Postal 2: Paradise Lost

The most notable feature of Postal 2: Paradise Lost isn’t its excessive gore or social commentary. Nor is it the wacky boss battles, peeing as a game mechanic, or its profanity-laced script. No, the most notable feature of Postal 2: Paradise Lost is its mere existence. A full decade after Postal 2: Apocalypse Weekend, Running With Scissors has resurfaced out of nowhere to release a second Postal 2 expansion pack. It’s not every day that you get an expansion pack to a twelve year old game, and this announcement came as such a shock that I immediately checked Steam to see if it was a practical joke. It isn’t. Alas, Postal 2: Paradise Lost is for real, for better or for worse.  The franchise returns from the dead in its full blood, vomit, and urine-soaked glory.

In Paradise Lost, you play, once again, as the Postal dude.  Like its predecessors, the game takes place in the fictional town of Paradise, Arizona.  The town is divided up into a handful of zones separated by loading screens. A decade after the events of Apocalypse Weekend, Postal dude returns to his old town (destroyed by a nuke he set off) in search of Champ, his ever faithful dog. Upon Postal dude's arrival, the town is in a much different state than it was ten years ago. The economy is in ruins, with many of the businesses boarded up or abandoned. The police have been replaced by local militia, piles of garbage are everywhere, and strange weather patterns are covering parts of the town in rain or snow.  Flesh-eating zombies have taken over the junkyard, and former child actor (and Postal movie star) Zack Ward has taken up residence in one of the town's old buildings. Paradise lost, indeed.

The revamped setting applies a fresh coat of paint to an old world to help give it some longevity, but that is arguably the game’s biggest problem.  The antisocial antics aren’t as much fun to partake in as they were in Postal 2Postal 2 had a perfect setting – a small, relatively normal town where you stand out as the world’s biggest psychopath.  A huge portion of that game’s fun came from trolling its virtual characters and disrupting their everyday lives.  The game’s banal mission objectives (get a gallon of milk, return a library book, etc) gave a sense of irony to the game’s violence.  Here, with the town having suffered through an apocalypse, there are so many crazies and so much violence around that there is nothing to ruin.  There are no corner convenience stores or stereotypical suburban shopping malls in which to wreak havoc.  There are still ordinary citizens, but they are outnumbered by enemies and the town’s gun-toting militia.  The game attempts to fill this void with more story, more cut scenes, boss battles, and humor that references current events, the Postal movie, and the original game.  Such attempts at referential humor falls flat as often as they succeed, because the quality of the writing is mixed at best.  Suffice it to say, gamers who either never played Postal 2 or didn’t like it won't get much out of Paradise Lost.  It is a game targeted at the small core audience that enjoyed Postal 2 and wants to play more with that character in that universe.

Fans who are nostalgic for the chaos of Postal 2 should be at least satisfied for a while. You can still kick open doors and terrorize people with diseased cow heads, if you wish. You can still urinate in all kinds of inappropriate places and you can still eliminate a pack of enemies by luring them into a pool of gasoline and setting it ablaze (and there is even an achievement for putting out somebody who is on fire with urine). The best feature of Apocalypse Weekend, dismemberment, is back too.  So, not only can you blast enemies in the face, you can immobilize or disarm them by hacking off their legs and arms.  There are some new additions, like vending machines to buy ammo and power-ups.  New weapons like the Glock and the submachine gun have been added, as well as new power-ups like an energy drink that allows for temporary dual wield.  Boss battles are now part of the experience, although that isn't really a good thing because they are not very good.  The lack of graphical upgrades or new NPC models since 2003 is a bit of a bummer, but there is still more than enough content in this expansion pack to justify its $8 price.  How much you get out of it will depend largely upon how much time you spend wandering around outside of the missions, but you probably can’t blaze through it in less than five hours.

At its core, Postal 2 is a first person shooter, but you have an inventory in addition to guns and exploration is an important part of the game. Thankfully, Paradise Lost ditches the linear design of Apocalypse Weekend and returns to the freeform, nonlinear exploration of Postal 2.  You are free to explore the town areas as they open up, running errands like acquiring air conditioning parts or grabbing a bite to eat from the local Chinese restaurant.  You can complete the missions at your own pace, or opt to explore the town’s nooks and crannies.  If exploring is your thing, the game rewards scouting with hidden ammunition and power-ups in relatively hard to reach places.  As expected, the errands usually require some combat.  With each one, you typically reach your objective in a relatively easy manner, watch a cut scene where a bunch of enemies spawn, and then retrace your steps while shooting everyone who gets in your way.

