Controversial Steam Best Seller Ready Or Not Is An Unsettling SWAT Fantasy

Controversial Steam Best Seller Ready Or Not Is An Unsettling SWAT Fantasy
Image: Void Interactive

Ready or Not is a tactical horror game where you creep through sprawling mazes of American decay searching for violent suspects amidst cowering bystanders. Steam currently loves it, but after spending a few hours with it I can’t say I do. At its best it’s an admirably tense puzzle game punctuated by twitchy shootouts, but it’s also a violent political fantasy with no capacity for self-interrogation.

Developed by New Zealand-based Void Interactive, Ready or Not puts you in the boots of American law enforcement tasked with bringing “order to the chaos” of a failed state being torn apart by economic stratification and crime. Your tools for pacification include assault rifles, shotguns, submachine guns, and of course an endless supply of military-grade zip-ties.

Deployed across poor neighbourhoods, car dealerships, and gas stations, your job is to methodically breach and clear labyrinth-sized levels until all of the bad guys are in custody or dead. Fail to execute each encounter according to the proper rules of engagement and you’ll be chastised with failing grades at the end of each level like a bad score in Dance Dance Revolution.

Image: Void Interactive Image: Void Interactive

Even before it blew up on Steam, Ready or Not sparked controversy, and lost its publisher, after one of its developers seemingly re-committed to adding a school shooting level. Players on the game’s Discord fantasized about which gear they’d use to hunt down the shooter in this prospective scenario. Void Interactive eventually weighed in to reassure everyone it would handle such traumatic content with care, but after playing through a handful of the game’s existing maps I’m doubtful.

Ready or Not is more like a game of MouseTrap than a round of Call of Duty. You’ll spend more time peeking around doors for traps than spraying and praying, leaving behind a trail of chem lights to mark where you’ve already been. Eventually you’ll hit upon NPCs who won’t surrender, and who instead pull weapons and start lighting you up with the superhuman fury of a Matrix agent. Hence the fear and trepidation with which you and the rest of your squad, bungling AI companions if playing solo or other players if online, make your way through “affordable housing” meth labs and hotel under siege.

It’s an incredibly evocative combo, helped in part by detailed sound cues and the eerie ambient drumming of the electronic soundtrack, that’s handled with all the care of a toddler running with scissors. Ready or Not’s realism is effective enough to disturb but too shallow not to descend into farce, or worse, Blue Lives Matter cosplay with fascist overtones and alt-right dog whistles.

Screenshot: Void Interactive Screenshot: Void Interactive

An easter egg in the game’s starting headquarters area consists of a discarded “red pill” box in a trash can with the words “Noggin Joggers” on the side, which some have interpreted as 4chan-speak for the N-word (Void Interactive did not immediately respond to a request for comment to clarify the intended meaning). Elsewhere a box of Vitamin D supplements for “Bonor Health” from “Whore Foods” sits on a table next to spare ammunition, while another vitamin box references the Pepe meme. There’s also the now infamous “Anal Staircase” sign from one of the game’s old trailers which belongs to an upcoming sex club level.

Random bystanders have only a few recorded lines they’ll bark at you at the moment, one of which is, “My mum has a Mexican maid, you might know her.” There’s already a “Mute Cringey Voice Lines” mod to remove it, though Void Interactive announced it also plans to replace it in a later update. Then there’s the law and order ideology that frames the rest of the game. America is on the brink. Crime is at an all-time high. It can’t be fixed, only subdued. The game trains you to fear everyone you meet, not as commentary but as wish-fulfillment, and with seemingly no awareness of the nation’s recent reckoning with an epidemic of police killings.

Image: Void Interactive Image: Void Interactive

Amidst these disorienting tonal shifts, which range from the juvenile to the openly racist, there are incredibly grim moments like when you come across a child writhing in pain in her pink bedroom. “Wounded civilian clear and prepped for evac,” your SWAT officer says in his RoboCop voice. Whether because Ready or Not remains an incredibly barebones Early Access game or because Void Interactive lacks the sophistication, it makes the entire affair feel crass and exploitative.

