Postal (1997) Video Game - Christmas
Running With Scissors

What do you think of when you hear the name Postal? Chances are, if you’re at all familiar with the long-running crass franchise, the following hypothetical plays out in your head:

An ordinary individual is wandering around the streets of Paradise, Arizona. They’re suddenly approached by a bizarre-looking man in a lengthy trench coat, dark sunglasses, and a t-shirt sporting the visage of a grey alien. He’s carrying a clipboard on his person. He asks if you’d sign his petition in a sort-of deep, understated voice. You say no. He repeats his request, this time with a bit more firmness in his tone. He mentions something about having other stuff to do or not having all day. Again, you say no. The firmness escalates into outright psychopathy, as he declares that he’ll follow you home and kill your dog if you don’t just sign the petition.

That’s the Postal experience, minus some dated pop-culture references, public urination, and other unpleasantness. The series, developed and published by Running With Scissors (RWS), chronicles the crude misadventures of “The Postal Dude,” described by RWS as a “hapless everyman” who tries to mind his own business. Popularized in the 2003 game Postal 2, the Postal Dude finds himself living out every day of the week as over-the-top shenanigans get in the way of accomplishing daily chores: a trip to get milk from the grocery store might be interrupted by Islamic fundamentalists; a simple trek to whizz on his dad’s grave may be impeded by gun-toting southerners; and something as simple as a relaxing weekend could result in the post-apocalypse, complete with zombies and mad-cow disease demons. If you enjoy subtlety, Postal is not for you. It’s the kind of series that caters to such a niche audience. It outright repulses those who can’t get down with its casual vulgarity, dated references, and overwhelmingly prevalent post-irony.

Kicking Off a Franchise

Postal (1997) Video Game 2
Running With Scissors

Postal as a series, though, has a fascinating history. The games that align with what most expect out of Postal are Postal 2, Postal 4: No Regerts (yes, that’s intentional), and Postal: Brain Damaged. The first of these is miraculously kept alive in the modern day, still occasionally receiving content and technical patches despite running on a hacked-together-hunk-of-s*** version of the Unreal Engine that isn’t without its shortcomings. Despite releasing in 2003, it would even receive a full expansion pack more than 12 years later, with the game’s community still readily pumping out fan-made content after its release. Postal 4: No Regerts, officially released in 2022 as a full product, made a bold step for the series by establishing multiple series-firsts: it came to consoles earlier in the year, and it was the first Postal game to be sold as an Early Access product on Steam, and it was the first game to feature three separate fully-voiced performances for the Postal Dude. Postal: Brain Damaged, co-developed with the Polish studio HyperStrange, is arguably the most technically competent of all the Postal games, combining the series’ raunchy sensibilities with gameplay that shamelessly borrows from the ongoing boomer shooter revival.

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If you’re wondering where Postal 3 is, it doesn’t exist: it can’t be bought through official means, has been completely disowned by RWS, and otherwise exists as a perpetual joke in the surrounding franchise. Its failure would spur the development of the aforementioned expansion pack for Postal 2, and a patch would even reward you for urinating on a copy of Postal 3 inside the game.

But then there’s Postal. Released in 1997 and published by Ripcord Games instead of RWS, Postal is, in some ways, a black sheep in the surrounding franchise. Well, less of a black sheep than Postal 3 was, anyways. You’ll rarely see it mentioned in the discourse surrounding the series, and when it does come up, it’s often a footnote or otherwise subdued in comparison. Though RWS themselves would reference the original game in multiple ways, especially in Postal: Brain Damaged, you may be asking: why is the original Postal game so forgotten?

Well, for starters, it’s completely different from everything that came after.

Meet “The Postal Dude”

Postal (1997) Video Game - Mall
Running With Scissors

You’ll immediately be taken aback by how quickly Postal establishes its atmosphere. Your eardrums are assaulted by industrial noise as a sun-bleached image fills the screen. A faceless figure stands alone in a sea of skulls and viscera with a separate image of a screaming mouth adhered over top. Three pieces of tape, firmly scrawled over with the word “Postal,” accompanies tuneless screaming, metallic whirring, and imposing percussion on a seemingly endless loop. The soundtrack is credited primarily to Christian Salyer, whose work can be found in a handful of other games like True Crime: Streets of LA and Vigilante 8: Second Offense. Suffice it to say. It’s a somber cacophony of noise that betrays any sense of morbid humor to be found.

