by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Enjoying the Simple Things
Gorillas. Twin-stick shooters. Jazz. These are words I donít think Iíve considered in proximity of each other before, but here we are. Ape Out tells a very simple story: youíre a gorilla being held in captivity in one of a number of locations. You break out. You must use your speed and obscene strength to escape. There isnít really any more to the narrative than that, but when youíre busy smashing scientists into a pulp or using riot guards as human shields youíll probably be too busy to notice.
In fact, Ape Out is a pretty darned simple game from top to bottom. Using only a few keys/buttons (the game plays much better with a controller), gameplay only consists of a few options. As you sprint your way through various themed maps, ranging from skyscrapers to labs to ships and beyond, you can run, slam, and grab. Thatís it. Itís the way these simple mechanics are implemented, though, that actually makes for an incredibly smooth and satisfying gameplay experience. One thing these simple actions accomplish really well is giving your actions the gravitas and feel of impact they should have as a hulking ape among men. Slamming an enemy sends them flying backward until they stop with a satisfying splat at the nearest wall or person behind them (or fall to their doom out the nearest window). Too many enemies around to go Hulk on? No problem. While our simian protagonist canít wield guns himself, grabbing enemies allows you to both use them as a human shield for protection and take advantage of their panicked trigger fingers to blast away a few of their former friends. There arenít special powers to unlock or combinations to memorize. You run, you smash, you grab, and you try your best to avoid being shot in return. While I sometimes had some minor issues getting bodies to launch in exactly the right direction, my complains are minor and didnít stop me from enjoying the minimalistic approach to combat.
Despite literally all of your control options being related to combat, one key concept that youíll need to understand to succeed is that the objective - escape - is always the only goal youíll need to keep in mind. Instead of trying to seek out and finish off all the enemies, running is a perfectly viable strategy more often than it isnít. In fact, due to the randomized nature of each segment, youíll even be treated to the rare instance in which only a couple of enemies will actually stand in your direct way. Make no mistake, though: this isnít a stealth game. More often than not youíll be making a whole lot of unfortunate souls go splat.
Lookiní (and Soundiní) Good
Part of the reason this simplicity in gameplay works is the gameís unique art style and perspective. Itís hard to describe, or even to grasp through still images, but the strikingly contrasted 2D silhouette graphics are complemented by walls that stretch all the up to the player-camera, meaning that despite sporting a top-down view you wonít really be able to see anything more than the logical line of sight from the gorillaís perspective. It makes the game feel simultaneously open and claustrophobic. Your speed allows you the benefit of popping around corners to peek at whatís to come, but itís impossible to avoid being surprised and occasionally snuck up upon, which I really enjoyed.
Speaking of presentation, Iíd be remiss if I didnít mention the gameí sound design. Iíve played my fair share of action games with rock, metal, and other traditionally aggressive styles of music, but the entirety of Ape Out is accompanied by delightfully endearing jazz, which complements the gameís vinyl-inspired world progression and style. The clashes of cymbals and thuds of drums wax and wane with the action on screen, giving everything a very rhythm-game-esque sense of zen that I wasnít expecting but really came to love.
Mixed Feelings on Random
I will say that I'm a bit torn on the random elements of the game. On one hand, thereís no doubt that facing different opposition each time you play through any given map segment does boost the twitch-reaction fueled feel of the game. Youíll never know whatís coming around any given corner. You canít memorize where to turn and when to smash. Because of this, the game is extremely replayable and has the potential to maintain solid legs for quite some time. The flip side is that the game largely lacks those ďwowĒ moments that can only come from handcrafted situations. Thereís little intentionality that puts the players in specific thought provoking, creative situations, and the game can feel like itís missing some design quality in favor of quantity. My overall opinion on the matter shifts every time I think about it, but I think finding a sweet spot between procedural generation and intentional design would have helped the game solidify a few more memorable moments.
Ape Out is a simple game, but one with the polish and charm to make it work. Perfectly embodying the mantra of ďeasy to learn, tough to master,Ē as the gameís significant difficulty attests too. Itís not a game thatíll youíll want to play for hours straight, but itís the perfect game to pop into now and again to harness your inner raging beast.
Simple but satisfying gameplay, highly replayable, beautiful to look at and listen to
Some occasional aiming inconsistencies, some more intentionally designed areas could help create landmark moments