Growing up with a love of campy horror chop-’em-ups and weird cult classics, I’ve developed a certain appreciation for the bizarre, the taboo, and the gruesome that probably far exceeds any normal person’s threshold for the stuff. But even so, I find Postal III’s sheer level of tastelessness for tastelessness’ sake off-putting. This is a game where AIDS-infected monkeys hump people’s faces, you’re tasked with slaughtering a gang of gay cowboy bikers riding Segways, and you can use a machete to decapitate pedestrians and then urinate on their corpses – or, alternately, light them on fire. Some of the game’s humor is clever, some of it is outright vile and disturbing. The surprising thing is, it’s Postal III’s slapdash gameplay and technical problems that I find the most offensive.
After nuking Paradise, the series’ titular Postal Dude winds up stranded in the next town over, Catharsis, when he runs out of gas and is forced to take on a string of insipid jobs to try to refuel his ride. From vacuuming up “used” tissues off the floor of a sex shop and helping an eco-friendly terrorist group battle Osama Bin Laden to rounding up diseased cats and fending off the angry mob of gun-toting Mexi-Sushi restaurateurs who don’t take kindly to your meddling with their local meat source, Postal III’s missions are downright asinine. While it’s amusing to see what new ridiculous twist the story will throw at you, the flow of the entire game is painfully linear. You move from one crap job to the next with little room to stretch out and explore.
The variety of the mission goals is lacking too. Most jobs involve killing a set number of a specific foe type, escort and protection tasks, and basic fetch and deliver quests. There’s a lot of repetition, though the often colorful, eyebrow-raising nature of each task does keep things interesting to an extent. You can always take a momentary detour to defile or destroy the local populace, but popping heads off of elderly folks packing M-16s and giving homeless people a snoot-full of fart gas gets old rather quickly. Branching “good” and “evil” paths that affect your choice of sides and the missions available to you does add some replay value, but beyond the oddball story snippets, there aren’t many compelling reasons to go the peaceful route. Plus who plays a Postal game to be a goody-goody anyway? Isn’t that missing the point?
Ranging from the mundane to the outrageous, Postal III’s weaponry is one of its high points. Shredding someone apart with a live, rabid badger strapped into a harness is awesome, as is throwing a hive of killer-bees at pedestrians and watching them recoil in horror as the little buggers sting their flesh off, using a laser pointer to send your canine pal barreling towards victims’ groin regions, and dousing people in gasoline and flicking a match at them is awesome. What’s not awesome is that the game’s steep difficulty railroads you into using more effective, predictable weaponry most of the time if you want to stay alive. Shotguns, machetes, machine guns, and pistols are the quickest way to dispatch the swarms of heavily armed baddies thrown at you. It’s a real shame, given the large number of creative, comical, and off-the-wall gadgets at your disposal. Spotty controls can get in the way at times too. Shooting works well, but movement and melee is sloppy, and hard-to-control in comparison.
Considering the eight year span between releases, Postal III represents a drastic improvement in the series’ graphics and overall look. Despite the limited number of visually distinct NPC designs running around a stage at any given time (you’ll battle plenty of clones), the characters are much more life-like in their appearance and behavior. The detailed environments are interesting to poke around in. They may not be quite up to snuff with the latest and greatest PC offerings, but they’ve got personality. During a hectic encounter with heavily armed mall nerds, I wandered into a game store and found shelves stocked with believable-looking box-art for titles like “Left 4 Bread,” “Beers of War,” and “Grand Theft Hovercraft.” That made me smile.
Unfortunately, time doesn’t heal all wounds, and the atrocious load times that plagued Postal 2 are back. When I boot the game up, I’m forced to sit through loading screens that last upwards of three minutes. After I hit the menu and start a game, I sit through another two-to-three minutes of loading screens. When I start a new level: More loading screens. Every time I die? Yep: More loading screens. When you mix this with an inherent instability, it’s just bad news all around. I experienced frequent crashes from the middle portion of the game onward, sometimes with several crashes in a row on the later stages. In an average hour’s total play time, I spent two-thirds of it waiting for the game to reboot and reload. Even when that’s the worst case scenario, it’s just unacceptable.