Windows - 2001
Also released on: Linux
Description of Postal Plus
Every now and then a game hits the market which causes some controversy, pushing the boundaries of what is considered morally acceptable. Just a few months ago it was Carmageddon, an arcade racing title which actually invited the player to run down innocent pedestrians, and back over them for double points. In a climate of increasing "Road Rage" incidents the game caused a stir, but compared to that, Running With Scissors (RWS)' first release, Postal, has caused an avalanche, and that was even before the game went retail. In a clever marketing campaign RWS have successfully managed to turn the torrents of negative publicity into a positive outcome, using a rather cavalier approach to the games violent content. Quotes of "postal" incidents (in which mentally disturbed individuals launch themselves into killing rampages), adorn the Postal website, and when the US Postal Service criticised the theme, RWS simply added that to their mounting trophy cabinet of negative publicity. But now that the game has hit the shelves we can finally begin to evaluate it as a computer game rather than a moral debate, and cutting through all of the hype and media hot air, Postal is nothing to get excited about.
As the title suggests, Postal revolves around an individual, known as Postal Dude, who goes on a violent rampage, the result of an increasing paranoia that Everyone Is Against Him. The repossession of his meagre house in a small Arizona town (ironically named Paradise) is the final straw, and this is where the player enters the game. The objective is to guide Postal Dude from his quarters to the nearby Air Force base, which is 16 levels of carnage away.
For the main part the action takes place from an isometric viewpoint, similar to the Crusader titles from Origin, although 2 of the single player levels are top-down. One of the major problems of an isometric angle is that when the characters move behind any on screen buildings or other objects they disappear from view. Postal tries to solve this by using an X-Ray system, which causes the offending art to go transparent. This works fine for Postal Dude, but the designers seem to have forgotten that it's also important to be able to see your opponents, because the X-Ray doesn't operate for them. It becomes quite a major problem in some of the more urban levels when missiles appear seemingly from nowhere, and I found myself spraying bullets wildly in a vain hope of hitting the hostile responsible. Postal Dude's controls however, are very basic and intuitive, allowing him to pivot on the spot and unleash. A patch is required for joystick support.
The backdrops for each of the 16 environments, which range from winter landscapes to industrial areas, parks and mines, were all created manually. Much has been made of the fact that no tile sets are used, which means that any art used in one level is not repeated elsewhere. Generally the settings are very nicely detailed in an almost water colour style, which gives an overall cartoon like appearance. Some of the levels, such as the Salvage Yard and the Mine, are very nicely done. However, there are two major flaws which significantly detract from the graphics. The first is the character animations, which are cartoonish and poorly detailed. Secondly, the environment is lifeless and allows for little interaction. Throw a grenade at a car and it remains undamaged. The odd barrel is scattered around to provide the illusion of interaction but they're a miserable substitute for exploding cars and damaged buildings, which in a game like Postal would have been very appropriate.
Non Compos Mentis
Compounding the graphical weakness are the levels themselves, which are simply too short and lack variety. After about 4 or 5 levels of mayhem everything seems to blend together and become a bit of a yawn. The mindless violence that the whole game is based on only carries it through the first few levels, after which it becomes a "ho hum just another innocent civilian" type of game. RWS may have realised the potential lack of variety, and so have included a few variations such as timed levels, capture the flag and run the gauntlet. They feel more of an afterthought than an important part of the game, and could have been more effective if they were linked into the single player campaign. The greatest annoyance to me though is the absurd save game feature, which allows games to be saved only at the beginning of a level. And I thought we had got past that stage a few years ago after Dark Forces?
A level editor is also included, and is relatively simple to use. Don't expect to be able to create entirely new backdrops though, the manual art system means that the editor's only use is to customise the existing levels, which is handy for multiplayer. Postal supports up to 16 players over a TCP/IP internet connection, and has modem and network play. The isometric viewpoint means that multiplayer can be quite a different experience from the usual first person action games, which is nice as an alternative - at first. After a while I found that Postal lacked the immediacy, and intensity, of a good multiplayer fragfest.
But Who Cares? You Want Violence?
Since the open beta test of Postal a few months ago the game has received attention purely because of it's violent content. Is it that violent? Well, yes and no. The objective of each level is to kill a set percentage of its inhabitants (usually about 80%), both civilians and the gun toting "hostiles". When hit they often fall to the ground moaning (where they can be executed), and as is the style these days, bodies remain on screen as does the unrealistically excessive amount of red stuff. It seems to me that the violent concepts that the game portrays are more objectionable than their execution (excuse the pun). The cartoonish style removes the possibility of anything really hideous.
What does set Postal apart violence-wise is the audio, probably the outstanding feature. While there is little music to speak of all of the in game effects and ambient sounds are superb. The moaning and suffering of hit civilians can be quite disturbing in their realism, as are the fire effects and animations. While the graphics fail to evoke the surreal atmosphere that was intended, the sound plays its part superbly. Postal carries an ESRB rating of Mature which recommends gamers over 18 years.
Delusions of Grandeur
There have been few games over the years which have received more hype and attention than Postal, which is truly a compliment to the games designers and their marketing department. By relentlessly pushing the violence aspect and highly controversial theme, they've succeeded in making a simplistic, mediocre title into one of the most talked about games of the last few months. But now that the cloud of anticipation that we call pre-release is over, RWS can't hide the simple facts anymore. Violence just isn't enough to make a computer game good.
Review By GamesDomain
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Postal Plus is available for a small price on the following websites, and is no longer abandonware. GOG.com provides the best release and does not include DRM, please buy from them! You can read our online store guide .
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Postal Plus was also released on the following systems: