Art as Games – Postal 2: Paradise Lost Review

A number of controversial video games have been produced over the years, and none more so than Postal 2. This gory weekday chores simulator put players in the shoes of a red-haired psychopath, who must complete a list of his wife’s tasks while simultaneously battling a host of stereotyped threats. From armies of Al Qaeda fanatics to a boss battle with a man in a scrotum costume, Postal 2 contained no shortage of shocking content. Postal 2: Paradise Lost continues the series’s tradition of biting humor, all for a reason that few would suspect.

Explore the ruins of a nuked town in search of a long-lost pet.

Explore the ruins of a nuked town in search of a long-lost pet.

Postal 2 and III: Failure and Backtrack

Postal 2 was released in 2003, meaning that Postal 2: Paradise Lost is almost 12 years in the making. But, this was not always the plan. In 2011, a full sequel to Postal 2, Postal III, was released by Running With Scissors, the original Postal developer. For some reason, Running With Scissors decided to outsource Postal III‘s development to Akella, an obscure Russian studio, and boy did they do a terrible job.

Postal III is a failure in every sense of the term, and an awful video game.

Postal III is a failure in every sense of the term, and an awful video game.

Postal 2 was lambasted by the media and various politicians for its obscene content; Postal III couldn’t even get that far before crashing. Sure, it contains a similar if much weaker brand of offensive humor, but the game barely runs and Akella had little interest in patching it properly. Postal III is also infamous for dumbing down the Postal formula, introducing generic third-person shooting mechanics and a weak narrative voice acted by various porn stars. Some low-brow skeeziness is to be expected from a Postal game, but most fans were upset simply because, again, the game does not work.

For anything that can be said about Running With Scissors’ design sensibilities, the studio cares deeply for its small but adoring fan base. Studio head Vince Desi was quick to condemn the game, going so far as to admit that outsourcing Postal III‘s development was a mistake. He and other company officials vowed to turn the legacy of the Postal games around, but what he meant to do was not apparent until the spring of 2015, when Postal 2: Paradise Lost was released.

Premise: It Was All a Bad Dream

The Dude wakes up after a 10-year coma and just picks back up like nothing ever happened.

The Dude wakes up after a 10-year coma and just picks back up like nothing ever happened.

Paradise Lost takes place 10 years after the events of Postal 2. At the end of the main game, the player character known only as the Postal Dude wiped out the Arizona town of Paradise with a nuclear weapon. The events leading up to the nuke are hard to summarize, but suffice it to say, they involved legions of foul-mouthed zombies and a massive cow-demon-creature. A decade after the blast, the Dude wakes up after a “nuclear-induced coma” to find his car stranded in the vast Arizona desert. Somehow, the Dude is fine, but his beloved dog Champ is nowhere to be found.

For all of the controversial things this DLC contains, Postal 2: Paradise Lost also contains the most gracefully executed retcon in all of gaming. In its opening cinematic, Paradise Lost confirms that the events of Postal III were all just a terrible coma nightmare, and the Dude wakes from his dark dreams concluding nothing more actually happened. All of the events, characters and locations in Postal III are stripped from the canon in the most beautiful way; it was all just a bad dream!

Despite the nuclear explosion, many of Paradise's inhabitants survived and built a post-apocalyptic society.

Despite the nuclear explosion, many of Paradise’s inhabitants survived and built a post-apocalyptic society.

With all the reluctance in the world, the Postal Dude makes his way back into the town of Paradise. To his shock, the town that he nuked into oblivion still has people in it, albeit living in decrepit shacks where once there were, well, decrepit houses. The Dude starts asking to see if anyone’s seen Champ, but everyone he shows the dog’s photo to runs away screaming.

Before long, the Postal Dude is spotted by none other than Vince Desi, who appears as himself in the game. The Dude holes up with the Running With Scissors crew, and so commences video gaming’s most elaborate lost dog hunt. The Dude must take care; a lot of the zombies he battled in Postal 2 are still shuffling around, and if Paradise can still be counted on for one thing, it’s immediate and senseless episodes of violence.

Gameplay: It’s All Up to You

As in the original game, Postal 2: Paradise Lost is an open-world, first-person shooter. The town districts that the Dude visited in Postal 2 have been reshaped by nuclear fire into new regions, from the bleak Ashen Skies to the undeniably punny Nuclear Winter. Just as he completed his wife’s to-do list in Postal 2, so too must the Dude complete tasks and chores around town, in hopes of finding Champ. The game incorporates the now-dated visuals present in Postal 2, but new lighting and textures help freshen up its aesthetic.

Each zone of Paradise has become its own nuclear purgatory.

Each zone of Paradise has become its own nuclear purgatory.

