Review: Postal 4: No Regerts

Stirring up controversy is nothing new for video games. Whether it’s pushing the boundaries of graphic violence or simple bad taste, there’s been a few series that are notorious for riling up the easily offended. Postal might not be as famous as say Mortal Kombat or Grand Theft Auto, but has nonetheless been a thorn in the side of the Tipper Gores of the world. The last mainline Postal game, Postal III, was released over a decade ago and was universally reviled by critics and consumers which could have spelled the end for the franchise. But the Postal Dude rides again in Postal 4: No Regerts.

The Postal Dude and his dog Champ have relocated to Edensin, Arizona where he hopes to get a fresh start in life. Unfortunately for him, his car which is doubling as his home gets stolen. Broke and in an unfamiliar area, the Dude needs to take on odd jobs to earn some money and eventually get his car back. Fortunately for the player, the type of work he gets through the temp agency are more conducive to game mayhem than what most of us would get offered at a temp agency. Edensin might be a small town out in the desert, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t full of interesting characters. The Dude meets a wide assortment of people in which he engages in dealings. These include the usual suspects in games where the protagonist has criminal leanings such as corrupt law enforcement, politicians and the mafia. But since postal isn’t the typical games there’s also some other less predictable folk such as a local militia and doomsday cult. One has to admit that for such a small sparsely populated town like Edensin they certainly have a lot going on.

The Postal Dude progresses through the story by starting each day and doing everything he is supposed to. His tasks vary from day to day, but we’ll do a rundown of a day in the life of the Dude, focusing on Monday’s events since it’s considered the least spoilery day to talk about. The Dude goes to the temp agency and is given three jobs he needs to complete before the day is over: prison guard, animal control specialist and sewer sanitation specialist. As weird as these job assignments are, it’s actually kind of nice since it gives the player a variety of situations to handle, each with different mechanics. The prison guard job goes horribly wrong and Dude has to manually find and input security codes to override the lockdown. In this process all the prisoners get out and the prisoners need to be dealt with. By shooting them. It’s a simple objective, but does showcase where the game AI could benefit from tweaking. Some inmates will attack you when shot if they survive, usually a couple shots is enough to take them down. Some will run away and others will just stand there in a catatonic state. Even though a few have got their hands on guns, they don’t pose much of a threat and the biggest challenge is navigating the prison to figure out where the computers are to enter the codes.

The animal control assignment requires capturing cats and dogs for an unseen person who says things that suggest he eats the animals the Dude brings. Dogs are lured with treats and cats are just picked up for hand delivery. This mission is simple since the stray animals are friendly and easy to catch, but keeping a stash of dog treats on hand can have some other perks later on. The sewer mission involve fixing valves, replacing lightbulbs and shoveling massive piles of excrement. It’s about as fun as working in a real sewer. There are threats down there in the form of rats, which oddly are more resilient to bullets than prison inmates. After these jobs are completed the Dude can find a place to crash to start the next day or take on some optional side missions. Each day brings a specific new set of tasks that can be addressed at the Dude’s leisure. Of course, these tasks can be ignored entirely if the player chooses to just go on a violent rampage instead.

Postal 4 almost seems like an apology for Postal III. It returns to the first-person perspective of the cult classic Postal 2 and tries to propel itself to new levels of absurdity. The thing with the Postal series is that it has always been intentionally edgy and controversial, proudly flaunting itself as a monument to bad taste. Postal 4 doesn’t attempt to change the formula, but somehow plays it too safe in its edginess. It’s politically incorrect and doesn’t shy away from vulgar humor, but comes off more like a parody of what was edgy in 2003 and doesn’t have as much shock factor in modern times. Or maybe I’m just way too desensitized. Street names like Dutch Oven and Inyo Butte might elicit a chuckle, but sound like names Bart Simpson would come up for a prank call if he didn’t outgrow doing that after over thirty seasons. The absurd and ultra violent world of Postal 4 is a safe space to play out psychotic rampages and revenge fantasies as Edensin feels very much like a fantastical counterpart to the real world. But reality sinks in when half the residents of Edensin are walking around with facemasks and the arrow-guided aisles in convenience stores have conspicuously bare sections on their shelves. This would be a timely reference to the most surreal year in modern history had this game been released two years earlier.

Postal 4 doesn’t truly excel in any particular area. The game mechanics are janky; combat controls are alright but platforming could have benefited from more quality control. Picking up and carrying boxes controls and looks like a throwback to when 3D games first started taking off. The absurdity of the situation the Dude finds himself in and the tasks he gets roped into doing help carry the story and offer humor, bad sadly even this falls short. Vulgarity and shock value do have their place in humor and can work well if there is either wit or some social commentary behind it. Wholesale murder, shoveling crap and finding collectible genital-themed plushies can be entertaining with proper context, but fall short when they’re attempting to convey humor simply by existing. The overall result is a game that’s mediocre when it comes gameplay mechanics, story and entertaining writing. The Postal series has always had a niche audience, and fans of the franchise can probably find a lot to enjoy in Postal 4, but it doesn’t elevate itself to a level where people who previously weren’t interested in the series should start caring about this entry.

Closing Comments:

Postal 4: No Regerts is a return to form to the cult classic Postal 2. Unfortunately, while it does stay true to what made it successful among its fanbase, it doesn’t raise the bar in any area where it could be considered a great game. For a series known for pushing the envelope, Postal 4 feels like it plays things too safe. The gameplay mechanics are rough around the edges, while the attempts at edgy humor fall short. The potential is there, but regerttably the writers never push it to a level where it would be memorable. What we end up with is a game that is enjoyable but ultimately unremarkable.

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