A Disturbing Letter Posted in 1997…
I can still remember vividly popping a now ancient CD into my Dad’s computer and playing a demo of the first Postal. Unlike most games at the time, Postal was not about a hero or even an anti-hero. Postal is about a sick, sadistic man who has lost his mind and is looking to kill as many people as possible as he descends further into his warped madness. The first time I let loose with the protagonist’s machine gun and my enemies didn’t simply die but fall to the ground, crawling around in agony, muttering “Oh God, I can’t breathe…” I felt a total sense of captivating fascination and terror. I would have been about 11 or 12 when I played it for the first time. Still though, I turned out ok!
The question is whether Postal Redux, the high definition remastering or the 1997 psychopath-simulation classic, still holds up just as well as my own sanity after playing it all those years ago. The original Postal had the much reviled “tank controls”, where you’d have to clumsily rotate a ginger-haired lunatic around while moving and shooting, making things much more awkward. Thankfully, along with the graphical improvements, the PC version of Postal Redux has an infinitely more convenient modern system of keyboard moving and mouse aiming.
I played the PS4 version as well and the twin-stick shooting was so much more precise and enjoyable. There’s also the nice addition of a reticule over foes you’re aiming at, which changes colour as you wear down their health. This removes a lot of the uncertainty over whether your shots will actually hit their intended target – which was often a problem as it’s unclear what constitutes a barrier in the hand-drawn backgrounds. Since the graphics comprise 3D characters superimposed over 2D hand drawn backgrounds (as was often the style at the time), this allows you to appreciate the lovely illustrations of the original artists without suffering so much of the confusion arising from them.
So Postal Redux passes the first hurdle: it is a much more pretty, polished and playable iteration of the original, but does the original feel dated by today’s standards?
Way back in 1997, Postal really put its finger on the pulse of a growing phenomenon of mass shooters, and the morbid media interest and spectacle made of them, which culminated in the infamous Columbine high school shooting of 1999. In fact, it almost seemed to eerily predict Columbine, with the black trench coat wearing main character shooting up a school in one level of the original Postal (which has been replaced in this redux version as a minor concession to good taste).
It was provocative and particularly shocking because Postal encouraged us to look into the protagonist’s decaying mind from his perspective. Between levels there are distorted scenes of monsters walking through fleshy corridors with demented poetry written in blood. These scenes are even more disturbing with newly remastered music and high definition renderings of the art that eerily pulse and quiver on the screen to the strains of creepy ambient tunes and distorted moans.
Whereas Postal 2 was an entertaining but generally absurd open world title and Postal 3 was a buggy, objectively awful mess, the original Postal was focused enough on the darkness and depravity of its subject matter that it still emotionally cuts through even today.
Perhaps though there’s a missed opportunity here to further explore Postal’s themes though, because there could have been more artworks added with some flashbacks of how or why the Postal Dude ended up descending into madness. As it stands, Postal Dude’s puns and smug one-liners as he mows down everyone before him do make him feel very much the dated and underdeveloped protagonist he is.
Though the controls are much more polished, the core gameplay feels unbalanced by today’s standards. Postal Dude’s basic machine gun has infinite ammo, and with some cautious positioning, it’s more than enough on its own to win every level without trying some of the more fun guns on offer. Throwing molotovs and grenades is slow and cumbersome, as it’s not always clear where these thrown projectiles will go, or what constitutes something they might bounce off, thus you’re likely to blow yourself up a good number of times.
Likewise, you’ll find one double barrelled shotgun where ammo is so plentiful you’re guaranteed never to run out, and an auto shotgun with a seperate ammo type which seems to fire faster than the machine gun and exhausts itself of ammo almost instantly so it’ll be scarcely ever used. Since none of the enemy types have any particular strengths of weaknesses to any weapon beyond just having more or less hit points, your choice of weapon when engaging often just feels very arbitrary and meaningless. It doesn’t feel like it’s been very well thought through.
The entertainment comes when you accept this lack of refinement and just enjoy the madness. It’s still darkly compelling to cause chaos – like firing the rocket launcher into a cluster of explosive barrels and wreaking truly awesome havoc on surrounding cops, or shooting the incendiary grenade launcher into a marching band, turning the music into a cacophony of screams.
Even if you catch fire yourself, you can use it to your advantage by running over to nearby enemies and lighting them up as well, who will in turn panic and run into other foes, creating an inflammatory chain reaction of charbroiled death and insanity.
Still though, Indeed of pushing you towards a crazed spree, Postal Redux’s design encourages patience and caution. The AI feels strangely inconsistent. Some enemies seem to hear Postal Dude when he’s causing destruction and come running over, even firing at Postal Dude from off the screen. However, some enemies just stay staring blankly at a wall and won’t notice grenades and gunfire nearby. They’re willing to wait patiently on an assigned spot until you blow them up as well. Gunning enemies down as they run blindly around corners blindly or from afar as they stand still is often the best way to win but it’s not so satisfying as this is just exploiting the weaknesses in enemy AI.
I’d imagine though, anyone wanting to play an updated version of the original Postal will happily shrug these issues off and simply enjoy all the levels on offer. Not only Does Postal Redux give you the original Postal campaign, but also all the add-ons to the game, letting you kill your way through such places as Tokyo and Osaka in addition to the original locales in the massively expanded “Excess Postage” campaign. There’s even a co-op mode, deathmatch arenas and a new “rampage” mode which is a more free-form killing experience, offering up higher scores for creative murder. For the price the game is going for on Steam and the Playstation store right now, that’s really not too shabby.
Postal Redux is a great definitive version of a subversive late nineties classic that men of a certain age can wistfully look back on as a naughty pleasure from adolescence. Still, returning veterans and new players alike will notice that this 24 year old game can only be polished so far and there’s a janky lack of refinement in the core gameplay. There’s enjoyment to be had in Postal Redux, but it’s best enjoyed if you’re able to set your mind and expectations back to 1997.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC, PS4 (Reviewed) ; Publisher: Running With Scissors; Developer: Running With Scissors; Players: 1-8; Released: April 9th, 2021 (EU PS4 version);
Full Disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Postal Redux given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher