In Mailstrom you play as a postman driving a high-tech Knight Rider-inspired van. Gameplay consists of driving through a seamlessly-linked series of scrolling streets, stopping to break into post boxes, to deliver letters or to make drop-offs/collections from the depots.
My main memories of playing the game back when it was given away on a Sinclair User covertape back in 1989 (along with a classy, non-final code Batman: The Movie demo, Bat-fans!) are of intrigue, bafflement, difficulty with the menu system and a Grand Theft Auto-prefiguring delight in running over pedestrians and policemen at the expense of mere points on one’s licence. Strangely, on this revisit/replay almost none of those featured aside from the intrigue. Mailstrom is an odd game!
When in or adjacent to it your Royal Mail van’s S.K.I.T. computer can be accessed via a neat icon/menu system. From here you can enter or exit the van, check your status, store items in the B.O.V. (Back Of Van) or use the upgrades once installed. These upgrades are found in some postboxes. The cannon gives you a movable crosshair cursor and comes with a reasonable supply of ammo, one shot will open a post box but several more are needed to kill a pedestrian.
The “Super Persuit Mode” [sic] upgrade is excellent and another obvious Knight Rider nod. Your van undergoes a temporary graphical transformation becoming a slightly more streamlined brick on wheels. The speed increase is dramatic and the feel is really neat. Hitting the brakes starts to revert the van to its original state, but speeding back up again re-establishes SPM, meaning you can feather the throttle to avoid (or hit!) pedestrians. Nice to have some control, considering that your van can only travel forward, lacking both steering and a reverse gear.
Sound is minimal, just simple effects when driving, firing, using the menu or being “attacked”. There are three types of pedestrian who wander aimlessly and cause damaged on contact with you when out of the van. The big-nosed sort with rolling pins are to be particularly avoided, but running over an upstanding citizen (the ones with the umbrellas?) results in a policeman walking onto the screen to give you points on your licence. Shooting or running him over incurs even more, although as I mentioned above I didn’t manage to do that on my couple of playthroughs.
There are a couple of questionable design decisions which impair the game. It’s very easy to render yourself unable to open post boxes either by wasting your sole initial bomb, your skeleton key breaking or else by running out of ammo.
Since the only way to obtain more of any of these is by opening postboxes your game is effectively over, although you may want to deliver any remaining letters and run over a few pedestrians for points on your drive to the final depot. Hell, if you’ve met the day’s quota, you’ll move on to the next day, still without a means of opening postboxes and still playing a “zombie” game that you’ll inevitably fail the new day’s quota on. The opportunity is there to perhaps improve your high score, but key gameplay is locked off from you (see what I did there?).
Don’t quote me on the numbers, but on your first day you can collect 4-5ish letters from each depot and must store at least 1 sack. On subsequent days each depot gives you a bare 1 letter per sack previously stored, but the day’s quota is quite a bit bigger. Better hang onto that ammo like it’s Resident Evil, guys!
As ever check The Tipshop for POKEs, although I’m not sure which to recommend. Playing the game and getting a feel of it, flaws and all, seem like the best way to first experience it. Please pick your own preferred POKEs, largely-notional future players!
Verdict: 9 STOP statement, 5:1
Is that true, Michael? Did you do a Postman Nasty?