By – George Weidman
Postal 3 is one of the worst games I’ve ever had to play, and it knows. Running With Scissors has a long and troubled history of cultivating the most morally bankrupt game series of all time, and their unholy aspirations to offend have clouded their ability to make quality products. The third Postal is the most unpolished and unenjoyable entry in the series by a wide margin, and the game makes fun of itself for it. Thing is, the jokes ring so true that they aren’t funny at all. They come off as pathetic and sad.
This time, the developers decided to use the Source engine for some reason. I can’t imagine why– it’s downright ancient at this point, and is known as an infamously unwieldy development tool. I also can’t help but feel like they somehow thought that the engine would do their job for them, as evidenced by the eight-year-old sound effects, menus, and particle effects recycled from Half-Life 2. None of the quality animation or polish usually associated with Valve’s engine can be found here—in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Postal 3’s overall level of quality makes me want to cry.
My first impression: this is downright depressing. The lack of effort put into the presentation is felt immediately, and the game hates itself for it. Loading times are crazy long, and the menu is carbon-copied from Half-Life 2. Cutscenes have a grindhouse-style film grain and blast a cracking whip sound that punch-lines the lame jokes way too often. Textures are reminiscent of Silent Hill: they’re washed over with brown moldy overtones and compression artifacts. Even the tutorial messages are self-loathing. The joking reveal behind the regenerating health system looked like like it could have been self-parody, but came off as genuine embarrassment instead. “Good luck not hurting yourself in this AI clusterf**k!” said one briefing screen.
The story smells like regret. This time, the Postal Dude (that’s his actual name, which the game thinks is hilarious,) is depicted as a heroically-depicted white-trash everyman. The story follows his quest for employment in the economically destitute town of Catharsis, Arizona. It’s divided into a mission-by-mission structure that sees him grudgingly signing up for a motley assortment of temp jobs, from cleaning sticky tissues off the floor of a sex shop to picking apples out in the hot sun. Reminder: it’s downright depressing.
Eventually, the mission-based game structure escalates Dude into jobs where he has to shoot bad guys. In any given mission, artificially simple objectives have to be completed to progress the story: 20 terrorists need to be neutralized, 10 rabid monkeys need to be set free, 6 scooters need to be delivered to the dealership, et cetera. At some point during each of them, someone usually needs to be shot. The game is less about going postal in a sandbox than it is about playing a straight-up objective-based shooter. Of course, this is because Postal 3 isn’t a sandbox game at all. Missions play out in tiny areas with simplistic goals, and they’re so limiting and contained that they would be mere mini-games in any other title.
During a heist scene early in the game we get to choose between helping out the cops or the robbers, which branches the storyline out into two different “good” and “insane” pathways. One sees Dude joining the police force and becoming a hero, and the other sees him joining an environmentalist cult and becoming a pariah. It’s a half-baked setup, free from consequences and player freedom. At the branching point, you have the ability to murder both the cops and robbers at the same time. But there is no third wheel, no neutral/homicidal branch. Simply killing everyone disappointingly sends Dude down the same path as if he had helped the robbers. Even halfway through the “insane” branch, you are given the sudden option to quietly switch sides over to the police force in-between levels.
The only outlet for player choice within this framework boils down to whether or not you use a gun or a taser for the shooting. Make it through the game without killing anyone, and you get an alternate ending. It’s completely binary and, like the branching storyline mechanic, half-baked. Stunning bad guys with the taser is almost exactly like shooting them, the primary difference being that it doesn’t fill up your “insane” meter.
The most nauseating thing about this game isn’t the insipid attempt at black humor, the repetitive and laborious mission objectives, or the juvenile angst that frames the story. It’s the unfinished state of the final build. You hear birds chirping and wind blowing indoors. Unseen arcade machines beep and boop in barnyard haystacks. The cover system plants Dude in the path of bullets. Cutscenes don’t correspond with your actions in-game. Chunks of building architecture clip into thin air. A weird “Node graph out of date” message appears every time after loading. Some objectives didn’t complete until I re-started the mission. At one point mid-game, the game was crashing to desktop on a minute-by-minute basis until I painfully completed the level by attrition.
The incompleteness of the game isn’t just technical– there’s a distinct lack of assets, too. From the absence of in-game music to Dude’s tiny repertoire of one-liners that nevertheless repeat ceaselessly, every minute of Postal 3 is punctuated by the feeling that something is missing. The most glaring laziness came during the last few cut scenes, where characters stood dead-still, and only moved their mouths and eyebrows. There’s no doubt about it: it’s deliberately bad.
Is It Worth Your Money?
No way. I can’t come to grips with how bad it is. I just can’t. Maybe it’s all a cruel joke? Maybe the developers deliberately intended to piss the player off, and are encouraging them to go postal and massacre the virtual civilians. But even then, there’s no real in-game incentives or punishments to facilitate rule-breaking gameplay. What were they trying to accomplish with this game?
It’s such an unpolished, amateur, and misdirected attempt at making a game that it’s almost surreal. They didn’t even proofread. I can’t believe that Running With Scissors, a 15-year old game developer rooted in the SNES era, has forgotten so much about how to make games. Maybe this is because they left so much of the game up to other companies. Development was outsourced to two Russian game studios, Akella and TrashMasters Studios, which ended up leaving Running With Scissors with the title of “co-developers.” Combine all this outsourcing with a six-year development cycle rife with financial meltdowns and a lack of any major publisher, and you have a recipe for disaster.
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