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READY OR NOT
Platform: PC
65

Ready or Not Review

Here we come with a flashbang

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The late 90's were a time of change and innovation within the video game space, as new genres were emerging with fresh ideas. For shooters, Doom, Quake, and Unreal Tournament were the big offerings, but a new subgenre was beginning to take hold, that focused on tactics, slow pace and a high degree of challenge. From games like Delta Force, Rainbow Six, and SWAT 3, players now had a new avenue to challenge themselves and their reflexes. SWAT 3 in 1999 and SWAT 4 that followed in 2005 earned their cult status thanks to the unique setting of letting players guide a SWAT team through a variety of high risk missions. Over the past few decades, the tactical shooter genre has been away from the spotlight, but continued to produce quality series such as ARMA and Insurgency for dedicated fans. A few have also attempted to replicate the SWAT formula, but perhaps none as closely as the newly released Ready or Not.

Ready or Not game

What made the SWAT franchise different is that it took players away from the traditional battlefields, and instead put them into high intensity urban situations that often felt atmospheric and hit close to home with their depictions of crime. Ready or Not replicates this approach by offering over 15 claustrophobic, close-quarters maps where your team is sent in to resolve the standoff with various criminals after negotiations have broken down. Missions can take between 15 to 30 minutes, and are almost always a test of nerves. Besides securing all civilians and suspects, there are often optional objectives such as collecting all evidence. All of this gets totalled up in a score during the post-mission evaluation.

Through a first person perspective, you'll have to navigate these well-designed maps with plenty of tight corners, barricaded suspects, uncooperative civilians, and even traps. You can helpfully keep track of cleared areas by placing markers on a map photo in your PDA. But even before you get to worry about dealing with the human threat, the maps themselves often do a great job of immersing you in the setting. There's a dark and haunting home that has a drug lab, a high priced hotel where things have gone wrong, and a night club that just experienced a shooting. The levels almost reach horror game territory with their stirring background music, and little details like the cellphones of victims vibrating hopelessly all around you. The details are impressive and the locations certainly feel lived-in.

The levels can be tackled in any order through the Practice mode, or in Commander mode where you progress through the missions in a specific linear order, as they are tied together loosely by some narrative themes such as human and drug trafficking. You will also need to manage your group of AI SWAT team members, with each member having a mental state and a special perk, but they are otherwise interchangeable. Their mental state changes depending on how the missions go, and if you end up with a lot of hostile fatalities instead of arrests. If the mental state falls too low, they have to be sent to therapy, or they might even quit. But this is just busywork, as no obvious in-game differences were observed for those in crisis. If squad members get fatally wounded, they are gone and need to be replaced by new random recruits. But the only thing you lose is their unlocked perk, which again doesn't seem to have much impact on gameplay. Perks include increasing the chances of suspects surrendering, ability to breach doors with a single kick, and upping weapon accuracy.

Before deploying, it's also important to carefully select your loadouts. In a bit of old-school design, the entire armory is available to players from the start, and there are no weapon unlocks to strive towards – only some clothing visual customization. You can choose from a variety of rifles, SMGs, and shotguns for primary weapon, and some sidearms for secondary. Most weapons have three attachment slots, with silencers, flashlights, and grips available. The attachments have basic descriptions and weapons have no stats, so finding what works best for you is a trial and error process; though to be fair, the shootouts are very lethal and quick, so having detailed stats on weapons wouldn't add much benefit.

Ready or Not game

The other loadout selections are much more important anyway – you get to pick armor, how much and what type of ammo to bring, and the gadgets. Equipping heavy armor provides the best protection, but offers the least amount of equipment slots and slows your movement. You can go non-lethal and bring beanbags, but be prepared to move swiftly to subdue disoriented enemies, and count your ammo carefully since it takes more than a few shots compared to lethal rounds. The deployables include door wedges, flashbangs, gas grenades, and other tactical options, and finding the right balance can be key. You can also choose a head equipment slot – such as anti-flashbang goggles, protective mask, gas mask, and night vision. Last but not least, two tactical gadgets can be brought along - these include the mirror tool that lets you see under doors, a launcher for gas or flashbangs, breaching shotgun or battering ram, or a riot shield. For anyone who's played SWAT 3 or 4, this will all be extremely familiar and a direct modern adaptation.

Equipment is crucial for success, and it will sometimes take a few attempts to find a loadout that works, especially as the conditions shift from level to level. In offline modes you control the loadout for yourself as well as the other four members of the team (two members of Red team and two of Blue), so you can balance the variety of gadgets across the squad. Helpfully, these loadouts remain the same for Red/Blue teams even as you swap between different SWAT members. But less helpfully, the loadout saving system does not work correctly at launch, so you have to manually setup each member of the squad. It's disappointing to see such a basic feature not be ready for release in a game that's spent years in Early Access on Steam. The user interface is also often clunky and does not look clean or feel responsive, with issues such as replay file names being a jumbled text mess. Tools like Night Vision goggles are never actually necessary.

