Postal 2

ICJ 05/07/2003 

The Ultimate Catch-22 of Computer Games

The Postal Dude has no issues with his own heritage and we here at Caltrops can now finally say the same.
I'd like to offer you advice on whether or not to purchase Postal 2. I'd like to, but having paid the suggested retail price of $49.99, I find myself unable to give advice to anyone, on any subject, at any time. Postal 2 has ruined my ability to function normally within society at large by making my opinions worthless, a feat which was once the exclusive domain of lifetime subscriptions to Salon.

I envisioned two benefits to buying the game before it hit the discount bin next to Madden 97 and Kohan: Ahriman's Gift: I'd bypass the demo's seven-minute limit, and -- in much the same way that I was able to look at the 11,741 Colorado voters who punched a ballot for Nader and say "Hey, I'm the '1'!" -- I'd "see myself" in Fatbabies's purchase tallies. Unfortunately, these plans were ruined when Caltrops Reader Chillum provided 'intel' on beating the timer without a hex editor or a Logic Analyzer, and when Postal 2 sold so poorly that even Fatbabies gave it a free pass to the nation-state of Apathetica.

The Fire Is There, Future Columbiners -- Now Where's The Liver Extraction Button?

But hey, Trinity sold like shit too, right? Sales, like statistics, are for losers. Gameplay is what's really important. Unfortunately, getting to any demands a level of patience that even Comrade Tarkovsky would have arrogantly sniffed at after filming his fifth hour of Solaris. The load times are the only bit about the game that justifies the "Postal" moniker, seeing how the protagonist now works for a video game company and not the USPS. Waiting for cross country mail doesn't even really do the loading delays justice -- the thing instead being branded Glacial 2, in honor of the Glacial Mail Routing System used during the last Ice Age to update hungry mastodons and filthy hominoids as to which of their kin fell into that tar pits that epoch would have been much more fitting. The blood-red "loading" bar is utterly meaningless, and provides no hint of just how close you are to actually being able to move the "Postal Dude" around the map to commit crimes. The game's manual more or less admits to the game-ruining load times, and condescendingly implores you to get a faster computer. The manual coyly neglects to describe the ideal system for running this molasses-slathered hog, possibly because it exists only in the wet dreams of AMD's chip design team. 

Once you get going, there is lots to do in the game's city. Computer Gaming World, which gave Freelancer the genre description of "Han Solo Simulator" and their readers an opportunity to wonder "what in the fuck is a Han Solo Simulator?", could easily dub Postal 2 a "Serial Killer Training Package" or even "NFL Player Off-Season Sim." To illustrate, I've prepared a little quiz in the style of the television show "Beyond Belief". Some of these events are taken from the game; some are from the real-life adventures of NFL players. Can you guess which is which?

Let's ask this guy what he thinks of the game -- ah. Oh.
1) I had just used a taser on an attractive young woman. As she fell to the ground in a spasm of paralysis, I unzipped my pants and urinated on her. She woke up from that, pulled out a hand gun from the back of her skirt and shot me. Having little health at the time I died. After my death, she began to kick my corpse. A female police officer showed up on the scene, and when the girl accidentally kicked her instead of my corpse, they began shooting each other. I can't say for certain, but I think they were going to make out for a second there before they exchanged gunfire. 

2) I snuck into a female dormitory, where a girl that I had fancied previously lay asleep. I opened up her closet door and proceeded to take a snarling growler on top of all her clothes. I shit so loudly that the girl woke up. She called the police and I was carted off to my drunken shame.

3) In the course of a day, I followed several men and women into a secluded bit of valley. I broiled each one, lightly and for twenty-five to thirty seconds, with the shocker. I executed them with double-taps to the head. I then kicked each corpse up a hill (as their blood was shown to dynamically flow and pool downwards), until I had a pile of bodies. I threw gasoline on the pile in full view of the cops -- who winked saucily -- and burned my eight or nine victims while a nearby pedestrian vomited violently.

4) I inadvertently drove a car through the wall of a senior citizens' home, pinning an old woman under a dresser. Seeing her like that was too much to bear, so I fled on foot rather than stick around and give aid.

