Ready or Not is an engaging SWAT sim with controversial undertones

Ready or Not
Ready or Not (Image credit: VOID Interactive)

Over the course of the last few weeks, I've been playing Ready or Not, a Steam Early Access SWAT sim tactical shooter from New Zealand-based VOID Interactive. The game is the closest thing we've gotten to a sequel to 2005's SWAT 4, and I've been having an absolute blast with it. You play as a member of a five-man squad of SWAT officers in Ready or Not, and your goal is to tactically infiltrate a number of real-world locations like gas stations, houses, hotels, and car dealerships to rescue hostages, neutralize armed suspects, stop active shooters, and diffuse bombs. The game can be played singleplayer with bots you can command, or with four other human players.

Ready or Not's emphasis on non-lethal takedowns is refreshing.

Unlike the vast majority of action-heavy modern shooters such as Call of Duty: Vanguard, Ready or Not encourages you to deal with enemies non-lethally. Equipment like PepperBall launchers, pepper spray, beanbag shotguns, tasers, tear gas, and flashbang grenades can be used in tandem with verbal barks for compliance to coerce suspects into dropping their weapons and surrendering, rewarding you with a higher score.

This can be achieved with tools that, when used effectively, make it easier to catch suspects off-guard. These include mirrorguns that allow you to check under doors for traps and enemy locations, lockpicks for quietly unlocking doors, and battering rams, breaching shotguns, and C2 explosive charges for situations where rapid entry is ideal. You can use more lethal options like handguns, rifles, and shotguns to kill suspects who open fire on you, but you'll rarely need to if your team coordinates properly and uses the tools the game provides.

Source: VOID Interactive (Image credit: Source: VOID Interactive)

Fittingly, Ready or Not foregoes standard shooter mechanics like sprinting (you can move around a little faster by going into a low ready position) and jumping, instead forcing you to approach situations methodically with crouches and leaning mechanics that allow you to peek around corners while keeping most of your body behind cover. The game also features bullet penetration, meaning you'll need to consider the material of the objects you stand behind (you can also shoot enemies through thin walls and flimsy pieces of cover if necessary).

Overall, it's a gameplay loop that hasn't gotten old during the 30 hours I've played the game thus far, especially since the positions of suspects and civilians change with each new mission. Each room or area across the game's eight maps offers a tense, complicated challenge for my teammates and I to overcome with our tactics and equipment, especially since suspects will often hear you coming if you're not careful and will even pretend to be civilians on occasion, keeping you on your toes.

The tension is heightened by Ready or Not's excellent visual and audio presentation, which can only be described as both striking and oppressive. The game's visual style is dark and gloomy, with the only illumination coming from dull light fixtures or the glow of multicolored neon. In-game locations like secret meth labs or overtaken shipping docks are built with immaculate attention to detail, featuring layouts and props that are mostly contextually appropriate (more on that later). Flashbang grenades, gunfire, and explosives are frighteningly loud, making each encounter feel genuinely terrifying. The pièce de résistance is the game's moody noir-style soundtrack that perfectly rises or falls in intensity based on the moment-to-moment gameplay.

Yet, despite everything that Ready or Not does well, I can't help but feel uncomfortable with some of the game's content. Recent events have made a variety of critical issues with modern police forces abundantly clear; the prevalence of police brutality, racial discrimination, and the rapid militarization of law enforcement has led to a significant change in how the general public views the police. Because of this, it's crucial for VOID Interactive to construct its depiction of law enforcement with maturity and integrity, keeping real-world context in mind.

Unfortunately, I feel that VOID has failed on this front in a few ways. Firstly, Ready or Not features a variety of juvenile props in some of its locations, including bags of "Dick's Potato Chips" with the slogan "The best dick you've ever tasted," bottles of cleaner labelled as "Jizz," a box of pills for "Boner Health" from "Whore Foods," and shelves full of medicine called "Over Dos Ahs." This childish humor has no place in a game with sensitive subject matter like this, and while VOID has stated that these props came from a contractor they no longer work with and that they'll be removed in a future update, it's still baffling that they were there in the first place.

Despite everything Ready or Not does well, I can't help but feel uncomfortable with some of the game's content.

Then there are the voicelines and animations in the game that range from immature to downright inappropriate. Arrested civilians and suspects may quip that, "My mom has a Mexican maid. Maybe you know her?" or might flirt with you by saying, "Nice tattoos ..." or "You guys (SWAT officers) look like the guys in the movies. Nice guns!" When placing handcuffs on a suspect, there's a chance that an animation of your officer unnecessarily striking their head will play. Sometimes your officer will threaten arrested suspects, ordering them to "Shut your mouth or I'll shut it for you." Even each mission's general "Bring Order to Chaos" objective feels uncomfortably edgy and authoritarian, framing each of your operations as a lethal crackdown instead of a defusal. Again, VOID has committed to addressing a lot of this — the patch notes for the latest Alpha update of the game state that it removes "outdated legacy voicelines" — but what made the developers think they were appropriate to have in the game to begin with?

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The inclusion of childish and inappropriate content like this is concerning, especially when you consider that VOID has doubled down on its plans to add a school shooting level to the game. I don't believe that developers shouldn't be able to explore sensitive topics in their games, but if Ready or Not is going to go down that road, it needs to be done with extreme care and respect. VOID states that it "hopes it can play some small part in honoring those who have been impacted by these real-world tragedies with a portrayal that does not trivialize their experiences," but it remains to be seen whether the developers will truly commit to creating a more mature version of Ready or Not without any of the aforementioned nonsense.

Ultimately, Ready or Not is an incredibly fun game — easily one of the best PC games for tactical shooter fans — and I greatly appreciate that VOID Interactive's tactical shooter promotes non-lethality in an era where many other games encourage you to shoot everything in sight without even thinking about it. That doesn't excuse the game's tasteless props, voicelines, and animations, though, and I sincerely hope that the developers work to make Ready or Not a more appropriate and self-aware game moving forward.