Retro-review: Postal 2

As I continued picking through Gog.com’s catalog, I couldn’t help but get excited when I saw Postal 2. $10 for the game and expansion was too good to pass up. Even though I’d only played the demo I was eager to see what happened after you bought the milk.

What interested me the most about Postal 2 when it first came out was the idea of letting the player decide how violent and disturbed they would play through the game.

The game is split into five days. Each day you have a simple task like buy milk or pick up a steak. There are violent and non-violent resolutions to each task.

Well… kinda.

You can finish the game without killing anyone, but you still need money. That means you’re going to have to break a few laws. Robbery, breaking and entering… maybe a few more felonies. You’re not going to finish the game a saint no matter what.

Obviously, the game is built around the fun of mass carnage wrapped around a flimsy, skeletal plot. There is a tiny bit more to it than fulfilling simple tasks. Inevitably at least one of your daily chores will turn into a typical shooter level as terrorists attack or protestors brandish machine guns. But you can burn through it rather quickly if you want to.

As much as I love this premise, I can’t say it was executed well. I think technical limitations, budget and time constraints probably played a big part in that. It’s not hard to come up with familiar situations, sayings, and events that make you want to go postal. However, those in the game are weak. Strangely, I felt like I wasn’t tortured enough if I tried to follow the straight and narrow.

Once carnage does erupt, the game treads the line between shooter and murder simulator. There are legitimate villains trying to kill you, and I don’t remember any parts where you’re encouraged to kill innocents. Yet you’ll get plenty of one-liners, weapons and cash if you let those inner demons loose on the bystanders. It’s up to you.

The second time through, in “enhanced” mode, I decided to just kill everybody. At first it’s cathartic, and I spent a good chunk of time trying to find new ways to kill people. After a while though I just started feeling bad for folks. The police in Postal 2 are highly ineffective, and I was wiping out most of the city. Finally, I got bored.

As I plowed through the weekend expansion, I realized Postal 2 is a mediocre game at best. Once the novelty wears off, you’re left with a less-then-thrilling shooter. The level design is uninspired. The enemies are repetitive.

I considered if age was a factor. Is the game simply hindered by technology? Not at all. The great shooters hold up. Half-Life, Duke Nukem 3D, Quake. Those are still fun to play.

But what about the game’s purpose? What about letting loose on a population and venting rage? The problem is the Grand Theft Auto series does it much better. Not only do you not have to worry about loading times for the most part, but you get to play with traffic as well.

Still, it’s hard not to consider Postal 2 a step toward something more interesting. It IS fun for a while. If the standard FPS elements can be hammered into a somewhat more tactical, rewarding experience there might just be something good in Postal 3. I’ll definitely be waiting to see what happens.

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