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Friday, September 23, 2022

Post-test: Meanwhile, is Ready or Not a worthy SWAT successor?

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Ready or Not didn”t come off well in the Early Access test. Nine months later, it already has more of the gameplay we all want so badly.

We were so disillusioned when, after the surprising Early Access release of Ready or Not at the end of last year, we played as an anti-terrorist unit in the fictional US city of Los Suenos. Of the great models in spirit – the time-honoured SWAT series or the earlier Rainbow Six parts – only the beginnings were to be seen at best.

In addition, there were few (read: none) atmospheric elements that corresponded to the scenery of a special police operation, barely comprehensible enemy and hostage behaviour as well as AI aiming abilities that made every Aimbot user jealous. It quickly became clear that while a few characters in police uniforms, cool gadgets, fancy weapon models and gameplay “somehow” reminiscent of SWAT certainly struck a chord with the gaming public, the developers at VOID Interactive still have a long way to go. This became all the more clear when the final product was juxtaposed with their own vision in the gameplay trailer already released in 2019:

 

We are SWAT

For those of you who haven”t been in the theme at all yet, let”s start from the beginning: In Ready or Not we slip into the role of an officer of the five-member SWAT team in the first-person view. The abbreviation stands for “Special Weapons And Tactics” and is a special unit of the American police.

The experts in counter-terrorism always move in when things like hostage-taking, bomb threats, rampages and the like are involved, comparable to the German SEK (Spezialeinsatzkommando).

(Opening a door without thinking can quickly mean the end of the game. Careless policemen run into booby traps or directly into the muzzle flash of the opponents. In addition, we can''t look under this door with a mirror. So there are only two options: open it carefully or go in with a bang.)
(Opening a door without thinking can quickly mean the end of the game. Careless policemen run into booby traps or directly into the muzzle flash of the opponents. In addition, we can”t look under this door with a mirror. So there are only two options: open it carefully or go in with a bang.)

In the fictional US city of Los Suenos stands our police headquarters. In addition, the metropolis, which is presented as a permanent hotspot for all forms of crime but is otherwise still too pale overall, serves as the background for the individual missions.

(The pins in the city are increasing. Currently we can already let off steam in 12 missions. Three of them are so-called test levels. This means that the areas are already playable, but the textures are still mostly missing. With Brisa Cove, a former test level was recently added to the game)
(The pins in the city are increasing. Currently we can already let off steam in 12 missions. Three of them are so-called test levels. This means that the areas are already playable, but the textures are still mostly missing. With Brisa Cove, a former test level was recently added to the game)

Currently there is no campaign or narrative element between missions that makes the city relevant in any way – but more on that later. A SWAT team consists of a maximum of five members. We have the option to play alone and fill the four remaining slots with AI colleagues.

In single player, the computer comrades are divided into two teams, Red Team and Blue Team, to whom we give commands in the field either separately or all together via a context-sensitive menu with the middle mouse button. This still works very well.

There is also a function that lets us string together commands (such as line up, check door, open and clear the room with a stun grenade). However, the practical implementation in the field does not yet work one hundred percent.

(As a rule, each mission can be played in these five different scenarios. In addition to a classic anti-terror mission, there is an option with more aggressive opponents, a rampage hostage situation as well as bomb defusing scenario)
(As a rule, each mission can be played in these five different scenarios. In addition to a classic anti-terror mission, there is an option with more aggressive opponents, a rampage hostage situation as well as bomb defusing scenario)

 

Intuitive operation

Working with the AI colleagues works well in principle, but the wayfinding still has a few quirks. This is especially annoying in tight spaces when the team blocks the way and has to be painstakingly rearranged. Ready or Not unfolds its full potential, however, when we go on a mission with human players. Via the main menu, we can decide whether we want to play alone, create a public lobby or a lobby for friends only. Alternatively, we search for freely accessible games.

Each form of game entry is easy to handle and works without any problems. We can also say the same for the technical side: Ready or Not uses the Unreal Engine 4, runs stably and the game knows how to conjure up some very coherent situations on the screen without offering high-end graphics.

(In the course of the many updates, actual mirror images were also implemented.)
(In the course of the many updates, actual mirror images were also implemented.)

The quirks that were still annoying at the time of release, such as untextured objects in actually finished levels, wild water animations in harmless bathtubs and representations of mirrors as if they were a gateway from the Matrix, have been consistently addressed by the developers. While not everything is perfect yet, as in so many other places in the game, we see clear progress here.