That hasn’t stopped Ready or Die from receiving a flood of positive user-reviews praising the game on Steam. Some no doubt because they see in it the seeds of a faithful successor to the old SWAT games, and thus a return to the kind of slow, tactical, claustrophobic gunplay that even games like Rainbow Six Siege have mostly abandoned. Others likely because of the way it drapes that gameplay in strong-man cop worship (there are no female police in the game yet) and provides a neat and tidy way to counter one system of violence with another.

That fantasy doesn’t come cheap though, in real life or on Steam. Ready or Not’s beta currently costs $US40 ($56) to take part in, while a special Supporter’s Edition is twice as much. It’s impossible to render final judgement on a game that seems more unfinished than not, but so far it’s not shaping up to be the kind I would trust to handle the simulation of a school massacre.


  • Maybe it’s the fact that the developers are based in New Zealand, and therefore come from a place where the public DON’T have as adversarial a relationship with their police forces. In other words, let the rest of the world have their fun, America. You’ve been coming up with shallow parodies of the rest of the world for decades, but when we turn the spotlight on you, it suddenly doesn’t feel so great, does it?

    • Like a great many similar comments around here, you seem to be assuming that a post on a computer game blog in which someone expresses a bit of discomfort with something has some kind of oversized influence to “prevent the rest of the world from having fun”; even though there is literally nothing in the article advocating any kind of ban on the game whatsoever.

      And seriously, you didn’t actually read the article did you. It’s pretty self-evident that the game trades on a whole bunch of racist and classist stereotypes, however it sure isn’t presented as any kind of parody – the game is full-on America, Fuck Yeah! with more than a couple of nods to QAnon-type memes. The vast majority of American players don’t appear to be uncomfortable with the content, and indeed that’s a good part of what makes the game so icky.

      But look, play it, don’t play it. The game isn’t getting banned, and your results may vary, but if you do find America’s militarised police, endemic poverty, racism and gun culture to be something that makes you uncomfortable then here’s an article explaining why this might not be a game that you’re likely to enjoy, eh?

      • I don’t think several jokes in poor taste invalidates the game entirely. But you are correct, they should definitely be removed.

        What I think is the more overriding question is whether video games depicting police as heroic in anyway should be encouraged. I believe that, stereotypes aside, a game that shows the work of armed police against other armed assailants, with rules of engagement, is something worth playing.

        Let me assure you, I find the current state of America’s militarisation and gun culture deeply disturbing. I just don’t think that looking to this game as a touchstone of those issues is particularly useful. Maybe the reason why Americans are not uncomfortable with the content is they’re more concerned about SWAT teams raiding their neighbours than SWAT teams in their computer games?

        • I am struggling to see where you have managed to form the impression that “Americans” are uncomfortable with the content of the game based on, in so far as I can tell, the opinion of only one of them.

          Also, I didn’t ask for anything to be removed from the game, and I’m pretty sure that nobody anywhere is arguing that the game is a “touchstone” of anything.

          Like your assertion that “America” is somehow allegedly trying to prevent the rest of the world from having fun, I am struggling to see how any of the claims in anything that you have posted to date are based on anything at all.

  • This isn’t Dungeons and Dragons…

    “That hasn’t stopped READY OR DIE [emphasis mine] from receiving a flood of positive user-reviews…”

    Talk about a Freudian Slip.

    “…of course an endless supply of military-grade zip-ties.”

    I’ve got hundreds of military-grade zip-ties at home, too. I get mine from Bunnings or Officeworks on the cheap. No need to travel halfway across the country to surplus stores. What’s with the need to stress that they’re “military-grade,” to make zip-ties seem so scary?

    I have a feeling Ethan wants to find things wrong with this game. “Noggin Joggers” is some ‘funny’ name for aspirin or panadol. Unless we’re all settled on calling the african-american enemies joggers, it’s fairly innocuous.

