It’s a long time coming for me, but I’ve finally gotten around to really playing one of the 3D Grand Theft Auto games recently. Steam may have its annoyances, but as I pointed out in my middle-class piracy articles, the convenience factor makes lazy people like me unwilling to deal with “normal” games that require a CD or DVD in my drive every time I play.
Plus my kid recently destroyed my computer’s DVD drive, so actually I couldn’t even play a normal game if I wanted to right now.
Anyway, back when Postal 2 first came out, I was a rabid fan and gave GTA 3 about a ten-minute trial before deciding Postal 2 was the superior game hands-down. But now that I’ve played Postal 2 on and off for a few years, it’s more or less out of my blood and I can give a real comparison. Which of course I’m going to share with the world for no apparent reason.
Postal 2 is set in Arizona, and written by Running With Scissors, a very small Arizona-based company. This is important because I’m originally from AZ myself, and that is going to bias me. I have to be honest here. Additionally, the fact that it’s from such a tiny company will increase my bias because I like to support the people doing things their own way rather than the mass-produced clones all built by different divisions of a single monolithic entity.
While many people look at P2 as a poorly-done first-person shooter, I see it very differently. The game is a first-person explorer. You don’t run around killing enemies most of the time — in fact you can win the game without every hurting anybody. The winning of the game is, in fact, very easy. What makes it fun isn’t the plot or the challenge, but instead the interactions with the environment and the NPCs. To me this is its greatest strength and weakness. It makes for a really unique game, but so few people get it that they just bitch about the poor graphics, lack of plot, bad AI, etc. Yes, it has flaws, but they aren’t the point of the game.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
At its heart, this is really a driving game. A lot of other elements are in here, so of course it’s not going to win any awards solely based on the experiences you have behind the wheel of the many vehicles. But a huge amount of the game is based around the cars: driving, crashing, stealing a car for a quick getaway, doing a jump on a motorcycle, and even drive-by shootings. It’s really no wonder the GTA fans couldn’t get into Postal 2 very easily — the core elements of the two games are just so dissimilar even if the general over-the-top violence aspects would make one think otherwise.
I think Postal 2 does an incredible job with the in-game humor. In Postal 2, it’s the things you might miss that tend to be the funniest:
- If you gun somebody down while wearing the cop uniform, cops reprimand you in some entertaining ways.
- The game makes fun of itself at one point, pointing out that cars are nothing but “useless exploding props.”
- People react in wonderful ways when you’re on a shooting spree. Some will run away screaming, some will vomit, and some will actually clap and point at the victim.
Vice City has some great humor on the radio stations, particularly the public radio station, though some of the DJs are hilarious as well. But there doesn’t seem to be as much of the subtle humor. The people on the street aren’t as fun to torment, for instance, and there’s nothing that compares to the catch phrases spewed by Postal 2’s “Bad Touch Krotchy” doll.
The random blurbs the people on the street and cops will say are sometimes funny, but never at the same level of Postal 2.
The humor in Vice City is good, it’s just not quite as permeating as in Postal 2.
Vice City beats Postal 2 hands down when it comes to the variety of gameplay choices.
Postal 2 is a fun game for me, but the general controls, inventory selection, and other gameplay mechanics just aren’t anything interesting. You can walk and run, crouch, shoot, pick things up, drop things, etc.
Vice City, on the other hand, has a lot of interesting objects and interactions. You can only carry one type of a given weapon, so you often have choices to make – hold on to the devastating baseball bat, or grab the katana for its flair? Also, driving is just a wonderful diversion. When I’m bored of missions, I can just grab a bike and try to find new ways to jump off random shit. Bikes don’t handle anything like sports cars, which don’t handle anything like trucks, which don’t handle anything like a bus. Flipping a car is a thrill even if you know it’ll kill you.
Granted, the basic gameplay mechanics don’t make or break a game, but I definitely get it now why so many GTA fans found Postal 2 boring.
Story / Missions
GTA seems like it takes the cake here. Much more interesting story for sure. Deeper plot, more missions, and tons of stupid little diversions like the rampages, stunts, etc.
Postal 2 has daily chores. They’re very simple. There is no real story associated with them. The best you can do is take clues from the game to build your own story.
But for me, the two just cannot be compared. GTA is better for plot for sure, but I love the incredibly stupid little tasks Postal 2 makes you do. Getting milk at the damn grocery store, for instance. You have to make your way to a store, wait in line (a great mechanic very few games would risk, by the way), and then pay for the milk. You can choose to just take the milk and run, of course, but if you’re going the nonviolent route, that isn’t your best option.
The big plus here from Postal 2 is the sheer inane nature of the tasks. You are put into ridiculous situations doing everyday things, and it’s a lot of fun to see the shit hit the fan.
I’d have to say depending on my mood, either game can be the winner in this field.
Of course Vice City should win here: better graphics, almost no load zones (and those few places that have them are nearly instant compared to Postal 2’s 10-20 second delays), really decent car physics, etc.
But Postal 2 offers a few things that GTA just can’t touch. Within a zone, everything is preserved. In Vice City, once I’m out of range of sight of something, there’s a good chance it’s totally gone. This makes sense, of course – the world is just too big to keep everything around beyond your immediate surroundings. But this has huge impact in the fun of a slaughter. In Vice City, I can kill hundreds of people in short order, but I never get a feel for the carnage. In Postal 2, every body sits where I left it, burned to a crisp or simply staring up at me with those dead, unblinking eyes. If I blow up a gas line in Postal 2, it stays blown up until I reload that area completely (by leaving and re-entering it). If I pour a trail of gasoline and light it, people across the zone will burn and die whether I run back to see them or not.
Postal 2 also has more interesting weaponry – the anthrax cow head, napalm launcher, the cat-silenced shotgun, the gasoline can, scissors, the shovel for decapitating bodies, etc. The weapons that suck are often still fun, such as the scissors, which basically act as a weak stealth gun – no cop will arrest you for simply holding scissors, and throwing them makes no noise, so only the person you hit notices.
Additionally, Postal 2 has physics on a lot of mundane objects — chairs, cash registers, etc. It adds a small element of realism to the game even though the physics generally aren’t quite right.
Then there’s the ragdoll physics. Kicking around a corpse is endlessly entertaining. Lopping off a head and kicking it into a crowd never gets old. Throwing a grenade into a group of people and watching the bodies fly into the air is just great. The bodies look “right” when they’re falling – it’s really spectacular to watch.
Postal 2 doesn’t necessarily beat Vice City in this area, but again it’s a matter of perspective. Where Vice City seems to be an obvious winner, I can find a lot of things it just doesn’t do.
Music / Sound
Vice City definitely wins here overall.
Don’t get me wrong — Postal 2 cannot be overlooked. The variety of comments from the people around you are way more entertaining (even if poorly acted). The ambient sounds make you feel like you’re in “Paradise” AZ for sure. The mall music is lovely.
But overall, Vice City is just more fun to listen to.
I think the two games are both great in their own way. I prefer Postal 2 for mindless mayhem, and Vice City for a more thrilling game where the things I do actually matter in the long-term play.
If anything, what I’ve learned from playing a lot of both games is that people trying to compare them just aren’t getting it — they aren’t the same in any way. Their design goals diverged after “build a game that incorporates violence.” If you play either one for a while and then jump onto the other, you probably won’t like it because it’s so different from what you are likely craving in a “murder simulator” game.
Try both with the right mindset, and I think you’ll agree they both shine in their own way.