Friday, July 31, 2015

Review of Postal 2: Paradise Lost

Yeah, I don't know what's wrong with me either.  I played Postal 2 a few years ago, hated it, then woke up a few days ago with the unexpected desire to play it again.  And this time around, I actually quite enjoyed myself.  Enough so that I decided to pick up the recent DLC for Postal 2, titled 'Paradise Lost.  Yes, you read that right.  Despite Postal 2 being more than a decade old, Paradise Lost was released just recently.  I'm not entirely sure why, but I get the impression that part of the reason is to apologize for Postal 3.

Paradise Lost continues the bizarre adventures of The Postal Dude, as he finds himself back in the town of Paradise many years after the events of Postal 2, looking for his lost dog Champ.  As usual, this involves accomplishing a list of errands every day, with as little or as much wanton violence as you wish.  It's a mix of freeform exploration and regular linear bottlenecks, with a constant parade of hit-or-miss gags and wacky plot developments.  Exactly like its predecessor.  And while it's sold as DLC, Paradise Lost actually has just as much content as Postal 2.  More, actually, with a nice variety of new weapons and items on top of the already ridiculously large arsenal of Postal 2 and its A Week in Paradise addon.

Paradise Lost is basically just Postal 2, but better.  Each zone now has different weather associated with it, making environments less repetitive.  Likewise, most interior areas look significantly less lifeless and bland, with a lot more environmental detail in addition to the usual hidden weapons and items.  Hit detection and general combat mechanics are still just as sloppy, but most of the linear combat sequences feel more balanced than before, and some of the new weapons (the revolver in particular) actually do a lot to make firefights more fun than before.  Not amazing (later areas still involve a lot of spamming of health items), but improved.

There's also a lot more variety this time around, when it comes to the missions themselves.  In Postal 2, you would often find yourself forced into linear combat segments.  That still happens in Paradise Lost, but they end up being a little more clever than just corridor shooting.  Tricking zombie cows into knocking themselves unconscious so you can milk them, for instance.  And even when you are shooting things in corridors, effort has been put into making each sequence feel distinct this time around.  It actually feels like some thought has been put into the design.  And shockingly, that makes the experience a lot more fun.

One of the biggest selling features of Postal 2 was the idea that you could be as violent or non-violent as you wanted.  This was true in some situations, but at least half of the game was still made up of sequences where combat was all but required, and avoiding it felt no more like a real in-game choice than running past enemies in any other FPS.  Even when you could solve problems non-violently, you were basically tasked with either standing in long lines, or paying ridiculous prices.  Paradise Lost hasn't completely solved either of these problems, but it tries.  You can empty a Karaoke bar by singing terribly, for instance.  Or deactivate a mob of angry robotic urinals by...well, urinating in them.  In the future, I'd be interested in re-visiting Paradise Lost to see how practical it really is to complete without killing anyone.  Pacifism seems to be a somewhat more resonable playstyle than in Postal 2, at least.

The only really unwelcome addition to Paradise Lost is the inclusion of boss battles, all of which are just an absolute drag.  And while the plot of the game can be amusing at times, in that stupidly endearing Postal way, I do somewhat prefer the extremely basic setup of the original game: you have errands to run.  Run them.  And, I mean... it's still basically Postal 2, with all the same problems, and the same unapologetically low brow sense of humor.  I don't think I can bring myself to call it a "good game."  It's a game that's hopelessly endearing, if it doesn't immediately alienate you, I guess.  A game that at this point I have equal amounts of love and hate for.  Because, you know... it's actually kind of fun.  It's actually funny, sometimes.  And there are actually few design elements I really like.  But geez, is it ever stupid!

So if Postal 2 is your thing, you should give Paradise Lost a try.  Because it's basically just a better version of the same game.  If Postal 2 isn't your thing, then... well, I don't blame you, and Paradise Lost isn't going to do anything to change your mind.