him to befriend you.  Get some people to shoot at you.  Get one of them to accidentally hit the dog.  Watch as the dog goes on a rampage and chews everybody to pieces.  Watch as groups of bystanders come by and puke as they see the aftermath.

Postal 2 is outdated in a lot of ways, but there hasn’t been anything like it since then.  From what little I saw of Postal 3, it looked like it completely missed the point and just reproduced its “M” rating instead.  It wasn’t developed by Running with Scissors, but by Russian developer Akella.  It has now been 11 years since we got a quality Postal game (I’m not fond of the Apocalypse Weekend expansion pack either).  It has been a long time, but the game is as relevant as it has ever been, maybe even moreso.  The political attacks on gaming are as strong as they have ever been, and the industry is rife with all kinds of questionable practices that are practically begging for some satire to make fun of them.  The world could use another Postal game, and I, for one, would love to see what Running With Scissors could do with it.