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Postal 2

Wednesday, May 07, 2003 by Helly || [0 Comments]

Postal 2
Overall: 2
Graphics: 4
Interface: 2
It used to be that a game had to reach for bleeding edge graphics, amazing gameplay or incredible depth of immersion to capture the hard-earned bucks of gamers. Then came Running With Scissors and their inagural game offering, Postal. With dated graphics even at the time of its release (back in the mid-90's), this top-down shooter was klunky, obvious and not what one would call “story-driven”. But there was something about running around as the “Postal Dude” breaking up a marching band's parade with a land mine that endeared the game to many-a-player. This game was so over-the-top violent and disturbing (with spooky atmospheric music, great victim lines such as “I can't feel my legs”, and the Execute option) that many chains refused to carry it, Senators spoke out against it and the country of Australia banned the game outright.

Not one to sit on their collective laurels (unless a many-year gap between games can be considered resting on one's laurels), Running With Scissors has released Postal 2. Fans snapped up the initial 50,000 unit release, pushing Postal 2 to number one sales status at both Gamestop and Electronics Boutique retailers. To see if Postal 2 could live up to the hype, I snagged myself a copy and worked my way through the daily life of the twisted world of the Postal Dude.

Graphics/Display:

The graphics in Postal 2 are pretty impressive, overall. Based on the Unreal Warfare engine, the world of Paradise, Arizona (the fictional town where the game is based) is sufficiently brown and “desertesque”, but while there are some pretty textures and cool fire effects, the game's graphics weren't as immersive as I'd hoped. The only time I really stopped and said “wow” was when I visited the large church and watched the multi-colored clouds scudding over the tops of the steeples.


V for Victory!

Whatchoo Talkin' 'Bout?


Character models were recognizable and varied, although with as many citizens wandering about the street, the limited number of available faces became pretty obvious. There were also apparently only two body-types available: hot chick (and this is definitely a game designed by guys for guys)/skinny guy and fat girl/guy...but at least they had a few different clothing options. And of course there were models designed to shock and offend, a la the turban-wearing terrorist models. However, there's nothing quite like watching a bunch of Catholic priest pull out automatic rifles as terrorists rush the church (another favorite scene). My favorite model would have the be the cat, who not only grooms itself and rolls on the street, but also fits nicely on the barrel of a shotgun.

The physics of the models is also quite impressive. Cars, which explode if you breathe on them wrong (and the game makes light of this in a cut-scene), fly up into the sky, roll and bounce quite effectively. Perhaps more importantly, as a Postal player, human models run, dance, and die quite realistically, especially in the manner with which their lifeless bodies fall to the ground. But it's when you start kicking the bodies around that you discover the true sinister joy of the physics in this game. The developers quite obviously spent a good amount of time making sure that a dead body acted like a dead, limp body and it's with disturbing pleasure that a player can get wrapped up in kicking bodies down stairs. The only bummer (and I'm beginning to sound like a psycho here) is that there isn't more damage that can be inflicted on a body. While it's true you can take a character's head off (and kick the head around), you can remove limbs and no matter how much you shoot or kick a body, no obvious wounds result before the body just “gibs”. Otherwise, these pristine bodies jut sit in a pool of their blood.


Mmm, Diseased Cow Head

The Cow Says What?


Sounds:
Sound is also effectively implemented in Postal 2, but I miss the ominous overtones the music gave to the original Postal. Postal 2 does have some atmospheric moments, but their relatively rare. Voice acting is done well, but the variety of comments is pretty limited (it's funny to hear the first nurse ask if anyone can help me, but when everyone does it, it gets old fast). The Postal Dude's voiceovers are some of the more amusing/disturbing of the game, and the voice actor's radio DJ voice definitely helps make the Postal Dude stand out from other game characters. Sure to cause controversy is the stereotypical Convenience Store Clerk voice acting (also heard from the terrorists).

The weapon sounds are pretty standard, although I do like the sound of the automatic rifle rounds smacking into flesh...ok, I AM a psycho. There is no soundtrack to speak of in Postal 2, but there are a lot of ambient sounds like birds, people yelling at one another and dogs barking.

Interface/Controls:

The interface is pretty standard FPS. You will play the game from behind the eyes of the Postal Dude, only catching glimpses of yourself in cut scenes and mirrors. The keys are mappable and come set up in the standard WASD/Mouse combo configuration.

I didn't particularly like the icons in the top right of the screen that indicate what you're wielding, your health and what items are in your inventory. The goofy bloody outline reminded me of a heavy metal fan's website from 1998 with the “dripping blood” bar gif image. Aside from not being particularly aesthetically pleasing and little on the large size, they serve their function properly.

You can always see where you are on the map by hitting the “f” key, which pauses the game and loads up a full screen map with your position and the positions of load zones and mission objectives clearly marked.

Multiplayer (if any):

This is perhaps the saddest part of this release: no multiplayer. There is talk that RWS is working on a post-release implementation of multiplayer, but for now you'll have to make do with the single player. Speaking of which, let's go over single-player Gameplay.


What Violence?

