by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Enjoying the Simple Things
Gorillas. Twin-stick shooters. Jazz. These are words I don’t think I’ve considered in proximity of each other before, but here we are. Ape Out tells a very simple story: you’re 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 isn’t really any more to the narrative than that, but when you’re busy smashing scientists into a pulp or using riot guards as human shields you’ll 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. That’s it. It’s 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 can’t 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 aren’t 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 didn’t stop me from enjoying the minimalistic approach to combat.
Despite literally all of your control options being related to combat, one key concept that you’ll need to understand to succeed is that the objective - escape - is always the only goal you’ll 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 isn’t. In fact, due to the randomized nature of each segment, you’ll 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 isn’t a stealth game. More often than not you’ll be making a whole lot of unfortunate souls go splat.
Lookin’ (and Soundin’) Good
Part of the reason this simplicity in gameplay works is the game’s unique art style and perspective. It’s 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 won’t really be able to see anything more than the logical line of sight from the gorilla’s perspective. It makes the game feel simultaneously open and claustrophobic. Your speed allows you the benefit of popping around corners to peek at what’s to come, but it’s impossible to avoid being surprised and occasionally snuck up upon, which I really enjoyed.
Speaking of presentation, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the game’ sound design. I’ve 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 game’s 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 wasn’t 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, there’s 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. You’ll never know what’s coming around any given corner. You can’t 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 “wow” moments that can only come from handcrafted situations. There’s little intentionality that puts the players in specific thought provoking, creative situations, and the game can feel like it’s 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 “easy to learn, tough to master,” as the game’s significant difficulty attests too. It’s not a game that’ll you’ll want to play for hours straight, but it’s 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