Postal: A 25 Year Late Review

Postal: A 25-year-late review

While it's relatively well-known now, Postal was one of those odd, almost mythical games in the 90s, at least to me. It was a game spoken of in hushed tones and awed language; a game that existed almost more as a point about what games could be rather than a game that existed to exist.

First, some background: Postal is a relic of the 90s (well, the first one is, at least); an overhead, isometric shooter from an era where that genre hadn't died out. The modern incarnation (Postal Redux) bill itself as "Twin stick", but the original employed a rather awkward set of tank controls that greatly added to the difficulty (this was the era before twin-analog joysticks were common on consoles, let alone on PC). This control scheme, which was very 90s, was replaced with a twin-stick control scheme in the modern remake Postal Redux that greatly aids playability (while the original is free and should be played once just to experience it, anyone wanting to play the game for any significant period of time should definitely purchase Redux).

That said, however, the awkward controls and isometric graphics aren't the only thing that's extremely 90s about the game; the game features a plethora of violence, in an almost... cartoonishly realistic manner, if that makes sense, in that the amount of violence is cartoonish, though the style of depicting it is at least somewhat realistic.

The graphics are very along the lines of the late-90s through mid-2000s "Real is brown" aesthetic, with the colors ranging from light brown dirt all the way up to dark red blood. The rare green or blue pixel that may be seen is tinged with brown, darkened, and I'd almost credit Running With Scissors with creating a moody atmosphere if it weren't for this being a major aesthetic of the era, the sophomoric humor, and the ultraviolence.

And indeed, ultraviolence exists a plenty in this game. While the graphics (even in the HD remake) are simple, and the few pools of blood and bodies shown aren't much worse than anything displayed in some modern games, the visceral feel of it is amplified by the voice acting and psychotic lines from the main character. Enemies groan and scream in pain unless put out of their misery (the game includes a dedicated execution button, helpfully mapped to X by default, to speed the process up) and will crawl and beg for their lives as the main character rampages. Any lingering doubts about the underlying cruelty of the game would be laid bare by any of the multitude of ways to light the NPCs on fire; the resulting crackling fire and desperate screaming may make even the most dedicated pro-video-game, anti-censorship person wonder if Jack Thompson maybe had a point, even if just in passing.

The ultraviolent, thumping, gun-toting hell of Postal is something that's always stayed around the rough-hewn edge of gaming; while contemporary games like Doom became genre-definers, and even Mortal Kombat pressed forward the tournament fighter genre (even if it has been dominated lately by less-violent, more Street Fighter-derived games as of late), Postal's influence is mostly seen in individual games, popping up every few years, causing a stir, then fading into the background as "beloved, but a bit weird". Hotline Miami and it's sequel spring to mind as the closest this idea has ever gotten to mainstream, while the controversial Hatred, which stuck around the fringes and took Postal's misanthropy and violence from 11 to 22, is a more direct copy of the premise.

Postal is definitely a game that embodies the difference between "Important" and "Good" in a genre or medium. The game is important for the discussions is sparked within the community and the impact those discussions had on the medium as a whole, but I wouldn't say it's a "good" game. It is, for one, extremely mindless, the gaming equivalent of a candy you don't even really like, but you're eating because you feel the need for something sweet. It's most known for it's wham ending whereby the main character attempts to shoot up a schoolyard full of children (in the original, at least; the remake replaces it with a scene of a grave being dug; it's worth noting that the original release of Postal was pre-Columbine).

More interesting to me than any paper-thin plot and gameplay of Postal, however, are the strange loading screens, which read almost like the kind of thing one would expect to find in the diary of a madman or a creepypasta about a fake game (though, to be fair, a lot about Postal reads like a creepypasta about a fake game), describing the deteriorating sense of reality in the Postal Dude's mind. As far as horror art goes, they're pretty good and, if you can stomach violent imagery, worth checking out.