Short people got no reason to live. Preview

Short people got no reason to live.

Sternly-worded protests of the Postmaster General notwithstanding, the phrase "going postal" isn't really connected to the U.S. Postal Service - at least, not anymore. While it does derive its black humor origins from some newsworthy but extreme actions of certain stressed-out USPS employees in the 1980s, almost everybody knows its common meaning today: the sudden dispensing, by any person or persons, of high-caliber (and widely-indiscriminate) justice.

It's the perfect (if uneasy) subject for a computer game, all the moreso if suffused with the sort of over-the-top humor that belies the game's level of otherwise-psychotic violence. Hey, we've all had one of those Falling Down days, right? Enter Postal 2.

A little background, if you're in need. The 1997 top-down action/strategy killfest Postal drew various grades of cheers or acidic jeers, but it sure didn't go unnoticed. Since '97, the head honcho of developer Running With Scissors, Vince Desi, has crossed swords with reluctant retailers, edgy editors, miffed media and even the occasional pissed-off (and sleepy) politician. Postal was topically-touchy, thematically-skimpy, mechanically-ordinary...and almost shamefully fun.

Well, the times have a-changed, and game engines have a-changed with them. Postal 2 will be a strictly first-person romp through a typical week in the combat boots of the Postal Dude as he "goes postal" on the fully-populated, free-roaming, fictional town of Paradise, Arizona. Or doesn't. How much spent brass you leave on the ground at the end of the week is really up to you, actually. It's quite possible (though not bloody likely, or recommended) to make your way through the Postal Dude's week without firing a single offensive shot. The problem (as we discovered firsthand while recently visiting the Running With Scissors folks) is that all Arizonans seem to be rather heavily armed.

In Postal 2, the "Postal Dude" has settled down, sort of. He lives in a trailer (of course) in and he even has a job (at Running With Scissors!). Postal Dude's primary "missions" consist of such intrigue-packed tasks as picking up and cashing his paycheck, buying a quart of milk at the "Lucky Ganesh" (a mini-mart reminiscent of Apu's Kwik-E-Mart), or attending a book signing at the local mall for the signature of - or chance to shoot - diminutive guest star and pop-culture-gone-awry icon Gary Coleman! All of it's presented courtesy of the Unreal engine, providing some of the most convincing outdoor environments we've thus far seen in a first-person game.

No, you didn't read it wrong, and we didn't phrase it in some odd or clever way: Gary Coleman plays himself in the game, through voice-work, meticulous facial modeling and motion-capture...and you can shoot him. Repeatedly, if necessary. Actually, it will be necessary, because Mr. Coleman is a surprisingly hard target (for a short person wearing a cream-colored suit), and he isn't going to take kindly to any interruption of his book-signing, even if it is only in a virtual world. He may be a small guy, but he makes up for it by packing lots of firepower. You probably don't believe us, so we've even provided proof. Whachoo talkin' 'bout NOW, Willis?

Want more proof? Click here...if you dare. Note: Not for the weak of heart (or kidney)!

The original Postal was awash in exaggerated, chaotic violence, like some hellish/hilarious cartoon parody of the Six 'o Clock News, and Postal 2 surely aims to do its digital daddy proud in that regard. Even a hardened game industry veteran would come away from a five-minute demo knowing that Postal 2 has the most outrageous content the computer gaming world has seen to date, absolutely, bar none. Forget Kingpin and Soldier of Fortune; as nasty as they were, they were both, in their own ways, very close to ugly reality. Not so with Postal 2, which comes off less like Littleton and more like South Park.

I AM NOT WEBSTER!!!!!Let's just get it out of the way now: Somebody, somewhere, is absolutely going to get offended by Postal 2. There may or may not be an Iraq in three months, but there will still be some cheesed-off Postal 2 protester. Almost every subgroup with an agenda imaginable is here in the game's 150+ non-player-character permutations...and if you want to, you can kill every last one of them, often in some inventive, sickoid laugh-out-loud way. Men, women, civilians, cops, whites, blacks, gays, straights, dogs, cats - you name it, you can kill it. Especially cats - take particular note of the improvised 'silencer,' which is a cat with the player's weapon of choice jammed up its hoo-hoo. Watch what happens on the 9th paraphrase Andrew Vachss, everybody pays.

