Postal 2 Remains One of the Raunchiest Shooters Ever 20 Years Later
Few video games are actually developed to purposefully incite controversy.
In today’s environment, just one bad article, wonky screenshot, or controversial developer quote can completely derail a launch. But 20 years ago, when the internet was still young, Postal 2 shattered all expectations of decency with the crudest shooter of all time.
Developer Running With Scissors shoved in as many tactless and sensational elements into its game as possible to keep its young male audience glued to the chaos. Taking control of Postal Dude, you can piss on women till they vomit, electrocute a dog, or murder a bunch of “terrorists” who look like Osama Bin Laden. (“Going postal” was a ‘90s slang term for describing a murderous rampage. From 1983 to 1999, 35 people lost their lives in 11 post office shootings.)
It sold more than five million copies at the time, but Postal 2 could never be made today. As the decades have gone by, gaming has become more inclusive. In retrospect, it’s the last hurrah of a bygone era when games were primarily marketed toward edgy young men, complete with misogynistic mascots like Duke Nukem and Leisure Suit Larry.
Postal 2 has a legacy in the same vein as Custer's Revenge or BMX XXX, both titles that were more offensive than they were fun. Though fondly remembered by some, these games are looked back at with fear and cringe. The gaming industry has moved past over-the-top action and stereotypes, choosing not to alienate huge swaths of its audience just for the memes. But without Postal 2 and that era of dude-bro games, we’d never have come to that conclusion.
Made in an era before games were made by teams of hundreds with pristine PR departments, Postal 2 is just too obscene. In today’s market, AO or Adults Only-rated games mainly exist in the Hentai section of Steam, where getting too much blowback can cause a game to get pulled.
Postal 2 instantly became the target of political discourse, due to its over-the-top action, racism, and off-color jokes. It was banned in Australia, Sweden, New Zealand, and Germany. In 2011, Supreme Court justices were forced to play Postal 2 in order to rule on a 2005 California law banning the sale of violent video games to children. Ultimately, the law was struck down, with Justice Antonin Scalia writing that it infringed on their first amendment rights.
In the two decades since its launch, Postal has spawned four expansions and two sequels — which have some of the lowest scores of all time on Metacritic. Just this month, the developers released a free update to Postal 2 to add some modern bug fixes and Steam Deck compatibility.
“The idea was to go out and make the most outrageous video game we could and a game we would like to play ourselves,” founder and current CEO of RWS Vince Desi told Tucson Weekly in 2002, after the release of the first Postal. “The idea was, let's make a game about a guy who basically goes postal and have it be really fun and fast, action-paced."
Postal 2 is a little bit deeper than that, but only a little. The story takes place during a mundane week, completing tasks like getting some milk or cashing a check. The game gives you a choice: you can play as a pacifist, standing in line at the bank and spending your money on milk, or you can be a psychopathic murderer who takes everything you want. The game is a meta-commentary on daily life, showing us that we all have the choice to be a person who contributes positively to society or a destructive monster.
Story-driven games like Mass Effect or The Witcher 3 change depending on the choices you make, and force you to consider the consequences of your bad deeds. (Shepherd isn’t going to allow you to murder his whole crew just for the lolz.) In the years since Postal 2, players have come to expect more nuanced characters with goals, feelings, and motives.
In the Yakuza series, you can bash goons over the head with bicycles, but your protagonist is also kind to old ladies and considerate enough to deliver toilet paper to folks with tummy aches. Even in High on Life, where you have the opportunity to shoot an annoying kid, you have to then speak to his mother as your weapon prattles on about how what you did was messed up.
Games like Postal 2 don’t get the same response as they did two decades ago. Games can still be outrageous and violent, but they’ve also evolved into storytelling vehicles, able to convey extreme emotions and deep stories. 2022’s nostalgia play Postal 4: No Regerts was a failure for a multitude of reasons — bad graphics, a terrible story, and too many dull cutscenes. But mostly, gruesome action just isn’t that cool anymore. Our sensibilities have evolved, leaving Postal 2 in the urine-soaked dust.