As it turns out, numbers one and three were done in-game. The other two describes the adventures of one Najeh Davenport of the Green Bay Packers and Jerramy Stevens of the Seattle Seahawks. The thing is, though, if you substitute the shitting with pissing (and look, I think that's a fair substitution one can make here) and discount the collapsible infrastructure at the retirement home, there's really no reason that someone couldn't make a mod or a level pack for Postal 2 where those horrific events could be re-enacted. Certainly, putting together a "Jack the Ripper," "Night Stalker," or "Rae Carruth" level could be easily done with the editor. Fortunately, the kinds of kids in the mod community who might take up this project already write just as incomprehensibly as Jack did in his Dear Boss letters. It's a match made in Heaven.

Psst! What's My Line? You'd Know If You Didn't Deviate From The Script

When you decide to "get serious" and complete some tasks within the game, you'll find that things are set up so that you've got a few mundane missions for each of the game's five days. Firstly, you need to go get your paycheck, cash it, and buy milk. Getting your check requires you to go to the top of the map, a distance of three load zones. Once there, you'll meet professional game designer Vince Desiderio, be fired, and receive your severance pay. Running With Scissors decided to depict themselves within the game, so they had an opportunity to maybe say something about what it's like to work in the game industry. They didn't, however, and the scene is the computer game equivalent of Journey's "Faithfully." Taking the check initiates a cutscene and script: a bunch of protestors throw down their signs and bring out their machine guns. Total chaos breaks out as they enter Vince's office.

And that's more or less the entire game. The pointlessness of your required tasks are prettied up by scripted events, set inside a mediocre first person shooter. Going to the bank? You'll be visited by bank robbers. Going to the church? Say "Hi!" to Mohammed and his M-16 toting brethren. At each and every stage, Postal 2 fails to mine a rich vein of drama and comedy, and instead goes for the sophomoric, sociopathic, obvious "gag." The very thought of the protagonist in a Catholic confessional is ripe for hilarity: can you imagine if the game recounted your in-game deeds as the priest became more and more shocked and frightened? That would have made this game. But instead, the priest simply asks if you've made a donation (I hadn't), accepts your reply in the affirmative (wait, I haven't tithed -- oh, never mind) and then produces the requisite batch of angry towel heads. 

What's the Verdict?

This would be a much cooler scene if she was really split in half rather than being an example of shitty collision detection.
RWS's immaturity and brash laziness are really what's responsible for this game's failure. They had no interest in presenting the perfect "murder simulator" that various politicians, morality watchdogs and garden-variety ignoramuses have been claiming already exists. Fair enough, but they also did nothing to distance themselves from the long-storied shooter field, aside from putting in a token GTA3-style "Choose Your Own Adventure" bit and then rendering it impotent with protracted load times. That, coupled with how terribly unfunny they are, makes it impossible to recommend this game. There are 'jokes' referring to how Arabs smell. Ah. Ha. There are 'jokes' featuring former UGO Edgy Coverboy, Gary Coleman, which crash. Badly. (Coleman's execrable voice acting, at least, solves the apparent mystery of his chronic unemployment.) Furthermore, non-player characters will occasionally shit out a comment like, "Someone go get Lieberman." HURR! Just saying that jackass's name isn't funny: you've got to satirize him or--better yet--insult the fuck out of him. A reference alone doesn't cut it! Do some goddamn work!

I went into this game hoping I could recommend it. Then again, I also spoke with my brother before he left for the bars tonight, hoping to recommend that he not wear stripes on stripes outside the house. He simply waved the Postal 2 receipt in my face and I fell silent. The hushed tension in the room was broken only by my computer's speakers as my victims let out a sort of heaving mewling over their third-degree burns and golden showers that was a bit more discomforting than you might otherwise think it would be. As he left, his burglar's sweatshirt and pinstripe trousers was a clashing reminder of my opinions' newfound impotence. If RWS has done one thing right, at least, it's in creating the perfect review-proof game -- at least until it's sitting in a jewel case next to Dominion: Storm Over Gift 3, I guess.