Controversy over developer statements

So far, VOID Interactive is characterised by a great closeness to the community and lives the Early Access principle in an exemplary way. They repeatedly comment on the current status and future direction of the game in blog posts or tweets. However, one of these posts presumably led to the first major controversy of the still young title.

When asked in a Reddit post whether the finished game would also deal with rampages at schools, one developer replied: “You can assume that it will”. The post was subsequently removed. Immediately afterwards, developer VOID Interactive and publisher Team 17 announced the – officially amicable – discontinuation of the cooperation.

In the aftermath, the studio published a post in which it says, among other things, that it is willing to deal with unpleasant topics in its own games outside conventional expectations and norms, but wants to do so with the necessary sensitivity. The extent to which Team 17 may have pulled the ripcord here for image reasons offers room for speculation.

 

Lobby with style

Whichever game mode we choose, we always start in the very nicely and atmospherically designed headquarters of the SWAT team of Los Suenos. In the police rooms, which are decorated with many small details and extend over two floors, we not only decide on a mission, but also equip ourselves.

(Each round starts in the atmospherically designed lobby of the police headquarters. In the locker room we can now set both our equipment and attachments at the locker and as weapons table, which saves unnecessary running around)
(Each round starts in the atmospherically designed lobby of the police headquarters. In the locker room we can now set both our equipment and attachments at the locker and as weapons table, which saves unnecessary running around)

While in multiplayer each player decides on their own items and ideally we coordinate with the other players via the integrated VoIP function, solo police officers can also equip the rest of the team with a repertoire of assault rifles, submachine guns and shotguns that has been well developed in recent months and is still not finalised.

(In the menu we select our main weapon from the list on the left, in this case the M4. On the right we personalise the shooting club as we wish).
(In the menu we select our main weapon from the list on the left, in this case the M4. On the right we personalise the shooting club as we wish).

With the secondary weapons we have the choice of using normal pistols, a stylish magnum or the non-lethal taser to keep law and order. Gadgets for opening doors, three types of grenades, different types of ammunition for differently armoured opponents and various protective waistcoats and helmets round off the options.

Equipping your own squad or individual players in multiplayer is now much easier than it was at the time of release. Not only do we select weapons and gadgets at the locker and at the equipment table provided, but we can also finally screw attachments, torches, visors and the like onto our gear in the same menu.

This not only makes more sense, but also saves us having to go back and forth between the weapons cabinet and the workbench.  What has also improved is the equipment management with the AI colleagues. Finally, even in single-player games, it is no problem to adapt the equipment of one”s own team to the scenery as well as to one”s own playing style. Until not so long ago, the AI cops were shooting happily and loudly through the area, although we had actually prescribed silencers for all of them. Now we not only meticulously determine who uses which attachment, but it also works.

This is bitterly necessary, because there are various scenarios in which quiet action is obligatory, for example when the terrorists threaten to execute their hostages at the slightest sign of police presence. How happy we are to finally have a chance to complete the mission successfully after the first contact with the enemy in single-player missions.

(Finally the team equipment works as it should. We put a silencer on our assault rifle and we also gave one to the two colleagues in the middle and on the right. We forgot to equip the policeman on the left and now he will fire very loudly. The team is only as good as its leader...)
(Finally the team equipment works as it should. We put a silencer on our assault rifle and we also gave one to the two colleagues in the middle and on the right. We forgot to equip the policeman on the left and now he will fire very loudly. The team is only as good as its leader…)

 

More profile for Los Suenos

In the original review, we were under the impression that Early Access up to that point only consisted of the rudimentary core mechanics. Due to the necessary implementations described so far, especially on the gameplay level, this impression has since shifted for the better. However, the process is far from over, because the immersion is still broken by numerous missing aspects.

Although we now have the possibility to adapt our equipment to the requirements of the next mission down to the smallest detail – we don”t find out what these look like in advance. This makes no sense at all, because after all, we are not embodying patrolmen in random contact with criminals, but a special unit. This means that during an operation there is usually a situation that has developed by the time we arrive. We come when the normal police are at a loss. We hardly notice anything of this – very little in the game itself and practically nothing at all in the preparation for the missions.

By clicking on the nine missions available so far (and three test levels that we can already play as untextured areas), we learn roughly which environment awaits us (hotel, penthouse, petrol station, harbour, car dealership, suburban settlement, farm, family estate, nightclub). In addition, before the game starts, we choose one of five scenarios (such as bomb disposal) that will eventually be available for all maps, so that we at least have a small framework of content.