Cat Butt Silencer


The objective of the Postal Dude is to complete a series of errands either of his own making, or more often, from the mind of his soul-crushing wife. You'll make your way from your trailer (replete with busted AC) into the streets of Paradise, AZ. From here, it's your choice to either immediately finish off your errands or explore the town.

The developers spent a lot of time making sure that every building in the game is a real building and something which you can explore. Of course, NPCs may take offense to your wandering about their property and come after you. This is where you can make another choice: to kill or not to kill.

RWS has made quite a bit of noise about the fact that you can play the game without actually shooting anyone. And while this is true (and by their own admission), this is extremely difficult way to finish the game. It's not like you can't easily walk around town avoiding random violent encounters, but it's when you complete the majority of the missions that you discover that everyone's out to get you (although most times it's guilt by association). Pick up your paycheck at work and you'll find protesters (one of the many ironic twists in the game) who, while protesting the violence inherent in the game choose to clean it up by shooting the developers. Return a book to the library, and book burners will try to pop you. The bank you're in gets robbed and you sit quietly by? Not good enough – the cops will shoot you even if you're unarmed and never took part in the gunfight. The fact that the game and the NPCs will assume, in many cases, that you were the root cause of any nearby violence and attack you despite your best efforts not to offend seems to cast some doubt on RWS' statements that the game can be played in a completely pacifistic environment.

But seriously, who bought this game without planning on shooting every moving object?


Oh, I'll Kick Ya...

Testicle Shaped Dolls?


AI is a mixed-bag in the game's design. NPCs run the gamut from hair-trigger violent to running away at the first sign of a fight, with a few degrees in between (some NPCs will drop their guns and run if you suddenly whip out a rocket launcher). Some NPCs will drop into a crouch and try to sidle out of your view if they see you packing, other's just screaming and run. The problem is that no matter what personality the NPC has, if they start shooting at you, they won't miss. Ever. There's also a bit of a disconnect in how the cops react in the game. If you get into a fight with the cops, you could kill 20 and then hide for a while and eventually your wanted meter with drop to nothing. You can then walk past cops without fear of any reprisals, even amongst the bodies of the other cops you just recently killed.

Then there's the weapon balance, which is horrendous. You can shoot someone running away twice with the handgun and they drop, or 15 times with the assault rifle and they're still running. Unless you're standing on top of someone with the shotgun, there's little hope of a one-shot kill. And how many times do you have to smash someone with a shovel before they drop? The only truly reliable weapon in the game is the sniper rifle. Even fire doesn't necessarily kill...SWAT team members can survive the length of the flame and come up shooting...oh yeah, and they chase you when they're on fire in order to try and set you on fire as well (and the way in which you quench the flames is pretty funny).

But perhaps the most annoying aspect of this game is the level load times. Considering the complaints posted on various boards from players with both cutting edge and older systems, it doesn't seem to matter how well you meet or beat the system requirements, you'll still be stuck loading for 30 seconds to over a minute each time you need to zone to another section of the map. This would be acceptable if you only had to zone once a round, but some missions require you to zone five times and more (depending on your route) to get where you need to go. And most missions will have you running back and forth over the same sections of town multiple times as you work your way around to your various mission points.

RWS has this to say on their official site: “...our game is one of the few (only?) that literally lets you walk through every single door. Our buildings aren't just facades as they are in most games...this all adds up to a LOT of data to be loaded for each new area...We are seeing some people trying to play this as an FPS when in fact it was designed as First Person Adventure...The point being that if you play this game as an adventure, the load times aren't as much of an issue because you don't tend to jump from one load to the next. Instead, you spend time in each area before moving on.”


Get Used To This

Dang Marching Bands


The problem is also with the Unreal Warfare engine, which is designed for smaller maps and not larger, data-intensive areas. RWS also wants you to approach this game not as an FPS, but as an adventure where you can literally explore every building and find secret areas. There is definitely a lot to explore, but I don't think the “you're playing it wrong” argument is legitimate excuse for such large load times.

Summary:

I will be the first to admit that I was really looking forward to Postal 2's release (having been a fan of the original, despite all its shortcomings) and maybe I had my expectations a bit high. But the game, while pretty to look at in places and definitely plenty violent (and a great way to release stress after work), just didn't capture and hold my attention.

RWS wanted this game to be a “First Person Adventure”, but there's no story for me to care about, nothing to get me involved and no place to go that isn't a rehash of some earlier place in the game. Yes, the violence is over-the-top and disturbingly entertaining, but it's a one-trick pony that, by the last day in your game's week, gets old. At least the first game had no qualms about it's simplistic “kill everyone” premise. Even the last map “psycho stage” was spookier and more disturbing in the original than the follow-up. Of course, Postal 2 is more lighthearted (never thought those two things would go together, did ya?) than the original and has more opportunities for insensitive comedy, but overall it just doesn't hold it's own as either a compelling FPS, or FPA, or whatever.

I'm sure this game will generate plenty of controversy, and I do hope that parent's are paying to attention to what their kids are buying (this game is rated “M” for intense violence), but it's really not all that much worse that GTA3, which had a significantly more involving storyline and really did live up to the First Person Adventure criteria. Postal 2 is a great game if you want a quick load-up and shoot-em-up psycho game, but nothing about Postal 2 is quick. This game is more a guilty pleasure than a real pleasure.

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