While it may not be as shocking now, Postal was a huge deal in 1997, so much so that Marvin Runyon (Postmaster General at the time) sent a personal letter demanding the game be cancelled and a public apology issued to all currently working postal workers. Even after a failed lawsuit, critics condemning the game, and Postal was banned in many countries. Running With Scissors decided to not only continue with release of the game, they rode that bad press straight into cult status. Postal gained expansion packs, an amazing sequel which also received many expansions, a not-so-good third entry, and a movie by the master of awful himself, Uwe Boll.
But, we are here to see if Postal, even with the added updates, still holds up with 20 years under its belt.
Though it does seem to be purposeful, the story is the weakest part of the game. From the moment the game loads, you get no explanations, no dialogues. All you have is the "Dude" standing outside what would appear to be his house armed with his trench-coat and SMG, and surrounded by enemies. It is time to start "cleansing the earth."
Kind of lost to time now, Postal does have a story, which I will briefly mention without spoiling the ending because the twist is still very cool.
From what can be gathered through the original website, manual, and the game itself, the Postal Dude discovers that a mind altering substance has been released on the town of Paradise, infecting the populace with insanity and bloodlust. Capped off by the sudden eviction from his home, the Postal Dude believes himself to be the only sane man left and sets out to put an end to the madness in his town, which he believes originates from the local Air Force Base.
The story is nice to have but ultimately unnecessary for this kind of game. But after knowing why exactly the Dude is doing what he is doing, it just adds to the eerie design of the game.
Even for 1997 the graphics are quite amateurish. The game operates from an isometric view that shows each level drawn and pre-rendered with the NPC and Player being the objects projected onto them. While I call the graphics amateurish, it doesn't stop me from saying that the game has unique level design, with each area having its own charm. One example are the city maps. Having things like fake ads and stores, and the city looking a little nicer and more polished as you get closer to the heart of it all. Doing this multiple landscape kind of design let them have freedom that makes no level feel the same in style or look.
The character models are a little different as many, if not most of the characters, are constantly recycled. But as this was back in 1997, I feel this was more of a design choice than an artistic one. One prominent example of this is in Grand Theft Auto 3, you would often see the same car you were driving all over the place because it didn't have to load more assets on the engine. It was already loaded and made the game experience a little more smooth to just copy and paste.
Or I could be dead wrong and since you are just gunning them all down they thought "Who cares?" We will never truly know, I guess.
Oh, you want an explanation, alright, alright. The gun sounds are average which is fine, as they are not the focus of the sound. The music for each level is unique and makes each stage its own playground. With soft grinding or faint groaning each music track isn't exactly something you would be blasting in your car. However, sitting in the dark, the monitor being your only source of light as you gun down countless people, it truly sets a tone that I haven't felt since Silent Hill 2.
When you couple the soundtrack with the yells of the police and the painful death groans of the civilians that are blended just right with gunshots and your character's inner thoughts, it truly paints a dim and dark environment that has definitely aged well even after 20 years.
When you finish a level you get a loading screen with some text that appears to be Dude's journal and a distorted image in the background. The music only heavily plays here, but it gets under the skin, it makes what you're doing feel off. Something about what you are doing feels wrong, but neither you nor maybe even the Dude knows what it is.
It creates the moment, it establishes the next scene, and just like that, poof, its gone and all you hear is ambiance and faint music in the background. You are now the composer, the one who will make your song. When you walk past houses you can hear signs of life (if there still are any), televisions, radios, and faint murmurs. But once you open fire, that's the music, the massacre is the song for each level. Explosions, the rapid feedback of your SMG, and the yells of everyone around you. This is what makes the soundtrack so fantastic.
Some levels have absolutely no music at all, which adds a feeling of realism to the moment. It feels almost intimate in its execution. The composer Akira Yamaoka has been referenced saying "silence is also music" and it fits so well here.
The gameplay is very easy to grasp, and once you have a chance to play for a few minutes you will have no problem playing through the game. The WASD keys move the Dude in accordance with where you point the mouse, the number row chooses your weapon, and left and right mouse let you shoot and duck respectively.
The Dude has health up to 200 points and armor up to 20. Just like ammo, these can be found scattered around the environment to help continue your massacre. In classic form, enemies become stronger and get better arsenals as time goes on, but by then you should have the equipment and skills to be able to overcome these challenges rather easily.
Shotguns, rocket launchers, hand grenades, Molotovs, and the Napalm launcher are just some of the weapons at your disposal throughout the game.
Each level has a specified amount of inhabitants (labeled 'Population') with a second counter for the amount of hostiles in the area. On the top of the screen there is a counter which looks much like this.
Killed 8 (29% / 85%)
This meter only goes up if you kill hostile enemies, as killing civilians (while fun) does not raise this meter at all. Once you kill all or at least go over the required percentage, you can press F1 and go to the next level.
I kinda covered this in my gameplay segment, but I will state it again. This game is so easy to pick up and play. There are no hard to understand controls. JUST DO NOT PRESS Q, that is the reset level button and without warning sometimes I shot myself.
With a lack of unlockable content in the game, the replay value rests exclusively on the main game, especially since the multiplayer is long past dead and doesn't work. Once you finish the game you have nothing else to see, with no branching paths or alternate choices.
Postal is still a delightful, blood-soaked romp in the mind of a lunatic. With its new updates, and the fact that all modern versions come with all of the expansions for free, it is hard not to say that playing this even after twenty years...