Prior to this belated PS4/PS5 release, the controversial Postal series has remained a PC exclusive since its 1997 debut. Not only is this console iteration a surprise for breaking tradition, but for a series famous for ultra-violence – even resulting in earlier entries being banned – it came as a surprise that I wasn’t forced to fire a single bullet in Postal 4 until around an hour of play. And even then, the hapless foe in my sights was a giant rat – duly found in a sewer.
Remarkably, violence isn’t the game’s focal point – a fact backed further by a Trophy to gain for playing pacifically. It can, in theory, be completed without a single kill. This largely ties in with the novel premise. Instead of featuring a murderous revenge-filled killing spree, Postal 4 is a pastiche of US life where Postal Dude (as he’s known) is out to make some moolah to pay off debts. Dirty deeds done for cash. Quite literally – as many involve faecal matter.
It leans heavily into its satirical slant. The dusty canyon-walled town is filled with dubious fast-food joints and mobility scooter rental booths, while guns and ammo can be purchased from vending machines. Barely five minutes go by without a sex or drugs reference – if numbers are ever involved, say for a lock combination, you can pretty much count on a combination of ‘420’ and ‘69’.
Despite only being a few years old – first launching on PC in 2019 – much of the topical humour is already shuffling towards irrelevancy, including a parody of Game of Thrones, references to the Fyre Festival, and billboards advertising a Tiger King spoof. A sewer hobo claims to have lost a fortune investing in Bitcoin. The current price of a Bitcoin while penning this review? Oh, only $25k.
Over the course of five days, dozens of outlandish errands must be completed for various contractors – including the town mayor and a Mexican mob boss – essentially taking the form of short missions, all of which involve an arduous trek across the small open-world map via a mobility scooter. Errands for that day can be tackled in any order, and once completed, it’s time to turn in at wherever Postal Dude has currently staying. Usually a dump of a motel, or in one instance an eerie cabin in the woods – which entails short horror sequence; a rare break from the mundanity of the errands.
The reddish, dusty, environments and small open-world map recall the original, and somewhat mediocre, Borderlands. But instead of levelling up, earning loot, and exploring the savage yet beautiful wilderness, and taking down a hierarchy of gang bosses, here we’re simply left to bumble around and gradually amass an inventory of junk while taking on menial chores. All the while, NPCs stroll around the town like lost souls. There’s not much in the way of an atmosphere – it’s an oddly quiet experience, with music seldomly heard, and conversions only taking place at key moments.
Occasionally, the arsenal cluttering the inventory comes into play. Shotguns, tasers, grenades, and rifles accompany a seemingly random assortment of melee weapons. A quest to work as a prison chaperone results in a jailbreak, leading to a prison gang war, while trying to sabotage the opening day of a new perverse theme park sees the security guards retaliate. Gunplay is clunky and sloppy – a fact not helped by the wholly unintuitive UI, based around a bunch of radial wheels – and ruined further by poor AI. It’s also possible to urinate on enemies – or indeed anywhere you fancy. Fun for all five minutes.
A handful of missions are vaguely amusing – a struggle between bidet installers and a toilet paper company raised a grin – while others are so joyless that it feels as if the developers were having a joke at the player’s expense. One of the first errands calling for Postal Dude’s expertise involves unclogging sewer pipes and changing light bulbs in a sewer, while another entails walking around town and placing tickets on illegally parked cars. Then, later, Postal Dude gets to smash colossal mounds of poo with a spade.
If this doesn’t kill any enthusiasm you may have had, then the minute-long loading screens that occur when crossing invisible boundaries surely will. This is on top of the lengthy initial loading screen – one that would make the C64 blush. While travelling across the map to reach a mission start zone, you may have to endure several one-minute-long loading screens – astonishing for a 2023 PS4 release. It isn’t exactly pushing the boundaries of what’s possible on the humble console either, looking closer to a 2009 title than something from 2019. Textures are fuzzy, character models ugly, and the menus are cluttered with text.
The most commendable thing about Postal 4 is that it’s clear the developers wanted to shed some of the franchise’s stigma, creating an experience that isn’t as loud and vicious as those before it. There is some pleasure in exploring the town, with its stores filled with countless parody items, and the vulgar theme park is reasonably well realised – complete with a rideable rollercoaster.
The game’s few merits are vastly overshadowed by its rock-bottom production values, glitches, and other technical issues, however. Most damaging of all, it’s downright boring, becoming increasingly chore-like. I’m glad the franchise has evolved past mindless killing and maiming. It’s just a shame the developers couldn’t think of something fun and worthwhile to replace the bloodshed.
Running With Scissors’ Postal 4: No Regerts is out March 21st on PS4 and PS5.