Ready Or Not Review

December 22, 2023


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I’m almost ashamed to admit just how much of my life has been spent playing tactical shooters. At present, I’ve logged over 4,000 hours on Arma 3, another 500 between Squad, Hell Let Loose and Insurgency Sandstorm, and who knows how many on Ground Branch, Black One Blood Brothers, the old Rainbow Sixes, SWAT 4 and Zero Hour. At this point, I wouldn’t even say that I especially enjoy the genre so much as I am addicted to it, and given the many faults of most of the titles in it, that’s like me admitting that I like Malort, which is to say that I may have a drink…I mean video gaming problem. Every quasi-realistic FPS I’ve blasted baddies in has generally lacklustre shooting and movement mechanics, sub-par performance, major issues relating to core game design, and all manner of other flaws that I often overlook purely because I have a strange fascination with virtual weapons that look an awful lot like the ones sitting in my gun safe. But Ready or Not, the latest and certainly the greatest game where you’re tasked with slowly clearing out rooms of enemies who can kill you in a single shot doesn’t have any of those flaws. It does have one or two problems, mind, but those are almost irrelevant because of just how great the rest of the experience is.

If you’ve never heard of Ready or Not, well, for once, I will actually have to blame you. Back when games journalism was a tad more respectable than it is today, the game made headlines because of its developer’s decision to announce that it would include a level that would take place in a school shooting at launch. If the title was a one-off indie not-darling created for the sole purpose of being edgy, that decision wouldn’t have been especially noteworthy, but Ready or Not wasn’t (and still isn’t, I suppose) a game that only 4Channers will enjoy; it’s a hardcore single-player/co-op shooter where you take control of a member of a Special Weapons and Tactics team who is tasked with “bringing order to the chaos” in 18 very chaotic levels, and the details of that chaos don’t just exist to fuel arguments on internet forums.

This is in the first room you breach in the game, and yet somehow, it’s one of the least horrifying things you’ll see in it. 

The level in Ready or Not that involves an active shooter, which takes place in a vaguely Californian college campus and not anywhere occupied by not-adults, then, isn’t troubling purely for the sake of being troubling. It’s realistic, stomach-churning, and depressingly satisfying to play through, and so are Ready or Not’s 17 other levels, all of which involve some sort of situation that was ripped straight from a documentary about the most vile crimes in the United States. From a purely gameplay perspective, these missions are almost perfect; the title’s shooting and movement aren’t just good by tactical shooter standards, they’re so good that you will likely spend hours shooting guns on its range or replaying its tutorial because of how good its gunplay, and consequently audiovisual design, are. Its sounds are straight out of Heat, a movie that’s famous for its director’s decision to capture its many gunshots live instead of dubbing them in later, its animations are on-par with Insurgency Sandstorm, and there are no words to describe just how great it feels to use all of its 30-odd customizable assault rifles, submachine guns, shotguns and pistols. 

The rest of Ready or Not’s core gameplay, by which I mean its AI, is just as strong as those elements. The four computer-controlled SWAT officers that join you on your missions when playing single-player act like they’re, well, highly trained police officers who have years of experience going on dangerous raids. They don’t get in your way, listen to the many commands you can give them with a press of a button, secure evidence and incapacitate enemies without being specifically instructed to, and hold their own in firefights. Those firefights are often against enemies who, like your squad, could easily pass as being actual players, too. Although sometimes they’re not exactly the smartest not-people around, they’ll often do things like hide underneath objects in the environment, take civilians hostage at gunpoint, run away from combat encounters, or even play dead before picking up their guns and shooting at you or your team’s back. It’s worth noting that, at least until Ready or Not receives some post-launch updates, you should absolutely install one of the many mods available through it’s in-game manager that increases the frequency of the AI doing those human-like things, as otherwise the game’s criminals can be a tad aimbotty or otherwise unlifelike. Even if you don’t, though, the title is difficult without being impossible to complete, and has plenty to offer in the way of actually engaging combat whether you decide to do that with a few friends or with the help of bots.

I’m still not sure whether or not it was a good idea to actually save this politician's family. 