The plot of Postal is deliberately vague. Only the game’s loading screens and manual give a clue as to what may — or may not — actually be happening throughout. Postal kicks off proper an unknown time after the Dude is evicted from his home in Paradise, Arizona. The reason for eviction is largely unknown, though his “war journal” describes his regret in moving to Paradise to begin with. Screams and gunshots accompany the setting of the sun, and amid his growing belief that the town’s residents are “sick,” he starts donning a ballistic vest and a side-arm at all times. Set off by the eviction, the Dude takes his munitions to the outside world. Hoping to “cure” the town’s inhabitants, he decides to murder his way to the town’s air-force base, where this “sickness” seemingly emanates from.

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We’re already far removed from the ludicrous nature of future Postal games. Those familiar with the signs of paranoid delusions and schizophrenia may already notice the red flags flying, which is only ever amplified through the game’s loading screens. Twisted images of desecrated corpses, nightmarish landscapes, close-ups of monstrous pairs of teeth and skulls, and otherwise incoherent messes of blood, gore, and overly saturated photographs paint the Dude’s brief, albeit terrifying journey between gameplay sections. Accompanied by each caption, which paints the game as a whole taking place over a week, we find text that seemingly contradicts the Postal Dude’s collected consciousness. The text cheerfully celebrates the stench of death, that the meek are blessed “for they make easy targets,” and that the Dude’s journey is little more than him acting as “the celestial gardener,” that he’s “policing the planet of the stink weeds and poisons.”

The Postal Dude himself reflects this edgy sentiment. Referred to as the “Demon” in the game’s options menu, the comedically-deadpan performance of Rick Hunter that fans would come to love in Postal 2 is mostly unchanged from his debut. That being said, the kind of self-awareness found in Postal 2 is absent here. Gone are lines referring to illicit drugs being great for him, administering chlorine to the gene pool, and geeking out for Gary Coleman. Instead, we have a purposefully detached Postal Dude who comes off as deliberately sadistic, with only a faint glint of dark humor present in the madness.

Gameplay and Weapons

Running With Scissors

The gameplay of Postal is similarly mad, twisting from a bizarre everyday-life simulator to a more arcade-y top-down shooter. Every level sees the Postal Dude dropped onto a hand-drawn map, armed with an infinite-ammo sub-machine gun and whatever else he carried over from the previous map, sans the first. To complete a level, you’re tasked with eliminating a percentage of the map’s hostiles — essentially, any person that poses a direct threat to the Postal Dude. Armed police officers, Molotov-lobbing vigilantes, gun turrets, and pretty much anything that isn’t a running and screaming civilian are required to be eliminated. Once you’ve satisfied the percentage of hostiles killed, all you need to do is press F1 to proceed to the next level. Rinse and repeat eighteen times, and you “win.”

Of course, the Postal games — barring Brain Damaged — aren’t exactly amazing spectacles to play. This is doubly true for the original Postal. Compared to what’s available nowadays, you have a typical shooter that sees you running around, hiding behind cover, unloading thousands of bullets into dozens of uniformed cops, and saving ammunition for your higher-powered weapons until they’re needed. Your basic sub-machine gun is your workhorse weapon, which you’ll rely on the most due to its monstrous range and consistent damage output. You also have access to throwable grenades, land mines, Molotov cocktails, napalm grenades, missiles, and a flamethrower.

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Ammunition, in addition to health and armor pickups, is scattered across every map and stacked beyond a limit of 100 points. You’re incentivized to explore every nook and cranny for these pickups, as it’s surprisingly very easy to die when facing some of the game’s more threatening enemies.

Fire, in particular, will be your biggest asset and detriment. Anything that touches fire is guaranteed to die, as once they’re set ablaze, they’ll run around in a mad panic, spreading the flames to others before finally collapsing. The same is true for you, unfortunately. Enemies that constantly throw Molotov cocktails and napalm grenades are easily your biggest obstacles, as the flames will eat away a massive portion of your health while cutting straight through your armor. The only upside to being set ablaze is the ability to afflict others with the same fiery status, but it comes with the risk of being shot down even quicker than you would typically be.