Once armed to the teeth and ready, you can select and deploy into missions, while first reviewing the mission parameters such as the briefing, related 911 calls, and a potential map of the level. These are cool touches that should again remind players of the previous SWAT games. The maps are sometimes inaccurate when it comes to hallways and doors, which doesn't always make sense when they are actual building plans, and not just witness sketches. Only a few levels have a choice of starting location, and it would have been nice to see that expanded to the rest. Instead, you often start outside, and can choose to enter the compound or building from a few different points.

Ready or Not game

As already mentioned, the levels are well designed, and only add to the already intense experience of trying to breach into a hostage situation. The moment to moment gameplay can feel very intense and the sense of pressure is unrelenting as you move carefully down hallways, checking room by room, and engaging in shootouts when things escalate. Seeing an open door - or one you don't remember opening - can make your heart sink a little. A simple hotel lobby or a postal office becomes a nightmare of blind corners and a multitude of angles that need covering. Both you and the hostiles are very fragile and it only takes a few shots for the engagement to end. The keys to success are to never open doors without mirror-checking under them first, moving slowly, controlling enemy movement by blocking off sections with door wedges, and using appropriate force and breaching mechanics when necessary.

When it works, the tense gameplay is rather great and the formula proves to be timeless. You engage suspects, yell at them to surrender, and hope you don't have to use force. It's the essence of SWAT 4 franchise gameplay, with few alterations – if it ain't broke, don't fix it, seems to be the mantra for Ready or Not. Though an argument could be made that it's too similar – surely in the past few decades of game development and changes to real world SWAT operations, a few new tricks could have been added. The replay value is also questionable – while AI will often wander around the map, they spawn in the same location every time, and objectives remain the same. During Early Access, the game actually had multiple different modes for the maps, with varying scenarios – that this was removed for launch is concerning.

Despite working from a very strong foundation, the whole experience nearly comes undone due to AI issues. Balancing the enemy and friendly AI capabilities with those of real players is always tough, especially in tactical shooters that hope to focus on realism. In the case of Ready or Not, the developers get it all wrong as the AI is severely overtuned and also glitchy. You will be facing off against some extremely quick and almost inhuman reaction times from foes, who often can and will spot you through walls, over long distances and tons of debris with barely a few pixels of an opening, and unceremoniously open fire, hitting with great precision. At other times, they will behave irrationally by simply standing in place in a corner. It's a case of both unreasonable difficulty, and technical problems; the worst of both worlds. With no difficulty options, you are at the mercy of what the developers thought was fair and functional – and in its current state at launch, the AI is definitely neither.

The other angle to the AI problems is that they are just exceedingly aggressive, and you get a general feeling that the developers were looking to make more of a military style tactical shooter, rather than one where you are hoping to diffuse the situation. The smaller scale scenarios featuring just 4-5 suspects are quickly abandoned with larger scope encounters that have over 15 heavily armed enemies. This leads to a lot of difficulty fluctuation across the Commander campaign, and it often makes little sense why a small SWAT team is sent in for such extreme scenarios. Almost everyone is wielding AKs and SMGs, and suspects just do not surrender as often as they should. Every enemy seems suicidal – they can fake surrender, but then change their mind and reach for a pistol, despite staring down the barrels of five SWAT officers. The AI's superhuman abilities don't even make sense thematically. You might expect some heavily armed late-game terrorist units to be well equipped and trained. But you or a teammate will get eliminated just as often by a random junkie in an abandoned house who does a 180 degree spin and instantly headshots you in pitch black.

Ready or Not game

So just to stand a chance, you'll have to utilize your AI SWAT teammates heavily; in general, they are decently effective. Issuing orders is quick and intuitive, via a central radial menu that is again almost lifted directly from the SWAT 3/4 games. You can order everyone as a group, or in the Red/Blue groups of two, and setup queued commands such as simultaneous breaches. There are also nice little details, like those who have riot shields always choosing to enter the room first. They will automatically cuff suspects and pick up any loose weapons as evidence, saving you from having to pixel hunt. After the scene is secure and the option to end the mission is available, you can send them out on a cross-map sweep to pick up any missed items. Still, AI teammates make it difficult to go with a non-lethal approach, as they waste all their ammo pumping it into walls or other obstacles. There is also no opportunity to give them detailed Rules of Engagement instructions; they just yell at suspects to surrender and then return fire. It's another area that could have used some gameplay innovation instead of just porting the decades-old SWAT 4 formula.

Working together is one of the key cornerstones of this elite unit. It's satisfying using your squad and ordering them around – but in this case, you're not doing it just to be careful, but also because you need to use their superhuman abilities just to counteract the enemies. It often feels like you're just acting as the bait or middleman between two sets of AI, trying to get them to engage each other and helping whenever possible at the risk of instant failure. Both friendly and enemy AI will often just start shooting at each other through walls with no line of sight or previous hints at their positioning; but hey, better them than you. A downed SWAT member does not result in instant mission failure like the player dying does.

