Written By: Lawrence Wong
Game Over Online - http://www.game-over.com
Sometimes similar products are introduced in the same timeframe. It is either by sheer coincidence or by the timely plans of marketing gurus. Take for example the near simultaneous release of Deep Impact and Armageddon in the same year; both films feature an asteroid (or asteroids) threatening planet Earth from two different production companies. Postal 2: Share the Pain is being released nearly at the same time as Unreal 2's XMP. Both products promise a multiplayer mode to single player products released beforehand.
Share the Pain features nearly the exact same single player component as the game released last year. I say almost because there have been a few levels added, including extensions of its Afghan parody, but the most important addition, (which was distributed throughout the year in a series of patches) is a sorely needed performance upgrade to Postal 2's appalling crawl last year. Using the Unreal engine to create a seamless world is not easy, considering Unreal's technical strengths. Postal 2 cuts up levels much like Deus Ex to pack enough detail in them but also leverage on the Unreal engine's visual splendor.
To refresh those people reading this, Postal 2 was a game that is really part statement and part satire, although the latter part is getting a little old, especially the constant references to Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden. To keep it fresh, we should be seeing references to Iraq and Saddam Hussein. (Oh just imagine if you were able to catch Saddam in the spider hole).
The missions all run on the same formula. You'll do something very mundane and then something dumb, depicted via an in-game cinematic movie, will happen to you, forcing you to resort to violence. It actually reminds me a lot of Joel Schumacher's film Falling Down (ten years ago), with Michael Douglas being an 'ordinary' guy doing 'ordinary' things. However, he, like The Postal Dude, ends up unleashing mayhem because he's basically forced to in response to everyday harassment and the banalities of "normal life". The process just escalates as The Postal Dude continues his week.
Most tasks involve lining up to do things. You have to line up at a bank. You have to line up to buy milk. You have to line up to make a confession. In the everyday world (at least I would hope so), you'd wait diligently fuming to yourself - in Postal 2, you are given the freedom to point a gun at everyone until they all run away defecating themselves, or you can simply unleash your shovel on the objects of your frustration until you get your way.
That in a nutshell is the single player component of Share the Pain. It's like a linear and smaller version of the Grand Theft Auto formula. Where Vice City incurred wrath due to its Haitian remarks, Share the Pain makes no apologies when it comes to political correctness.
Share the Pain's multiplayer portion inherits a good system from the Unreal engine. It works more or less like Unreal Tournament and fans of Unreal titles will instinctively be familiar with the multiplayer menus. You can also add mutators to the different game modes. There aren't a lot included in Share the Pain but the Unreal platform makes the game extensible.
The weapons, including the addition of the Weapon of Mass Destruction, actually work quite well in Share the Pain. The single player portion relied a lot on the shovel. Here, the default melee weapon is the police baton. And you'll get access to assault rifles, pistols, rocket launchers and the like. The game benefits from some good sound effects. The pistol, for example, has a distinctive punch to it.
Most of the maps don't feature a lot of ammunition, which discourages camping around a single location since you have to keep moving to find more weapons or, at the very least, foes so you can slay and take the ammo away from. Share the Pain carries over the concept of mixed bot and human play. You can also play solely in a bot environment. In Share the Pain 'speak' these are known as morons.
The morons show a poor disposition to playing games like Capture the Flag, but in simpler game types such as Team Deathmatch, they make for a pretty enjoyable experience, even if they are predictable foes. I like the fact that your teammates can often keep up with you, and in general, they are first-person shooter players themselves, able to strafe around to dodge your bullets. The location specific damage model also shines in the multiplayer section.
Online, you'll find that Share the Pain works pretty much like any other GameSpy powered product. There were some antsy complaints about the number of servers open and how the interface works but by now, you should be able to find some open servers to play on easily. The downside is the number of players online at any given moment. There were plenty of servers but maybe only a dozen at any one time were populated with more than one player.
The slowness that plagued Postal 2 has also translated to Share the Pain's multiplayer. For some unbeknownst reason, the game suffers from periodic bouts of lag even on speedy cable and DSL connections. The reasons behind this are unknown. The lag occurs even when you're just walking around the map (versus spamming everyone with explosives). They tend to show up more on the larger maps like Ponderous but given the strength of the Unreal technology it really is uncalled for and definitely not a way to attract greater numbers online.
Without a linear storyline to back it up, Share the Pain brings a limited amount of its humor to the multiplayer world. You can use the same models as those found in the game. Some hilarious match ups include the Army versus the Taliban. The Postal Dude is on a team by himself. The multiplicity makes him seem like a wacko version of Agent Smith from The Matrix. Gary Coleman is also featured in the game, but he brings an unfair advantage to any deathmatch game. His character model is half the height of everyone else, which makes him a smaller target. Capture the Flag is more like capture the girl since it features hauling a blond bimbo type across the screen, and at the end of the session, the two girls also do a little show while the score flashes on screen.
There are many maps available for the deathmatch variety but only a handful for capture the flag. Overall, it's a good effort considering the first game had zero multiplayer maps. Many of the maps are enclosed settings from the single player game. There are a few in the woods, a few in the desert and even a few in town.
Share the Pain was originally slated to be released as a free upgrade to owners of Postal 2. Instead, now you get the option to send in ten dollars for the disc. That's probably going to curb the online population for Share the Pain. The coincidence of releasing around the same time as Unreal 2's XMP package is also suspect. Both products are now priced around the value pricing area and while XMP only has one serious game mode (here you have at least two), again, it isn't doing Share the Pain any good.
In many respects, Share the Pain would have made Postal 2 a much better game. The on and off multiplayer lag found here would be more forgivable too since multiplayer components often see the least amount of testing. But this is the second release, and like the parodies on the situation in Afghanistan, Share the Pain is one step behind. It really should have been parodying Iraq, but maybe when we're on the eve on the next war on terror, we'll see that game released.
Note: Share the Pain exists as a $10 upgrade to the original game. A review of the original can be found here.