    “…while another vitamin box references the Pepe meme.”

    When’s the last time you’ve seen a Pepe paired with the text ‘feels good man’? The previous decade? Twitch emotes prominently feature the Pepe meme, and yet Ethan has yet to call them out for supporting neo-nazism by continuing to permit it. Just because there’s a Pepe reference doesn’t automatically make it the second coming of our lord and saviour the Führer, blessed be his name.

    “That fantasy doesn’t come cheap though, in real life or on Steam. Ready or Not’s beta currently costs $US40 ($56) to take part in…”

    Just because a game is indie, doesn’t mean it automatically has to be cheap. That’s a common misconception for indie projects, one that devs are often concerned of facing backlash for whenever they set the price as something over 20 USD. The costs of living in New Zealand are pretty pricey.

    • Theres a significant difference between the kinds of zip ties you can buy at bunnings or office works and the kind of zip tie restraints marketed to law enforcement and military by companies like Milspec Plastics under the brand name Cobra Cuffs.

      I doubt you have hundreds of such zip ties, but if you do you did not get them from from Bunnings or Officeworks and you should probably be on a watch list somewhere.

    • I’m inclined to agree that “noggin joggers” is innocuous. You could try to stretch it (noggin sharing the n*gg** with a certain word is one thing, but I’ve never see noggin jogger used as a slur) but it has some legitimacy. I know that WoW for years had an item called Nogginfogger’s elixir.

      • I mean, having ‘red pills’ with boxes called Noggin Joggers sounds like a pretty clear Matrix reference? I suppose Ethan’s too busy being blue pilled and wanting everything safe, conservative and sanitised to get the reference.

  • This is the second time Kotaku has misled or gotten things completely wrong with regards to this game.

    Have your journalistic standards really fallen that low you don’t even bother to fact check?

    • He played the game dude, and gave you his impressions. That’s what bloggers do. He is not obliged to research every item in the game just to make sure that he doesn’t accidentally make a claim that puts him on djbear’s wrong side.

      Seriously, this alleged failure to write rigorously objective articles based on PhD-level fact checking is a constant criticism of yours, and yet your alleged ‘errors’ are almost always limited to the fact that you just don’t happen to like or agree with the opinions being expressed.

      As far as “Noggin Joggers” are concerned, for example, the article reports what other people have claimed, but also then backs up that interpretation with a link and indicates that he has also sought comment from the developers. Seriously, it’s not an error to report that this is one possible interpretation.

      Dude, if you’re concerned about people not bothering to fact check then the first place that you need to look is in the mirror.

      And as for “journalistic standards”, sheesh. As if the entirely of the mainstream media aren’t absolutely chockers with stories based on all sorts of tenuous flim flam. Why does a cheesy, tongue in cheek computer gaming blog have to demonstrate to your satisfaction higher standards of journalistic integrity than the vast majority of metropolitan daily papers?

      • I think you’ll find it has a lot more to do with his pathological need to bootlick authority when he’s not screaming about ‘girls in MY video games’.

        He’s basically an animated fedora with a red tie and neckbeard stapled to the bottom.

    • It’s an Ethan Gach article… they all go the same way.. do a hot take opinion on a game and then start using tabloid style writing to invoke some sort of outrage as a response whether its positive or negative at the end is all the same… it got u invested to click

      Every now and then i see a decent topic or non click bait title from him.. and I expect finally a decent non tabloid approach… and I quickly figure out nope still the same style..

  • Red pill is a matrix reference.

    You didn’t mention “Hell’s Rejects”, which is also a movie reference.

    Stop looking for controversy where there is none.

    It’s a good game, especially one in beta and one produced by an indie studio. Maybe focus on that.

  • This article caused Ethan to wipe his Twitter account after people found lots of racist tweets by him about Muslims.

    Live by the sword, die by the sword Ethan


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