One has to wonder what Running With Scissors have been doing since the original Postal's release in 1997. Making friends with Gary Coleman and selling homemade cookies to save up for an Unreal engine license we suppose. Postal was - in a word - dire, so have Running With Scissors become big or clever while the videogaming world has matured around them?
The idea behind Postal 2, say Running With Scissors, is that it's only as violent as you are. Certainly, there may be submachine guns, shotguns, shovels and Molotov cocktails arbitrarily placed throughout (ugh) "Postal Dude's" hometown of Paradise, but you don't have to use them. You can, if you like, spend a week of the Dude's life fulfilling the menial tasks that form the trials and tribulations of our trench-coated protagonist.
But that's not how it works. You can either let the game provoke you into a homicidal rage, or you can die and reload. We'll take one of the first missions as an example: pick up your pay cheque. We saunter across town, taking in the sights, watching the inhabitants of Paradise going about their business, trekking through two traffic tunnels which signify load points of roughly 90 seconds each until we finally arrive at work - the Running With Scissors office. Once you've picked up your cheque (and been fired, as it turns out), the picketing parents outside decide to take their protest up a notch and storm the offices with assault rifles in the game's first supposed effort at irony.
Now, you can try to flee unscathed, but it's not going to happen unless you're playing on the absolute easiest setting. You either die and reload, or fight back. And so it goes on. Once you're (somewhat willingly) pushed over the edge, it can admittedly be fun to indulge in the opportunities for mindless violence that arrive at every turn of a corner, and in every random box of a building you enter. However, knocking the heads off civilians with a shovel, using cats as shotgun silencers, and setting fire to marching bands before extinguishing the flames with a stream of your own urine wears thin in about an hour's play, after which there is nothing to do but trawl through the game completing menial tasks by any means necessary.
And you really do have to employ any means necessary, as the game starts to become so ridiculously hard that creatively despatching adversaries is usually sidestepped in favour of getting shot of the uncannily accurate and curiously armoured civilians and/or police officers as quickly as possible. Somehow able to take a couple of shotgun blasts to the head, marauding Paradise-ites are usually more likely to whip out the firearms than even you are, when they're not showing you the finger and calling you a "f**king pinko."
It really does feel as if the odds are stacked right up against you right from the outset, and it's usually easy enough to become accidentally embroiled in violence and find yourself being cuffed by the cops just for defending yourself when masked gunmen rob the bank, which prompts a relocation to jail and your subsequent escape. Either that, or you die and reload. Again.
When you aren't killing (and even when you are for the most part), Postal 2 is not fun. You queue up at a bank, you queue up at a convenience store, you witness flagrant racial stereotypes paraded as comedy, you walk past billboards showcasing unfunny jokes... it's boring. Extremely boring. Traipsing back and forth across the uninspiring levels to achieve pointless goals, and often having to sit through two or three load points in the process, only compounds the dullness.
Frankly, after about two hours with Postal 2, the whole thing begins to reek of a flimsy attempt to goad "Family Values"-oriented politicians, and not much more. The Unreal-powered visuals are just about of a whimsical quality, as are the supposedly "motion captured" animations, although the exterior environments are a little more detailed and lusher than the plain, boxy interiors throughout the game's sprawling map. The weaponry is poorly balanced (it's actually easier to bump someone off with a shovel than an assault rifle), but does allow for some creativity. Our preferred method of "self defence" was to lead a trail of oil to a larger pool, step well back with a lit match and wait for them to come running. Whoof, toasty, but again fun for five minutes until we start looking for something else to do.
If the comedic side of the game reached any level of sophistication beyond playing keep-ups with a severed head and urinating on passers-by until they puke, then Postal 2 could have been marginally more entertaining. GTA3 managed it - senseless violence, sardonic wit, genuine humour, and apparently menial tasks peppered with a sense of fun that urges you to continue. There is no reason something similar could not have been pulled off with Postal 2, aside from the fact that Running With Scissors clearly wouldn't know intelligent comedy if it used their rear ends for a silencer - the biographies page on the RWS website says more about these witless hacks than we ever could.
Throughout the game, there are references to the use of the videogame industry as a scapegoat for nannying politicians and American gun lobbyists refusing to take responsibility for the state of the few misguided crackpots that make the news every so often. However, instead of using their position wisely and crafting a scathing, sophisticated social satire of middle America, Running With Scissors have chosen to flaunt their freedom of expression in the worst possible sense - with provocation rather than consideration - and they haven't even managed to come up with a decent piece of entertainment.
We were hoping Running With Scissors would be capable of pulling off more than a decent looking Half-Life mod crafted by a 13 year-old boy with a concerning fetish for mindless slaughter, but that's what it feels like we've been playing. The basic toilet humour running through the piece can't hide the short-lived gameplay, and leads to an extremely unfulfilling and tiresome experience that any sane person would be hard-pressed to push on with.
We honestly can't think of a reason to recommend that you purchase Postal 2, so save your money. Download the demo, find out how to extend the timer, and you'll have all the fun you're likely to get from the retail version.