Review: Postal Redux

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Admission time: I’ve never played a Postal game before now. I know that may seem hard to believe from a dude who’s played literally thousands of games in his lifetime, but back in the late 90s and early 2000s when the original and sequel were stirring up controversy, all of my PC gaming time was sucked up by Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, Diablo, EverQuest and various other action and cRPGs and the occasional FPS. The Postal games never pinged on my radar screen at the time, and the right opportunity to give them a look in subsequent years just never presented itself.

Nearly two decades later, Running With Scissors has released a remade ‘Redux’ edition of the original isometric shooter, giving me that right opportunity to go postal for the first time.

In some ways, I can see why Postal has carved out a cult fanbase that looks back on the series with warm, bloodthirsty nostalgia. In other ways, the gameplay is quite tame and definitely shows its age, even with some key modern touchups. It’s just funny to look back in time and see what once stirred up a ruckus (though Postal 2 was far more controversial than the original ever was) now pales in comparison to stuff like, say, the infamous Call of Duty airport level or the modern Postal-a-like Hatred.

Postal Redux, just like back in the good ol’ days, is a top-down shooter about a nameless guy, known only as “The Postal Dude,” who goes on a murderous rampage for no clearly explained reason. The only exposition comes in the form of demented diary messages that appear during the loading screens between stages and show that this dude is seriously fucked up in the head. Comfortably played with either a gamepad or mouse and keyboard, this twin-stick killing spree spans 17 levels of brainless carnage, in which the lone goal is to slaughter enough cops, SWAT officers, soldiers, hillbilly vigilantes, and crazed carnival clowns until the stage exit indicator appears so you can proceed to the next location–be it a truck stop, construction site, trailer park, junkyard, or farm–that will serve as the dude’s next playground of death. Helpless civilians also roam the environments, and they can be killed or left alone to flee in terror, depending on your personal level of bloodlust. Deciding whether or not to firebomb a marching parade or gun down a stampede of defenseless ostriches is the extent of the moral ambiguity found in this game.

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At your disposal are a wide range of firearms and throwables, including the SMG, shotgun, rocket launcher, flamethrower, revolver, grenades, mines, Molotov cocktails, and so on. The stock SMG is the arsenal’s weakest damage-dealer, but it does have unlimited bullets whereas the other weapons have limited ammo that needs to be replenished from supply pick-ups. Environmental props like gas station pumps, barrels, and gas tanks can be shot to trigger large explosions–though be careful to not get too close because Postal Dude is just as susceptible to blast damage and catching on fire. Then again, it is twistedly funny to catch the dude on fire and have him run around like a chicken with its head cut off, spreading the blaze (and the pain) to others. Sometimes targets will drop without dying all the way and crawl around in agony. They can be approached and executed, each weapon offering a slightly different kill animation, or left to slowly bleed out.

For a game that centers on gratuitous violence, the action is surprisingly dull and lacking in tension. A lack of music and scarce audio effects throughout the campaign often leaves the gameplay feeling devoid of chaos and excitement. Except for the occasional civilian scream, ambient sound, or Postal Dude one-liner (“Eat lead, sucker.” “Death is my master.” “Only my weapon understands me.”), the game sounds empty, and as a result the game world rings hollow.

But while the campaign missions quickly become boring, the new Rampage mode introduced in Redux brings the sort of unrelenting murder mayhem befitting the subject matter. Instead of merely killing 90% of a stage’s population to open an exit, Rampage mode features a score attack mentality of killing quickly to keep a combo multiplier wracking up, as well as killing with creativity (i.e. performing executions and mixing up weapon variety). At the end of the stage, should you survive, your scores are tallied and overall performance is rated with a letter grade. Enemies attack in larger numbers and generally with greater aggression, there’s actual music to get the adrenaline pumping, and the overall pacing just seems faster during Rampage; it really is the only way to bother experiencing Postal.

Sadly, in both the campaign and Rampage mode, the empty-headed AI lowers the sense of danger. Enemies are too often slow to react, and thus it becomes far too easy (on normal or hard difficulties) to pepper targets from afar before they decide to attack in return or are even able to get close enough to pose a threat.

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In addition to Rampage mode, Postal Redux‘s primary upgrade over the 1997 original is its retooled visual design. While I don’t have a personal point of reference to draw upon, just in watching old gameplay footage and comparing screenshots the jump in graphical fidelity from then to now is remarkable. Redux is not just the usual enhanced edition with upscaled resolution of the old game’s existing assets. Running With Scissors rebuilt the game from scratch using Unreal Engine 4 tech so that the muddy, pixelated graphics of yesteryear now pop with an almost three-dimensional depth of detail that while still fairly dated is vastly superior to what the game used to look like. The character animations are noticeably smoother as well. This improved tech does come at a small cost though, as, at least for me, some of the load times are hellaciously long. In particular, the initial boot-up load time just to reach the main menu often takes two to three minutes, which is kind of ridiculous for a game that is far from being a graphical marvel. When I can boot up a powerhouse game like The Division in far less time, something is definitely wrong.

Another point that needs to be made is the fact that Postal Redux currently is missing certain features, including the extra levels from Super Postal and the Special Delivery expansion, co-op multiplayer, and leaderboards for the Rampage mode. However, the good news is that such content is already confirmed to be in the works and will eventually make it into the game via free updates. Entirely brand new levels are also planned for the future. So the overall Redux effort may be incomplete at this very moment, but hopefully it won’t be for too much longer.

Postal Redux‘s primary audience will no doubt be series fans who carry a sense of nostalgia for the original game, and that crowd of sociopathic walkers of memory lane should be very pleased with the reworked visuals and tighter gameplay. Anyone jumping into the role of The Postal Dude for the first time, however, will find a shallow, moderately entertaining run-and-gun shooter with some lingering crusty edges that may be difficult to overlook.

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Pros:
+ Rampage mode score attack is far more enjoyable than the campaign
+ Nicely redrawn graphics and animations

Cons:
– Boring campaign mode
– Poor enemy AI
– Bland audio dulls the murder spree chaos

Game Info:
Platform: PC (also in development for PS4)
Publisher: Running With Scissors
Developer: Running With Scissors
Release Date: 5/20/2016 (PS4 version planned for Q4 2016)
Genre: Action
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1

Source: Review code provided by developer

Buy From: Steam

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!