(If we go down the staircase in Brisa Cove from the starting point, we meet a second special unit that has our back and limits the level)
(If we go down the staircase in Brisa Cove from the starting point, we meet a second special unit that has our back and limits the level)

But there is no real briefing: approximately how many suspects with what armament can we expect? How many hostages are suspected? How many entrances and exits does the building have? All this is only a small part of the information available to real special units before the mission. In a game that wants to be a realistic tactical shooter, at least something like this should not be completely missing.

Remember SWAT 3, where we could even see the driving licences of the suspected perpetrators beforehand and witness statements gave us more or less important information about the expected dangerous situation. Of course, in the case of Ready or Not, the narrative framework is not yet as important as functioning gameplay, and the past updates have shown that the developers are turning the right screws.

Three new maps have also been added since release, which is basically very good. Before there are even more, however, we wish that the existing missions were at least provided with a rudimentary briefing. That is currently sorely lacking, as is another narrative framework to the location of the action itself.

(In the largely untextured test levels we can already see where the journey is to go.)
(In the largely untextured test levels we can already see where the journey is to go.)

So far, the city of Los Suenos, which has been declared a “haven of crime”, is frighteningly pale. On the mission screen we choose missions against an interchangeable city background. There is still so much untapped potential here to breathe life into the metropolis and give us players a sense of why we are risking our virtual lives in the missions.

Speaking of SWAT 3: Especially at the beginning of the campaign, we weren”t above storming a single-family house with two floors and an attic. In the test, the larger maps in Ready or Not seem as if the expansiveness was sometimes forced. Of course, this is a matter of taste and the maps must offer enough space and challenge for five players.

(The developers have redesigned many areas of the old maps. There is now more action on the petrol station forecourt. We also find more cover in the open areas)
(The developers have redesigned many areas of the old maps. There is now more action on the petrol station forecourt. We also find more cover in the open areas)

Filling the spatial emptiness that often occurs despite the reworking of the maps with more cover options remains an important point on the developers” list. At least the strong marksmanship of the AI opponents was worked on, so that the sudden deaths without sight of any threat occur significantly less often than at release. In the rounds played for this post-test, all deaths were traceable.

Mission flow improved, but still room for improvement

Even at the beginning of the mission, we still don”t feel like part of a special unit, because we often stand with our colleagues at the deserted starting point of the map. There are hardly any barriers, sirens and blue lights – simply far too little to indicate that a crime is taking place here and that we should solve the tricky situation.

With a lot of imagination, one can argue that we want to catch the suspected operators of a drug lab in the act on the suburban map, but even there the scenery is downright bizarre. After all, in the current version we were no longer shot by random enemies spawned nearby immediately after the start of the mission.

Although the game now tells more of a smaller story within the missions – by which we mean, for example, the disturbing mission to a paedophile ring –  the missions still seem arbitrary and generic overall. To refer again to SWAT 4 as a model in spirit: Here, for example, during the mission in the bank, we were able to deduce from the surroundings what had happened, such as how the gangsters gained access. Such elements are fortunately finding their way more and more into Ready or Not, but even here there is still room for improvement.

(It''s going in the right direction: Here an intersection is closed to traffic because our anti-terror operation is underway.)
(It”s going in the right direction: Here an intersection is closed to traffic because our anti-terror operation is underway.)

The following examples show that the developers are on the right track: On the petrol station map, an intersection of the adjacent street is now closed off to traffic by the police, individual terrorists sometimes wear body prostheses and when storming a penthouse full of radical gun nuts, we get to see TV reports on a change in the law that apparently “inspired” the perpetrators to the current events. Sensible design changes like this give reason for hope.

 

“Walk, walk, walk” instead of “Go, go go!”

Since the focus in Ready or Not is on realism, we can only walk slowly and press the shift key to walk even slower (“Walk! Walk! Walk!” instead of “Go! Go! Go!”). This is how the developers prevent the SWAT cops from moving across the maps in Call-Of-Duty style. Nevertheless, we notice the lack of movement speed in several places.

On large open areas, we are a sitting duck, especially in the scenarios with higher enemy aggressiveness. When we have to cross areas that have already been cleared without knowing the map – because we had no briefing – the distances seem endless. In bombing scenarios, where literally every second counts, this is doubly annoying.

