The Most Shocking Game from 1997 Is Kind of Boring Now

The studio behind the controversial 1997 shooter gave it a facelift. But was it really needed?

by Leif Johnson
May 28 2016, 1:00pm

Image: Running With Scissors.

I never saw the first man I killed. I knew he was behind a moving truck, but all I knew is that gunshots came from his direction. I fired my shotgun over there. Boom. A shadow behind the trunk crumpled and lay still in the snow. I'm not even sure if he was a cop.

There were no such mysteries about his comrades in arms. Some looked like FBI agents, some wore the blues of local law enforcement, and all unloaded their guns toward me. I killed them all, along (a little accidentally) with the members of a fleeing family in the house next door. A couple of hours in, I killed so many times that I stopped counting, and honestly I stopped caring. It wasn't so much desensitization as growing tired of the whole process.

This is Postal Redux, an updated version of the game that was originally released in 1997. Back then, Senator Joe Lieberman called it "sick stuff" and "digital poison." Playing it at the time felt exciting, like I was doing something illegal. But this facelifted edition, after all these years, gets kind of dull after only a few of its 17 levels.

It's about little else besides killing everyone and anyone from an isometric perspective. Police, civilians, men, women—you name it. The original featured the protagonist ineffectually firing into a schoolyard at the end, but that's been mercifully altered. The graphics are better, though loyal to the original, and a shift to twin-stick controls for gamepads make it easier to control than the 1997 version ever was. A new "rampage" mode adds a degree of longevity by focusing on stacking multipliers for frequent kills.

The trailer above tries to blame the violence on the people with its talk of "stopping the evil." But what evil? Most unarmed civilians simply go about their own business until I spit bullets at them, and the armed ones are only attacking me, the nutball shooting everyone. If you're playing as intended, two stages later you're lobbing hand grenades into the midst of a high school marching band on parade and mowing down the survivors with a flamethrower. Part of Postal's appeal at the time was this very excess, which often successfully pushed the brutality into comic absurdity in a way last year's reviled Postal homage Hatred never managed. It's right there in the title. "Going postal" might conjure an appreciative smile; sheer hatred does not.

This was all properly shocking when Postal first came out, but today these horrors are overshadowed by reality. The school shootings that plague us now were still mostly in the future then, and we could still gawp at that schoolyard scene with no other comment than how "fucked up" it was. I have few problems with violent video games in general, but I'm a little disgusted by the thought that I probably find Postal dull now because I've become so used to hearing and reading about this stuff happening in real life.