I think (correct me if I’m wrong) that it was Roger Ebert who said every movie has at least one good scene. This scene is usually the spark that ignites a filmmaker’s desire to produce the movie; or, if nothing else, the studio’s budget.
Likewise Postal 2's single-player expansion, Apocalypse Weekend (AW), has a few moments which hint at great possibilities. But possibility isn’t reality. The truth is that as a movie AW would be one of those titles that ends up going straight to video, and can’t even list Rutger Hauer’s name in the credits.
Everything about AW screams low-budget. For a start consider that it’s an add-on for a poorly-received game from 2003, which should’ve been enough time to produce a full sequel, assuming the original had made enough money to justify it.
It’s also tethered to the parent game’s modified Unreal engine - and by that I mean the original Unreal engine. In an era when clips from Gears of War leave Doom 3 feeling average, AW comes off as an embarrassment. Level architecture is simplistic while the models, textures and effects belong in a user mod. The best I can offer is that a few of the animations (where they exist) aren’t as stiff as I expected, and they’ve managed to implement ragdoll physics, though that’s hardly unique these days.
The AI is a joke, a throwback to the earliest first-person shooters. Enemies have two responses: rush the player or move to a different spot. You can snipe them and allies three feet away will stand there. Heck, you can be ignored in direct line-of-sight as long as you’ve got the right distance. Any challenge to AW stems from objectives or overwhelming numbers.
Something I never thought I’d say is that in this sense, design helps redeem the game somewhat. AW is neither too easy nor too hard, and it’s substantially more focused than Postal 2. The objectives are non-descript in practice, but you do get to kill hundreds of foes with unusual weapons, like ricocheting scissors and a match/gas can combo. Building walls of fire is so much fun. There’s a variety of opponents too, running the gamut from hallucinated midgets on through madcow-infected zombies with Tourette’s syndrome. Or you can turn your guns on civilians, as the Postal series has always encouraged players to do. In AW it’s because they’re in the way, or they have cash you can use for “healing pipes.”
Humour prevents the game from turning as disturbingly serious (and boring) as it might have otherwise. One mission has you raiding a publisher who stole the Postal 2 gold master to publish it without consent. No subtext there. In another mission, you have to fight through animal rights activists armed with pistols and assault rifles, to explode the heads of those mad cows with a sledgehammer. Nice and absurd with a touch of catharsis for people sick of PETA and the ALF.
As you may have gathered though, AW isn’t subtle. It doesn’t pretend to be, but many of its gags are lowbrow and/or fall flat. Even the ones I’ve mentioned are probably good only for a chuckle or two. The game reminds me of a class clown - it’s shouting “Look at me! I’m a riot!” when the teacher and students have long stopped paying attention. It’s no longer an amusing distraction, it’s pathetic.
In a remarkable achievement, a game I knew was meant to offend managed to break through my defenses (me, a reviewer, who barely flinches at the likes of Manhunt) in one area, that being race and religion. Most intelligent people should be aware that al-Qaeda is a loose network of Islamic extremists; exploring the camp in AW however you’ll find Hindu art, and slaughtered beef, which might be hypocritical of Hindu terrorists but not the Muslim kind. Sacrilege is fine by my standards, as long as you have a point and get your facts straight! If the developers intended this race-related stereotype for shock value, I hope they know it’s so old as to be antique.
What we’re left with in Apocalypse Weekend is depressing. It’s a mild diversion when it works, crude and shoddy the rest of the time. The game’s fate is sealed by a simple realization: you need Postal 2 to play it. Movies like Plan 9 From Outer Space, at least, don’t require a copy of Glen or Glenda to watch them.