Especially entertaining targets are videogame protester nut-jobs (who suddenly storm the in-game RWS offices with an arsenal of automatic weapons), at least three distinct types of Taliban, overweight gibbering game geeks, and even the recognizable employees of Running With Scissors themselves, easily spotted by their black, distinctive-logo T-shirts. What's more, company president Desi himself appears as a viable target - with loud tacky clothing for easy identification. Got a complaint about the game? Now's your chance! Boo-ya! Fugheddabouddit!

Paradise, Arizona is a fully-realized township with lots of variety, details and sub-locales for the curious to explore. These include the Paradise police station (where the player can actually wind up imprisoned, necessitating a fairly involved escape), a bank (choose your own actions), an establishment that is clearly a gay dance club (with a great name, which we won't spoil), an incendiary weapons factory, the aforementioned shopping mall, a train depot with lots of platform-style ledges and a host of others. Available armament at this stage includes handguns, shotguns, stun-guns, sniper rifles, grenades, gasoline, shovels, an absurd seeker-weapon, and a few others you'll just need to work out for yourself

All the while, the Postal Dude cracks wise to himself Duke Nukem style, in a deep, composed voice ("So THAT'S how that feels!" he muses, when the player gets shot). If you decide to play the pacifist for as long as you can stand it, you'll bear witness to various firefights and furballs breaking out spontaneously amongst the Paradise citizenry. Play your non-violent cards right, and it's possible to scour the aftermath of a street bloodbath like some urban vulture, scooping up weapons, cash and other goodies while never having taken a life yourself.

Postal 2's slightly goofy body physics smack loudly of the rag-doll mechanics found in the recent Minority Report, particularly when foes are booted around with the player's Kick command (a last-ditch but satisfying attack when ammo for all other weapons is temporarily depleted). Bodies tumble wildly through the air - with or without heads, depending upon your previous actions - and in fact can be 'juggled' up there for rather a long period with well-timed explosions or shotgun blasts. It's a bit hideous, but you can do it if you really want to.

Time to go vegan.And that's the point. The option to play the game in a nonviolent mode seems to have been placed as a mocking dare to any who would poo-poo the game's violent, cartoony subject matter. The game is, ultimately, only as violent as you are - but oh dear, it's awfully tempting to dispense with the violence. The catch is that you, as the Postal Dude, aren't the only one who can suddenly 'go postal,' and when the residents of Paradise start to violently freak out around you, brandishing all manner of weaponry, you are left with a range of options. You can run, you can carefully pick your targets, you can go berserk, or you can even resort to special devious methods of your own. It is truly an evil thing to give away too many points of a game before it has come out, but suffice it to say that one's approach to Paradise's haywire civics is open to a little personal interpretation. If the bit about cats grossed you out, just wait until you discover the finer tactical applications of pastries. And I don't mean this.

With a game engine this beautiful, smooth and, well, bloody, a gamer's fancy turns to thoughts of multiplayer. Bummer that it is, Postal 2 will have no multiplayer upon initial release. There are definitely plans for a multiplayer release in the works, but Running With Scissors made the decision to get the finished single-player game out to awaiting fans as soon as possible, for good or ill. Despite numerous publishing and distribution troubles (due largely to the game's on-the-edge subject matter), a healthy online fan base has already pre-ordered copies of Postal 2 (which, surprisingly, will be carried in Electronics Boutique stores), and both upgraded and Japanese versions of the original game have helped bolster the money situation at Running With Scissors, preparatory to the launch of its much-awaited sequel.

It's something of a bummer that Postal 2 will only support single-player (initially, at least), but its smooth engine, outrageous weaponry and out-of-bounds humor promise an entertaining single-player rampage...unless you don't play it as a rampage. And you get to shoot Gary Coleman! What more could you ask for, a marching band?

Um...actually, you can have that, too...