You lookin' at me? Are YOU lookin' at ME?
Ever get tired of it all? Ever think to yourself, "Boy, life sure does suck?" Ever wanted to run down the street on a murderous rampage, leaving a trail of bloodied carcasses, burning corpses, and weeping victims? Yeah, me too. But I can't afford to go to jail again (I didn't steal those shoes. I was framed, dammit!). That's why I got excited at the thought of doing it on my computer.
Ripcord Games (publisher for Running with Scissors) has entered the gaming fray with this controversial little number. Pre-release hype for Postal has been impressive, but the question remains: Does ultra-violence equal ultra-entertainment? While the answer may seem clear to industry moguls poring over the latest ratings, the gaming public can be a finicky lot. Postal takes gaming violence to new heights (depths?), and while its awkward controls and one-dimesionality hold it back from greatness, it still manages to deliver an indecent dose of fun.
The premise is simple. You play a paranoid, gun-toting psychopath. You have gone 'Postal,' a reference to the state of disgruntled postal employees before/as they go on killing sprees You think that everyone's out to get you. You kill without shame or remorse, without reason or repercussion. Rambo in the suburbs.
The story is unclear at best - there's not really a plot to follow or any recurring NPC's to interact with. There are two kinds of people in the Postal world - the hostile and the innocent. To complete a level, you must kill a certain percentage of hostiles. There is no penalty or reward for killing innocents; they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Like all maniacs, you are armed to the teeth with a wicked arsenal of death tools You start out with access to a machine gun, hand grenades, and mines. As the game progresses, you pick up more violent weapons and ammo, from the basic shotgun to the Napalm Launcher. There are a total of 10 weapons (12 if you count different mine types), though I found the standard machine gun far and away the most useful. It has infinite ammo and tremendous range. While the other weapons looked cooler, only the Spray gun (auto-shotgun) and the Napalm Launcher proved invaluable.
The graphics are smooth and don't need huge minimum system requirements. This is refreshing, but the characters are quite small. For such an offensive game, it seems almost anti-climactic that they all look like miniature versions of Mr. Bill. While the blood is prodigious, it feels more like cartoon violence.
The game engine is mainly isometric, though it occasionally switches to lower level side-view or a directly overhead top-down view. This is pre-set for each level (you can't toggle views).While the isometric approach is great for getting a bird's eye view of the map, it creates an occasional obstruction problem. This is solved by the handy option called 'X-ray' where the Postal Dude can be seen through objects. Speaking of which, you can't really manipulate the backgrounds. Some things can be shot (gas tanks), but you can't go into many of the buildings or affect anything other than people. The ability to interact with the playing field would have added a much needed layer of depth.
The control in Postal is reminiscent of another isometric shooter, Meat Puppet, though admittedly better. You can control your little psycho with the keyboard or mouse, or a combination of both. I found the keyboard alone to be the easiest; unfortunately, none of the controls are very tight. Aiming at things is made easier by a target option, but is still difficult and unwieldy at best. In fact, aim takes a back seat to sheer strafing mania.
Postal is networkable via TCP/IP or IPX connections (Mac version does not support IPX). You can also play through the game sites Mplayer and Heat, and all software is included on the disk. You still have to get an account, however...
Like most games these days Postal comes complete with a level Editor. It's not bad - a bit confusing (there's poor info on how to use it). Basically, you use the game's pre-drawn backgrounds as canvasses. You can place enemies and set their AI, as well as setting sound triggers and objects. Again, not the easiest thing to use, but it ups the replay value.
The most notable feature in Postal is the violence, and this is definitely NOT a game for the kiddies. It even comes with the gaming version of an NC 17 rating, as well it should. You don't kill demon spawn or mutant dino-zombies. You're shooting at people, watching their blood spill onto the street, hearing them wail for mercy or to be put out of their misery. There's a button for execution; just stand over a victim moaning in pain and finish him off. And if things get too grisly, you can even end your own life via a shotgun to the head. This is really some unprecedented and uncensored violence, so parents beware.
Overall, the selling point of Postal is still its best feature - unabashed anarchy and a willingness to go where other games haven't. The gameplay is average; really no new ground is broken, and at its core this is just arcade style action. But the fact remains that Postal has upped the ante as far as what is accepted in the mainstream gaming world. Where else can you wipe out an entire marching band with a well placed Molitov cocktail? If you're trying to get in touch with your inner sadist, give Postal a shot (or two)...