Postal: Brain Damaged is Surprisingly Sane
It’s not often that a game can be called excremental both as a description of its content and of its quality, but the recent Postal 4 was certainly a perfect example of such a title. Being thoroughly critically panned, it seemed as if developers Running With Scissors had finally proverbially tripped and impaled themselves, killing their flagship series for good. Now though, hot on Postal 4’s heels, is Postal: Brain Damaged, which takes the eponymous Postal Dude into a nightmarish world contained within his own twisted mind. Instead of being a disastrously over-ambitious open world title, it’s more focused, styling itself as what’s lovingly called a “Boomer Shooter” (an old school FPS). Still, can this more streamlined approach resuscitate the ailing Postal franchise?
The story begins with the Postal Dude nodding off to sleep only to find himself in a dreamworld befitting a psychopath – filled with bizarre, obscene or mildly racist mutants and monsters, all trying to kill him. There’s also a mirror image of himself, holding a television, running away every time the Postal Dude approaches him for some answers. Now the Postal Dude must find a way to find his alter ego and possibly escape the insane dreamworld and return to his almost equally insane reality.
What’s immediately clear is the graphical style is a huge deliberate downgrade from Postal 4, with enemies and environments looking somewhere between the Playstation 1 and 2 eras in terms of detail. This was a pretty smart stylistic decision as the humour of the Postal series seems resolutely stuck in the shock-jock edgy late nineties era, so the graphics looking a similar vintage fits well. Thankfully, the low res visuals mean everything runs smoothly, a thankful deviation from the poorly optimized Postal 4, which would send framerates into the single digits and set your machine on fire just trying to produce tolerable graphics. It also avoids any creepy uncanny valley character models in favour of simple polygonal foes and bystanders, which have a certain retro charm.
Each level has a distinct stylistic theme, from a dystopian vision of the American suburbs to a haunted sanatorium where physics and gravity break down. There’s even a nightmarish rendition of a Trumpian US-Mexican border where sombrero-wearing mustachioed mutants mix with pistol-toting redneck cowboys, fighting each other as well as The Dude. The dreamworld setting really allows for some visually unique levels to explore, and I was always intrigued to see where I’d be going next.
Every time you collect a new weapon, it really adds a whole new dimension to the gameplay. The shotgun comes with a grappling hook, which lets you propel Postal Dude across glowing rings to leap across the scenery and hooks into enemies, allowing you to quickly get up close and personal with them before blasting them into a fountain of blood and gore. Other weapons include a powerful but slow-drawing bow that fires rainbow dildos in place of arrows. There’s a nailgun that can create a time-dilation sphere, stopping enemies in their tracks, letting you fill them with high-velocity nails before the sphere dissipates and they perish explosively.
There’s no shortage of toilet humor in Brain Damaged as evidenced by the Dude’s capability to urinate whenever the player desires. Instead of this just being a childish gimmick though, it’s also a core game mechanic. Switches can be activated by the dude relieving himself onto water-activated switches, and likewise exposed electrical wiring can be urinated upon with explosive results to open passage to new areas. Every level has multiple secret areas and it’s entertaining to find them tucked away. Also, rather amusingly, the dude can consume fiery tequila to make his urine flammable, using his censored penis as a kind of improvised flamethrower, which can also be used to burn away vines and unveil hidden areas.
Though the puzzles aren’t quite on the level of Portal and the wave shooting isn’t exactly Doom Eternal, both aspects are definitely fun and fluid.
There’s plenty of enemy variety to incinerate or obliterate. There’s shotgun-weilding yokels, crazed hellhounds, “grey” aliens with laser guns, pyramid-headed monsters who shoot lasers out of an illuminati style “all-seeing eye”. Female enemies are weirdly sexualized, like moaning women crawling along caterpillar-like in full gimp suits and leather clad babes who moan orgasmically as they cartwheel around shooting lasers. Some enemies can fly, some explode when they die, and even adversaries like a giant mechanical cymbal-playing monkey who constantly spawns smaller monkeys.
The above paragraph only scratches the surface of just how many wild foes there are. It’s like an edgy late 90’s shooter on LSD. The variety of opponents on offer forces you to constantly change up your style and weapon choice on the fly, and stops the proceedings from ever getting stale.
Despite being a huge improvement over Postals 3 and 4, Brain Damaged certainly isn’t for everyone. The humor is as crass and low-brow as it gets. It’s the sort of game Beavis and Butthead would make if they’d aged in real time and were now game developers in their forties. What’s sort of a relief though, is that the humor is just playfully juvenile – it’s not trying to make any sort of sinister political points or tear anyone down.
Sure, there are modern day references to the coronavirus and chasing down a tech billionaire called “Leon Tusk”, but the satire is just fun and dumb. What’s also an improvement on previous Postals is that the humorous moments are spaced out so jokes don’t get stale. There’s a section when The Dude is floating in a zero gravity environment and, much to my amusement, he can use his farts to propel himself around at high speed. It’s the kind of gag that would get boring or obnoxious if used too often, but in moderation it’s a bit of goofy fun.
Postal: Brain Damaged is, rather ironically, a sane and clear-headed new direction for the Postal series. Taking out the menial errands and aimless open world of Postal 4 to focus on straightforward levels and intense wave shooting was a great choice. Though the humor is as low-brow as ever, it’s much less repetitive and dials the penis and poop jokes down from a grating 10 to a tolerable 5. Featuring a vast variety of wild weapons and a netherworld full of nightmarish nemeses to use them on, Postal: Brain Damaged is a long-awaited return to psychopathic form for the series.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC(Reviewed); Publisher: Hyperstrange, CreativeForge Games; Developer: Running With Scissors, Hyperstrange; Players: 1; Released: 9th June 2022
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Postal: Brain Damaged provided by the publisher.