Each district in Paradise is ruled by a different faction of people. Running With Scissors has a lock on the church district, while the zombies occupy the junkyard. Other disparate groups, including a peaceful, pot-smoking branch of Al Qaeda, and an army of dwarfs led by the late Gary Coleman, are secreted throughout the landscape. Some will help the Dude, some will hinder him. All have a stake in controlling their own little slice of Paradise.

The Dude can find and wield a variety of weapons around Paradise. Classics like the assault rifle, shotgun and pistol return from the original Postal 2, but the developer also added sawed-off shotguns, fully automatic rifles and other new tools of destruction. How the Dude interacts with the town is up to the player; he can either be a paragon of bridge-building or a psychopath who might as well shoot fire from his eyes for how often he ignites things. Paradise Lost does provoke the player into violence quite often, but a lot of that is left to the player to decide.

 The Dude's propensity for murder varies depending on who's at his wheel.

The Dude’s propensity for murder varies depending on who’s at his wheel.

It’s at this point that the DLC starts to feel too derivative of the original Postal 2. The environments and a good deal of the gunplay have been rebuilt, and that’s great, but Paradise Lost‘s basic gist is identical to that of Postal 2. Wake up every morning from Monday through Friday, and run around town performing tasks until the day ends. To be fair, the Dude is now looking for his beloved dog instead of his ex-wife’s favorite flavor of ice cream, but the player’s movement toward that ultimate goal is implemented in the exact same way. Get up. Do stuff. Go to bed.

Pure Ridiculousness: New Tasks and New (But Still Offensive) Humor

To continue to be fair to Running With Scissors, the tasks in Postal 2: Paradise Lost are perhaps even more comically ridiculous than those in Postal 2. In Postal 2, the Dude would run a check to the bank just in time for a robbery, or brave book-burning activists to make a late return to the library. This time, he’s gathering marijuana plants during a full-scale DEA invasion, and fighting armies of urine-powered robots. Paradise Lost also pokes fun at everything wrong with the video gaming industry these days, including day-one DLC and consumer-hostile pricing schemes. In one mission, The Dude ransacks a rival video game company that is Electronic Arts in all but name, and the satire is spot-on.

FOR COLEMAN!!!

FOR COLEMAN!!!

This change to slapstick humor is not without some bumps in the road. Postal 2 was built on its controversial and offensive content, and to suddenly see that subdued in Paradise Lost is a game-changer, to say the least. Paradise Lost focuses less on offensive satire and more on absurdist comedy.

The issue with this change is that there’s not a whole lot of substance to the Postal series without the offensive humor. Because that’s what the original game billed itself on, there’s not much lore or storytelling beneath all of the Arab jokes and anti-social justice tirades present throughout the last game. Paradise Lost tries to invest players in the lore of the town, but even a nuclear explosion hasn’t made Paradise that much more interesting. What few racist or offensive jokes the DLC does have are just rehashes of humor from the last game, like poking more fun at Gary Coleman’s size, or at Al Qaeda. Regurgitating jokes from a previous game is not innovation, it’s just lazy.

Pros and Cons of New Humor

Postal 2 tones down its shock humor, but the crudeness and absurdity are still here.

Postal 2 tones down its shock humor, but the crudeness and absurdity are still here.

Now; what point could there possibly be to lamenting a video game’s lack of offensive, racist content? Postal 2 has the humor it has not because Running With Scissors is actually racist, but to draw the shock and derision that it drew. Running With Scissors wanted to goad politicians and media moguls into condemning the game, if for nothing else than their own amusement and lots of free media exposure. Postal 2 was an excellent example of the Streisand Effect.

At the same time, though, there’s something to be said for the idea that, at some point, there is no difference between being a racist and only pretending to be a racist. There’s a constant debate in society and in the media over whether portraying racist jokes condones racism or is merely an observation. There are no simple answers in this debate, but Postal 2 proves that it’s a complicated issue that video games can bring to life just as viscerally as any other type of media.

Final Thoughts

Who knew that fart jokes could ignite such a firestorm.

Who knew that fart jokes could ignite such a firestorm.

As for Postal 2: Paradise Lost, it’s fair to say that the DLC undid the Postal III fiasco in a surprisingly elegant manor and restored the community’s faith in the series. Newcomers who enjoy older shooters and cringe-y, South Park-style satire should play the full Postal 2 and then get this DLC. Its comedy can get tired and some of its jokes make no sense (like a cameo from the guy who played Scott Farkus in A Christmas Story), but the new gameplay elements are implemented well.

Additionally, a modern remake of the original Postal game is now available on Steam, and it will be reviewed at some point in the future. For now, postal on. And don’t forget the cow head grenades.

____________________

This post has been used with permission from Ian Coppock and is also found at his blog, Art as Games. Follow him on Twitter at @IanLayneCoppock or friend him on Steam at username Art as Games.

Leave a Reply