However, the real appeal of Ready or Not levels isn’t rooted in its near-perfect gameplay, nor its superb sound design or great graphics, it’s rooted in the aforementioned fact that the title discusses issues that video games almost never do. One of the first missions in the game tasks you with raiding the home of a cartel boss, which, like in the ones that take place before and after it, means that you need to methodically clear out rooms while zip-tying suspects and securing the guns that they drop after you neutralise them. As you move deeper and deeper into the house, though, it becomes apparent that you’re doing more than taking down a generic goon, and in the basement of the mansion, there’s a disturbing set of images that are effectively child pornography without any explicit nudity. There is also the aforementioned school shooting mission that was clearly inspired by the Columbine High School massacre, one that’s eerily similar to the Orlando Night Club shooting, and even one that takes place in a prepper’s cabin.

Although Ready or Not isn’t the first game to have environments inspired by ones from real world tragedies, it is the first to not make them the focus of the title as a whole, which means that it actually advances the gaming industry in a way few others have. By allowing players to see things that are truly sickening, but not explicitly calling attention to them outside of mission briefings, it breaks down a wall that has long since existed in the medium. When you clear out a out a child pornography studio, for example, or a hospital where a handful of terrorists are actively gunning down doctors, or a gas station where a child is trying to hide from a gunfight, it allows you to see that, like it or not, these heinous things do in fact exist both in the game’s world and the real one. All of this is not only important for Ready or Not’s lore, but also the medium as a whole, because now that VOID Interactive has made it clear that developers can in fact have unsavoury details in their environment, it means other developers may very well decide to include those details in their own games going forward.

The only problem with these details is that about half of the environments they exist in, by which I mean about half of Ready or Not’s levels, are a smidge too big. Because the title’s core gameplay all but forces you to move slowly, it can often prove to be a chore to clear out three floors of the aforementioned hospital filled with terrorists, or an entire post office warehouse, or a maze-like structure of a dock filled with shipping containers. This is especially true because once you neutralise all of the foes in any given level, you also need to secure any civilians on the map to complete a mission, which often just isn’t very fun. While it is, to be clear, very satisfying to methodically navigate all of Ready or Not’s levels when there are AI shooting at you, once there’s nobody left who can hurt you or your team, it’s a pain to walk around looking for non-combatants who you forgot to tie up during your initial runthrough. Doing this doesn’t necessarily kill the game’s near-perfect sense of pacing, but it does hurt it none the less.

In this mission, I was supposed to arrest a child porn ring leader, but he died when one of my flashbangs hit him in the head... I don’t feel bad.

The only other issue with Ready or Not, then, is that it doesn’t have anything resembling an overarching narrative or a definitive cast of characters. While there is a “commander mode” that allows you to pick and choose what officers you want to accompany you on any given assignment, and there is plenty of environmental storytelling in the title, there are no cutscenes to watch or boss battles to engage with. Before the start of each level, you can read through a briefing, or listen to it on your in-game tablet, as you decide what type of gear you want to bring as you wander around the in-game shooting range and locker room, and there is a predefined order in which to tackle the game’s 18 missions, but if you were looking for an emotionally driven tale about the lives of police officers, you’ll have to look elsewhere. 

But, in case it wasn’t clear by the rest of this review, Ready or Not’s lack of a narrative, and its large levels, don’t come close to ruining its overall experience, because effectively nothing could given how strong its core gameplay is. Ready or Not isn’t just an amazing tactical first-person shooter, nor is it simply the SWAT 4 sequel we never got, it’s without a doubt the definitive single-player/coop hardcore shooter on the market, and one of the most innovative video games of all time. Its AI is, assuming you install a mod that changes it a bit, straight out of the future of gaming, and its levels bring attention to issues that the entire industry has never mentioned in any degree of detail until, well, the release of Ready or Not. If you have a strong stomach, an equally strong tolerance for violence and troubling topics, and want to experience the most satisfying shooting on the market, look no further. If you don’t, though, or aren’t willing to put up with a few gameplay quirks…well, we promise we won’t judge you when you buy a Skeletor skin in MWIII

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Ready or Not is not only a near-perfect video game, but one that advances the medium in a way that no game has before. 
Derek Johnson

Somebody once told me the world was going to roll me, and they were right. I love games that let me take good-looking screenshots and ones that make me depressed, so long as the game doesn't overstay its welcome.