It’s likely that at some stage in your life you have visited a zoo. Whether that be as part of a school excursion, with your family, or on your own volition, most of us have paid to peer through glass at exotic animals from around the world and our own backyard. Have you ever wondered though, what might happen if the animals were to escape their enclosure? Would they choose to run away? Confront their captors? Or simply have a cruise about the zoo and pick up a souvenir on the way out? Devolver Digital has given players a glimpse into the worst case scenario of a primate breakout with their top-down, rhythmic action game, Ape Out. Delivering fast-paced gameplay that will have you coming back for more, while presenting itself it an interesting and engaging way, this attraction is more than worth the price of admission.
That guy has chosen the wrong place to stand
The premise of Ape Out is in the title. Players embody a gorilla that has been captured and imprisoned in a research facility and are tasked with escaping. In theory, finding your freedom is as simple as getting from one end of the level to the other and leaving through a green exit door. However, in practice this feat is far more difficult thanks to a slew of rooms and corridors that are filled with gun-wielding guards that want nothing more than to euthanise you Old Yeller style. To combat your captors you are given the ability to push and to grab. Giving an enemy a good shove throws them back violently, exploding them into a mess of limbs and blood if they come into contact with a solid surface or another person. Grabbing an enemy allows you to use them as a human shield by blocking incoming bullets as well as to throw them as a projectile to take out other enemies at a distance. You will need to use both of these in tandem to stand any chance of completing each level.
Early levels are filled with grunt type enemies that have single shot rifles and heavies that carry widespread shotguns. Both are dispatched easily enough with one solid push, but the game’s top-down perspective limits the players view to only what is directly around them, making momentum necessary as you run from room to room with no idea of what is waiting for you around the corner, which is both terrifying and exhilarating. Not to mention the inclusion of explosive, fire-spitting and rocket-launching enemy types later in the game that really spices things up.
Sounds simple enough right? Well where the basis of the game might be unassuming, the execution is far from it. Gameplay is fast and frenetic, encouraging players to find and maintain their own momentum. Each level is procedurally generated for each attempt, meaning that instead of learning the layout of the building and trying to perfect a certain route, you are forced to adapt to each situation on the fly. The game forgoes any kind of health bar, instead you bleed more and more as you get closer to falling off the mortal coil. If you are shot once, your character will begin to bleed on the floor, starting with a small trickle and growing to a downpour the more you are harmed. Upon death you are shown a map of the level that you were just in, detailing the layout and showing you the exact direction that you took before dying. It is simultaneously heartbreaking and motivating to see that you were either mere steps away from the exit before you being gunned down or that your mighty effort only got you two rooms away from where you began.
I swear I was near the end
The death screen manages to educate the player on the challenge they face as well as inspire them to give it just one more go. You will never feel cheated by death either, as every time you die it will be because of a fault of your own, not due to a poorly designed enemy type or an unfairly steep difficulty spike. Luckily, there is close to no loading time between death and another attempt, meaning that you are free to give a level ‘one more go’ as many times as needed.
The gameplay is a big enough draw on its own, but when combined with the art direction and audio, Ape Out becomes near impossible to put down. Everything about the game is linked to jazz. The visuals are minimalistic and bold, using bright and vibrant colours with an art style that gives the appearance of a live music act that was recorded in the 60s. From shattered glass to bloodstained walls, everything on screen is robust and beautiful. The colour palette often changes to accompany the story and to signify an event, each time happening with little to no warning, maximising the impact of the change.
Equally as brilliant is the music. Every action is accompanied by a sound. An enemy hitting a wall is a loud cymbal, the player being shot and injured is a low drum, and as the action heats up, the music becomes more frantic and intense. Having the music meet the momentum set by the player is a truly wonderful feature that is at its best when things start to get chaotic. Bulldozing through a room, flinging men around left and right with the upbeat sound of trumpets and drums in the background is enthralling. Your movements are the band’s music sheet, and it is absolutely brilliant.
No Wilhelm Scream, what a missed opportunity
The jazz influence doesn’t just stop at the gameplay. There are four distinct acts that take the form of albums. Each album consists of a side A and a side B, having four songs (levels) per side. Every album tells a different story in a different setting, and although they all pertain to a gorilla escaping capture on the surface, there is a slight social undertone to each that I won’t spoil as they are worth experiencing with a fresh perspective. Once the album has been completed, a harder version is unlocked as well as a score-based arcade mode. The hard mode for each album increases the amount of enemies massively and provides a solid challenge boost to players who have mastered the mechanics of the game. Arcade Mode adds in a scoring system and a time limit to each level, giving you ten points per kill as well as bonus points depending on how much time was left on the clock upon completion. This gives the game some extra longevity as I found myself trying again and again to better my score for each album. Unfortunately there is no leaderboard to be found, which is disappointing as I felt as though I blasted through some levels in particular and would like to know exactly how well I did in comparison to the rest of the player base. Atop this, you aren’t able to choose specific levels to replay, instead you are forced to play through the album again in sequence. I understand that musicians curate songs into an album so that they are listened to in a particular order, and that’s assumedly the same logic used here, but like with any album you are going to have a favourite song that you listen to more often than the others. This is a small inconvenience however, as every level is unique and interesting without any weak standouts, instead they are all worth playing through multiple times.
The janitor won’t be happy about this
Ape Out is a wonderful mix of unique style and addictive pick-up-and-play gameplay. The combat and movement is a great enough hook on its own, but the package as a whole is a masterclass on how to incorporate all avenues of game design together to make a truly unique experience. I could honestly talk all day about the huge amount of enjoyment I got from tearing through office buildings and obliterating guards to a jazzy tune, but that would be taking time away from you playing it yourself. So do yourself a favour, drop whatever you are doing and pick up this game.
Reviewed on Switch // Review code supplied by publisher