The formula for these missions gets predictable, and it isn’t done any favors by Postal 2’s bland shooting. Most of the weapons feels like they have little or no kick to them and some of the gunshot sounds are quite weak.  The pistol and the automatic rifle are pea shooters that require a half dozen shots to the face to take down an ordinary enemy.  The shotgun is useful, but only if you score a shot to the face and gib your enemy’s head into meat chunks.  The weapons are all grouped Half-Life style, with each key representing certain categories of weapons like pistols or shotguns.  Some categories are so deep that it takes five key strokes to select the weapon that you want out of them.  This is especially problematic in the game’s more challenging moments.  Thanks to the impracticality of accessing so many different weapons, you will probably just stick to a few, with the shotgun doing the lion’s share of the work.  I think that this game would have been better served by at least binding the throwables to a different key Halo style.  As it stands, Postal 2 is a below average (at best) shooter that has to lean heavily on its humor to sustain itself.

In addition to its graphic violence, Postal 2 was also known for its South Park approach to social commentary. Postal 2 was loaded with references to the NRA, Joe Lieberman, the War on Terror, and many other details of American politics of that time. The commentary is still there, but it has been updated to fit the current events of 2015.  One of your missions is to ransack the offices of PU Games, a greedy software monolith that is obsessed with microtransations and day one DLC (you can probably figure out who that is supposed to be).  One adversary is an anti-video game arms dealer named Yeeland (you can probably figure out who that is too).  There are some Walking Dead references, shout-outs to other games, and potshots taken at political correctness in video games.  The game’s satire has its moments, but at times it is ham-fisted and would have benefitted from more subtlety.

Graphically, Postal 2 has not aged well -- at all.  The environments are loaded with blocky geometry and ugly, flat textures, yet somehow the framerate dips into the single digits during the bigger battles.  Most of the game’s animations look awkward and terrible, especially in the game’s amateurish cut scenes.  Lip syncing is borderline nonexistent.  The weapon models still look decent, I suppose, and some of the new art assets (like posters on the walls) look modern.

For the most part though, Postal 2: Paradise Lost smacks of a low budget, so much so that it sometimes feels like a mod instead of a commercial product.  There is almost no ambient audio in the game and not much variety in the voice samples, outside of the Postal Dude.  Most if not all of the Dude’s one liners are recycled from 2003.  The game doesn’t even make a “splish-splash” sound when you run through water.  The environments are sparsely populated with NPCs and objects, and most of those objects can’t be touched or manipulated in any way.  Don’t be surprised if you encounter numerous mild glitches, like blood running up a wall, achievements popping up multiple times or not popping up at all, NPCs getting stuck on level geometry, and enemies pulling invisible “pistols” out of their pockets and aiming at you with empty hands.  I get that this is the product of a small team, so I shouldn’t expect triple-A Ubisoft graphics.  Nevertheless, I have played enough small indie games on Steam to expect a higher level of quality control and a more professional feel than that offered by this game.

Does Postal 2: Paradise Lost have many redeeming qualities?  Perhaps it does, if you are in the mood for an old-school shooter with unconventional design, wacky weapons, and R-rated humor.  If nothing else, Paradise Lost deserves some credit for not being another by-the-numbers brown shooter with two weapons, regenerating health, and quick time events.  It is faithful fan service and it offers good value for its price.  For most people reading this review though, those praises probably won’t be enough.  The game’s quality is poor in too many ways to entice new fans to the series, and even old fans may find themselves questioning how good Postal 2 was to begin with.  The glitches, the outdated engine, the forgettable shooting, and the poor boss battles are problems that are too big too ignore.  Postal 2: Paradise Lost isn’t a disaster, but it is a fairly hard game to recommend in the end.  Unless you have a lot of affection for the original game and you have been eagerly awaiting more content, it is an expansion pack that you should probably skip.