You'll be engaging in a lot of fully automatic shootouts with heavily armed suspects who rarely surrender and without backup. The encounters can be over quickly if you choose to return fire first and ask for surrender later – assuming you can even see the suspects. Bad memories of Rainbow Six Siege can certainly come to mind. The shooting itself feels very hectic and appropriately intense, with flinching visual effects flooding your view. On the other hand, enemies do not lose their focus or accuracy when under fire, and targeting specific body parts does not have any effect. They also often behave strangely, sometimes walking in circles around the map trying to flank you, resulting in a cycle of clearing and re-clearing rooms until you finally find the last suspect. All of these problems are easily confirmed by the game's replays, which let the morbidly curious players revisit level attempts and observe the wild enemy behaviour through free cam.

These problems get amplified in cooperative play. The multiplayer mode lets you tackle missions together with friends or strangers online; no friendly AI is available. While the concept of playing a unique tactical game such as this with others is exciting, the enemy AI state dictates that you will have to play it as a military SEAL team rather than a SWAT team. It's less about bringing the peace and more about staying alive and jumping at shadows, because the AI starts shooting whether you are ready or not. Playing with friends works decently well, though there are occasional connection issues; a mic is definitely a requirement. Playing with strangers is only done via random matchmaking, as there is no lobby browser, and you often get thrown into lobbies where the host is just AFK.

Ready or Not game

Some of these issues can be temporarily addressed with player-made mods. The game does come with a built-in mod browser, as well those you can download individually outside the game. Somewhat ironically, and proving the point about the game's biggest issues, all of the mods during launch week focus on fixing AI behaviour.

The presentation quality is also more on the budget side. The AI animations are often imprecise and erratic, and lacking the smoothness that is required to make split second decisions. The little hitches as your team moves around, breaches, and shoots; the way they all look in different directions while obviously target-tracking enemies through walls. Sometimes doors get opened, and only then your AI teammates start swapping places to let riot shields go first; sometimes flashbangs are tossed far too late, or your orders simply get ignored. Enemies come spilling through doorways, looking and shooting sideways, and so on.

Elsewhere, the police station that serves as the hub for the game where you can walk between different rooms to access the mission, customization, and other menus is eerily quiet and lifeless, as a few NPCs just stand around and never move or say anything. At max settings, the visuals are a little muddy and there are noticeable texture streaming issues upon initial level load. Despite the average look, performance can be all over the place, both in DX11 and DX12 modes, sometimes jumping between a steady 60fps down to 30. Some locations feature object pop-in, and bodies tend to have a lot of physics freakouts when next to walls or objects; in some areas, rain is seen indoors. Some reflections are either missing or appear incorrectly, such as seeing your reticule reflected in the walls; occasionally the mirror gadget lets you see through walls and the floor. The green glowing sticks you can drop to signify that a room/area is clear often do not actually glow. The audio design is stronger - the special effects for gunfire, throwables, and door breaches are appropriately powerful and loud.

The 1.0 launch version of this $50 shooter is a bit of a mix, and it is uncertain whether the game was actually ready or not. It has some incredible highs as you engage in highly challenging but tactics-focused scenarios, and when (most) of the suspects behave reasonably and your AI team follows direction, it brings back some of the fondest and satisfying memories of the SWAT games. But at many other times, you will be instead faced with frustration at the unbalanced and broken enemy AI, lack of detailed and smooth animations, and a general feeling that the game is trying to be a military-style infiltration against large groups of heavily armed enemies, rather than a close knit team trying to solve a tense standoff with an everyday person having a bad day. The engrossing mechanics speak to the timelessness of the SWAT 4 formula, but Ready or Not also doesn't make an effort to bring anything new to the table. If you're craving a unique kind of SWAT experience, this title may get there with more patches and balancing, but as of now there are too many holes in the vest.

Our ratings for Ready or Not on PC out of 100 (Ratings FAQ)
Presentation
70
A decent look for a mid-budget title, with strong audio design, but some UI weaknesses.
Gameplay
60
While importing the timeless SWAT 4 mechanics was a smart move, there is little innovation or changes to the formula, and it all comes undone by major problems with AI bugs and balancing.
Single Player
80
The map design is mostly great and highly engaging; it would have been nice to get more mission variety and reasons to replay.
Multiplayer
70
No lobby browser, but playing with friends can produce some tense and rewarding moments, if everyone is on the same page.
Performance
(Show PC Specs)
CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 5700X
GPU: AMD 6700 XT 12GB
RAM: 16GB DDR4
OS: Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
PC Specs

60
Some performance issues throughout, with unsteady framerates, physics glitches, and visual oddities.
Overall
65
Ready or Not successfully imports the moment-to-moment gameplay and intensity of the classic SWAT franchise, but without much innovation and a host of major AI issues this tactical shooter was seemingly not quite ready to breach out of Early Access.
Comments
Ready or Not
Ready or Not box art Platform:
PC
Our Review of Ready or Not
65%
Adequate
The Verdict:
Game Ranking
Ready or Not is ranked #1485 out of 1971 total reviewed games. It is ranked #76 out of 101 games reviewed in 2023.
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Screenshots

Ready or Not
10 images added 123 days ago
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