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Friday, October 16, 2020

Review: Postal Redux (Nintendo Switch)


Review by Matt S. 

When I loaded Postal Redux up, having never played a Postal game before, I was expecting to be made uncomfortable. Postal is right up there with the most notorious games ever made. Games like Mortal Kombat, Night Trap, and any anime game where you might see an uncovered breast or a flash of panties. This is a game that caught the eye of righteous, self-important politicians and got itself banned in plenty of countries. And do you know what I got after playing it? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I was actually disappointed in how pedestrian Postal is, given its reputation.

I'm going to do a separate video looking at the difference between actual transgression and what Postal pitches like a snake oil salesman, because there is a difference and that is worth talking about, but to talk about the response that the original game actually got for this purposes of review, Joe Lieberman, a US senator, once said the Postal was one of the three worst things in American society, along with Marilyn Manson and Calvin Kline underwear ads. So I was expecting something confronting... or at least something taboo-breaking so that it would offend enough sections of the community that you'd be judged just for playing it. I wasn't expecting that taboo-breaking themes to have "aged," since genuine taboo-breaking stuff doesn't do that. Doom, for example, is still a fundamentally confronting game for the hard-rocking transgressive violence that it peddles. The notorious Night Trap does have implied sexual violence in it, which remains an uncomfortable subject for people. When I replay those games I can see why the mainstream responded the way it did, even if the outrage has moved on in the years since to one of acceptance for its transgressive trailblazing (grudging, in the case of Night Trap). However, I would imagine that a lot of people who play Postal Redux will be left wondering what the fuss ever was.

This is a top-down dual-stick shooter. That's all it is. Across a series of smallish levels, you run around, killing things with an expanding arsenal, and then once you've killed enough things you move on to the next level. It is possible to kill innocent people, such as in one early scene where you get to let a rocket off into a marching band, but its so dispassionate in how it depicts those deaths that it's hardly a shock to the system. There is an attempt to build a hellish soundscape through the various screams in pain or the way that victims beg for mercy, and that could have almost been affecting... if the soundbites weren't repeated so often that you'll be desensitised and tune it out within the first couple of moments.


What I think is meant to be controversial is the way the game depicts senseless violence but, well... look at the video game industry today. We're long past having any sensitivities around that topic now... in fact, you tend to get a brigade stinking up your social media mentions for daring to say mean things about these art works if you even think to question the modern developer's reliance on ever-escalating violence. The game doesn't really take the time to muse on violence, since it's told in about ten lines of narrative. This is a spoiler, but the game is so old now, and the plot so inconsequential to the experience that I don't see any reason not to talk about it - basically the entire premise is the guy's dreary suburban life set him off and caused him to have a breakdown which leads to him slaughtering (or at least, imagining so) everyone around him. He ends up in a hospital, story over. I know suburban stresses are a theme that the arts need to canvas, but this isn't Edward Scissorhands, Postal isn't talking about anything. It's just dropping it in for easy context before getting on with the shooting.

I guess that there might be some greater sensitivities around Postal in the US where the NRA exists and people "going postal" isn't anywhere near as uncommon as it should be. There is a scene at a school which could have been quite disturbing if it was more competently presented but, again, the game lacks the narrative and the capacity to deal with that theme on any meaningful level meaning that, especially in 2020 where the visuals come across as so pedestrian and we're so "distanced" from the action thanks to that isometric perspective that we can't really emotively connect with it. I can't see anyone seeing this thing as anything other than "a game to be played," and I'm not sure that's great for the developer and publisher, since Postal trades entirely on its reputation for being offensive.

As a game, it... works, and that's really all I can say about it. If you've played a dual-stick shooter before, then you've played Postal. The base gun is a machine gun that does so little damage that it's all-but useless, and there are a number of other weapons you can pick up along the way that has limited ammunition, but can dish out plenty of damage. There's virtually no subtlety to the action. You'll run into an area, clear it of enemies, before taking a moment's breather and then running on to the next section. Enemies exhibit no meaningful AI in how they attack and work together. All of this is smooth and certainly visceral enough, and Postal is a loud game with a hard brutality to the violence, but aside from those moments where you get to massacre innocents en masse, there's nothing particularly memorable about anything in this game.


Postal Redux does have an enhanced visual engine (though not enough to make it look "modern") and other minor improvements in the fluidity of the action in comparison to the original. The result is something a little less cartoonishly amateur in presentation, but still nothing aesthetically interesting. Even in the context of a game that's meant to be grotesque in the violence, the little sprites of dying people are hardly detailed or "people" enough to carry impact.

I'm left wondering just who would want to play Postal Redux. The game works, sure, but there are a lot of top-down isometric shooters that work. I understand the appeal in playing both transgressive and offensive games, but Postal isn't actually transgressive, since it has so little to say and while it clearly caused offence in the '90s, there are games that are much more capable of causing offence now if that's what you're looking for. Play Hotline Miami. Hotline Miami upset plenty of people. Postal, meanwhile... Postal in 2020 comes across as bland, and for a game (and series) that relies entirely on upsetting people, even when the gameplay is competent, for it to be "bland" is to make its very existence pointless.



- Matt S. 
Editor-in-Chief
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb

The critic was provided with a copy of this game for review.


Review: Postal Redux (Nintendo Switch)
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