Originally developed in the mid-90’s by Running With Scissors, Postal was first published on the Windows platform in 1997 by Ripcord Games. In its heyday, Postal caused quite a stir. Due to its groundbreaking graphic nature, it was made illegal in Australia, classified as harmful media for minors in Germany, and sued (unsuccessfully) by the United States Postal Service. Thus, I felt I was justifiably apprehensive when dragging the new Universal Binary version of Postal into my applications folder.
When I first opened Postal, I was greeted by a lurking Mature ESRB rating. With teeth clenched, I watched opening sequence, and my heart stopped. Bloodcurdling screams poured into the speakers. The faint grind of a chainsaw followed in accompaniment. This is intense, I mused. Taking a deep breath, I steadied my hands and began a new game. My jaw dropped… this is it? I felt like I had been duped. As it turned out, the most menacing aspect of Postal was its sound design.
Killing is thrillingPostal’s premise is simple and vague. You are Postal Dude, a faceless, ageless, and recently homeless man who must rampage through a variety of scenarios in order to appease his psychotic, homicidal soul. In 20 levels, including a hotel resort, a shantytown, an Air Force base and a department store, you must kill a given percentage of hostiles to advance. There are 12 varied weapons at your disposal, and plenty of innocent townsfolk to get caught in your “crossfire.”
Right off the bat, Postal reminded me of a young Grand Theft Auto. In the first level, Home, Postal Dude carries a standard machine gun and several explosives. In the playing area, which is smallish but detailed, are a couple dozen hostiles with varying weaponry and a small population of roaming civilians. You must maneuver through the map, killing hostiles without dying. When you eventually reach your kill quota nothing happens. You must press the F1 key (default) to advance. This is supremely unsatisfying. If you die on your rampage you must restart the level, as there is no mid-level save feature. This shouldn’t be seen as a weakness, however, seeing as the game is relatively short.
Postal’s controls are a bit beguiling. The up and down arrow keys move Postal Dude, and the left and right arrow keys rotate him. This is an unnatural setup and takes some getting used to. Additionally, the fire, strafe, and run buttons are all in constant demand (obviously) and it is hard to coordinate your fingers to utilize all of them. Fortunately, the manual that came with the game details a much more intuitive set-up involving the mouse. According to the writer it’s the setup he used to tune and playtest the game. I can only guess as to why this isn’t the default setup.