Running With Scissors

Most of the original Postal game is hilariously unbalanced, at least on the game’s harder difficulties. Unless you’re practically sticking the thing up people’s nostrils, your shotgun is nearly useless on higher difficulties compared to the auto-shotgun you find toward the end of the game. Precision shooting and utilizing weapon strengths and weaknesses are nonexistent. Instead, the best solution for most combat situations is to make a massive distance between yourself and the enemy, either cooking grenades off as they give chase or riddling them with bullets while backpedaling away. The few times you can cut loose and let some extreme firepower out feel appropriately cathartic but not in the way you’d expect from other action games.

The experience of Postal is surprisingly hollow. Mind you, not in a bad sense, but it’s something worth observing. The same horrible ambiance you’ll find in the game’s menus and loading screens is completely gone during the actual game itself. The only piece that immediately comes to mind is a diegetic sequence involving a marching band romping down the street, which immediately turns into panicked screaming once things hit the fan. The rest of the game will be littered with painful gasps, the constant stream of gunfire, wicking flames, and various explosions dotting the ground. For 1997, the same year as Fallout, Blood, Turok, and Oddworld, it’s surprising to see these two contrasting bits of unpleasantness come together in something that feels cohesive as a whole.

In many ways, a perfect word to sum up Postal is “unpleasant.” From the get-go, Postal was a game that was made to provoke a response, not only from the typical kind of moral-outrage types that grew to prominence after the controversial releases of Mortal Kombat and Night Trap but from a variety of other institutions as well.

The “Going Postal” Controversy 

Postal (1997) Video Game - Scrap Yard
Running With Scissors

If you’re unaware, the game’s title directly references the grim turn-of-phrase “going postal.” A saying meant to convey uncontrollable anger that quickly spirals into violence, the first known occurrence of the phrase coincided with a series of violent homicides that took place in several United States Postal Service (USPS) buildings, with notable incidents taking place from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s. A statistical analysis conducted during this time would further the stigma surrounding the phrase that a significant portion of workplace homicides occurred directly at postal facilities compared to other workplaces.

Naturally, the idea of a video game starring a paranoid mass murderer furthering this stigma was a bit of a turn-off to the USPS. In an interview with Tucson Weekly, the CEO of RWS, Vince Desi, spoke earnestly about how the creation of Postal led to a confrontation with the USPS itself. Specifically, sometime after applying for a copyright on the game’s title, the team at RWS would receive a letter from the US Postmaster General, Marvin Runyon, firmly asking them to cease their activities. According to the letter, the “Postal Game” was in “very poor taste,” and “the stereotype of the violent postal employee . . . does a grave disservice to the more than 750,000 men and women who work hard every day to deliver excellence to their fellow citizens.” Naturally, RWS ignored this request. The USPS would quickly escalate into a lawsuit, remaining deadlocked until it was dismissed with prejudice sometime in 2003.

Shortly after the game’s release, Postal would become the target of US Senator Joe Lieberman, who previously played a significant role in creating the ESRB. While he’s overall supportive of the ESRB and ratings practices assigned to video games nowadays, the volatile content of Postal certainly set him off, describing it, Marilyn Manson, and Calvin Kline underwear ads as the “three worst things in American society.” While Vince Desi admittedly appreciated any news coverage of their games, Lieberman would strike a chord with RWS, with Postal 2 featuring an entire difficulty mode named after him. Dubbed “Liebermode,” it’s the easiest difficulty setting, significantly modifying health values, enemy hostility, and more.

But the most controversial aspect of Postal comes with its original ending. The final level after the air-force base will certainly tug some collars. Thankfully, it serves more as an epilogue to the Dude’s massacre than anything else, as there’s little actually to do. There’s no way to present this elegantly, so we’ll just come out and say it: “The Elementary School.”

Postal (1997) Video Game - Trailers
Running With Scissors

From the get-go, things aren’t quite right. The children wandering around the playground are utterly impervious to all damage. Nothing you do will harm them, and for a short time, it seems as if the game cannot be completed. After a few moments, however, the Dude undergoes some form of a psychotic break as the world dances and twists around him. We cut away from the school to the interior of an insane asylum, wherein a faceless writhing figure is secluded inside of a rusted cell: it’s likely the Dude himself, and narration from a figure off-screen discusses how “the urban environment is the incubator” for “undesirable behaviors,” and that despite how the Dude appears to others, he in his own mind is the hero. The voice continues, lending credence to the theory that the Dude is suffering from mental illness as he believed that “the entire fate of the world” rested on his shoulders. It’s all but confirmed that he shows signs of being a “paranoid delusional” and that there will be plenty of time to examine him despite not knowing what initially set him off.