(Good: The villains act more surprisingly and sometimes spontaneously pull out a knife. Bad: There are still some bugs. The suspect here is stuck. We can neither get to him nor can he move. It is not possible to take him out without losing points)
(Good: The villains act more surprisingly and sometimes spontaneously pull out a knife. Bad: There are still some bugs. The suspect here is stuck. We can neither get to him nor can he move. It is not possible to take him out without losing points)

Finally, we also simply miss being able to sprint to safety. Not only can the enemies run, but they also cleverly surprise us from behind, hiding in cupboards or pulling out knives when they”re caught. At least a compromise would be possible here if we could gradually increase the speed of movement via the mouse wheel, as in Escape from Tarkov. A slight running step would suffice. At least the developers have concealed part of this problem with the newly created cover options.

(The gun battles are fun and we only take a few hits before we go down. Here we were able to resolve the situation. One terrorist is dead (but still preserved according to regulations), the other one prefers to give up.)
(The gun battles are fun and we only take a few hits before we go down. Here we were able to resolve the situation. One terrorist is dead (but still preserved according to regulations), the other one prefers to give up.)

 

More eye for detail

The New Zealand studio VOID Interactive shows an excellent sense for many small subtleties. The fact that the clock in the lobby ticks in real time, weapons have an adjustable safety in addition to single shot and automatic mode, the filling level of magazines can be displayed and criminals get a little slap from our character when they are arrested – these are great ideas that not only give the game more depth, but also show how much thought the team puts into it.

We also have the option of standing our character on tiptoe at the touch of a button to look over walls and get even more of the scenery and its inherent threat.

It is these details that we would like to see more of. And they give us reason to hope that the points criticised so far will be addressed in the further course of Early Access. For one thing, the development studio has brought a lot of content and changes to the game in the past nine months. On the other hand, they have already shown with the gameplay trailer where they want to go one day.

 

On a good path

Tackling the criticisms raised and either fixing them or tweaking the rest of the game to address the design decision is not witchcraft. This makes us optimistic that Ready or Not can become the big hit after all.

In the current version, we experience moments that captivate and fascinate us much more often than right after the release. When we”re lined up in front of a door, covering each other, looking under the door with the mirror and concocting the perfect plan to storm in and capture everyone alive, we”re right in the middle of it.

In doing so, the game gives us several options: Do we want to choose said method with the mirror? Or do we shoot up the castle with the Breaching Shotgun, throw tear gas and stun grenades behind it?

Our actions must be well thought out, because traps with explosive or stun grenades are randomly distributed on the map. This is positive in terms of replay value – especially since they no longer occur as frequently as they did at the launch in 2021, so that we are more likely to become careless and fall into them from time to time.

However, the immersion still breaks down in a few places: sometimes we meet hostages out in the open instead of at the terrorists”, but at least they no longer flee to their tormentors. Also, the rarely stupid sayings of hostages and terrorists during arrests have been reworked so that we no longer have to frown at a “uh, nice tattoos” while we have saved the person”s life under a thick uniform.

Preliminary Score Box

After a rather involuntary start into the Early Access phase and a sobering rating in the first GlobalESportNews test, the developers from VOID Interactive have continuously delivered new content and technical improvements. Ready or Not is thus a prime example of Early Access in itself, as it shows how a game can grow and develop in a lively exchange with the fans. In terms of gameplay and content, Ready or Not has made significant progress since its first release at the end of last year. It still has a long way to go before it reaches the great SWAT model, but the fact alone that the developers are hammering away at the keys makes me confident that they will achieve this goal.

Yes, it is still annoying that we start the missions so blindly and are neither informed about the threat situation nor do we have rudimentary hints about buildings and areas. I would like to see some sensible changes here in the near future and I also hope that the city of Los Suenos gets a bit more character. Otherwise, I am positively surprised by the enemy behaviour: The unspeakable “deaths out of nowhere” have been defused, adversaries behave more comprehensibly overall, surprise us and make the game more dynamic.

Personally, I am looking forward to the further development and will keep a close eye on the project. Ultimately, I feel the same as the majority of the community: I would finally like to see a modern, accessible, tactical and challenging successor to SWAT. While I was still sceptical at the beginning of the year, I now have more faith that this can become a reality.

 

Flo
Flo
Age: 28 years Origin: Germany Hobbies: Gaming, Biking, Football Profession: Online editor

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