When a remake of Postal, entitled Postal Redux, was released in 2016, “The Elementary School” was a significant talking point. This wasn’t without reason: two years after Postal’s release, the Columbine High School Massacre would collectively traumatize the United States, with further incidents at Sandy Hook Elementary, Virginia Tech, Parkland High School, and Robb Elementary taking place over the next two decades.

A brief piece from TechRaptor discussed the motivations behind the original ending and why a new ending was created for Postal Redux. Jon Merchant, current VP of Development at RWS, had this to say:

“The final level in the original POSTAL was very misrepresented in the media, who often said it was possible to kill children, but this was never the case as the entire thing was a cinematic dream sequence where the protagonist attempted to shoot up a school, but failed as his bullets and rockets had no effect on the NPCs. . . it was supposed to depict something that, at the time, would have been completely unthinkable, and out of touch with reality.”

Postal Redux now features an ending wherein the Postal Dude stumbles across a grave, with a pair of adults grieving over it if you’re playing on harder difficulties. When the grave enters the Earth, the hostiles count at the top of the screen drops from one to zero, implying that the only hostile presence in the area is the Dude himself. The asylum sequence that follows remains unchanged. It would additionally introduce a variety of changes that make the overall playing experience much more enjoyable: a revamped soundtrack, additional modes, new character models, additional weapons, a high-definition revamping of the game’s assets, and a general retooling of RWS’ grimiest game to date.

Postal’s Lasting Impact on the Industry

Postal (1997) Video Game - Truck Stop
Running With Scissors

It directly inspired the creation of Hatred, a game that would see notoriety in 2015 for taking the violence of Postal and purposefully pushing the boundaries further. Graphic executions, a now-infamous trailer that has been rightfully memed to death, and a rare removal from the now-defunct Steam Greenlight service bolstered the game’s popularity for a short time. However, its lacking gameplay, technical issues, and quadrupling down on edginess for edginess’ sake seemingly made the entire experience come off as more of a joke than anything Postal ever did, and its notoriety would eventually fade away into obscurity. The protagonist of Hatred even makes an appearance in Postal Redux under the name “Not Important,” a direct reference to the trailer wherein he declares his name is “not important.”

Postal, thankfully, has seen some acknowledgment by RWS in recent years. Postal: Brain Damaged sees the current iteration of The Dude, voiced by Corey Cruise, tormented by a mysterious figure in a never-ending nightmare. The game’s second world takes the grim environment of the first Postal game and amplifies it to eleven, turning it into a horror-bound sideshow full of monstrous creatures. The mysterious figure would be revealed as the Demon, featuring a returning performance by Rick Hunter, as he states that he’s “like a f***ing Jungian persona.” No matter how many times you try to forget him or wipe him away from existence, he’ll only ever grow stronger. The seemingly-serious bit is finished with the Demon’s head getting blown off, followed by a poop joke made at his expense.

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Is the original Postal worth playing nowadays? Well, it’s free and readily accessible. If you don’t mind a game that doesn’t really feel all that amazing to play and just want to see what all the hubbub was about, give it a shot. You’ll even find that both versions of the game come with all released expansion packs and additional maps, bolstering the game’s modest level count by another half a dozen.

Postal would gradually shift away from the edgy, outrageous premise of the first game in lieu of targeting morbid humor, satirical depictions of American life, and an overall sense of self-awareness that poked fun at itself whenever it could. Whether it was meant to draw attention to RWS as a new development studio, to make a statement about games having an inherent adult audience, or to draw attention to how cultural standards have shifted since its initial release, Postal remains an enigma in an already enigmatic franchise. Disliked by many, beloved by a few, it’s an intriguing piece of PC gaming history that rolled into the dark crevices of a couch: vaguely remembered, occasionally acknowledged but never really deemed necessary to dig out.

The original Postal game officially became freeware in 2019, meaning it can be downloaded and played without paying a single penny from official channels. The official remake of Postal, Postal Redux, is available on PC, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch.

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