If you found yourself playing Hotline Miami and thinking “wow, the only thing that’s missing from this game is the ability to play as a 350-pound gorilla capable of ripping people apart!”, then buddy, I have got some good news for you! And that news is called Ape Out!
Which is both descriptive of the plot and the main mechanic. The game’s set up in four different areas and at the beginning of each, your gorgeous great ape is trapped somewhere. You break out, and then proceed to rip apart every guard that comes to stop you on your way to get out of the building/boat/facility you’re trapped in. You can push them, or you can grab them and throw them, and if they hit anything while still reeling from your attack, they die. You don’t NEED to kill everyone, but it’s three hits and you’re dead, so it makes it easier to take care of the threats.
Ape Out is the kind of game that’s all about execution instead of some kind of mechanical difficulty – and if it were more involved, it’s difficult to imagine it would work as well. The beauty of the game is that you know you need to wreck your way out of a place and you have two options: smash, or grab (and then smash). When all you have are gorilla fists, after all, everything looks like a gun-toting security guard trying to kill you.
It’s all about the style, too, and buddy, does this game got it to SPARE. It’s got this highly filtered, Saul Bass-inspired look to it, a style I can best describe as looking kind of like papercraft with heavy film grain, with everything standing out with sharp edges and high contrast. Even though it’s not really visually intensive, it all looks incredibly impressive. Areas that play with darkness, lights turning off, flashlights, etc, are all so amazing and stylized-looking it really just popped off the screen.
On top of that, all the music is all jazz drums, and its winning strength is the fact it’s all dynamic and based on what you’re doing. When things are low, and you’re being calm, it’s a more gentle sound, but as soon as you get spicy, it pops off more, with gunshots and enemy deaths tied to the cymbal, making everything you do feel more impactful. Every hit crashes, every gunshot bursts out loudly, and it really draws you into the way your actions are affecting everything. Window, BASH, grab a guy, POW, he fires a shot, CRASH, you throw him at another person, TISH! Yeah, it gets you going, so no matter how many times you die, the driving percussion is there to give you the personal push to go further and try again.
I’m starting to get a little tired and wary of games that use procedurally generated areas, but Ape Out has taken that idea and created something that feels rather natural. Each area feels like a very smart use of the procedural blocks, with key parts that always stay similar, so you can know where you are in each level (ah, THIS hallway, so that means I’m 2/3 through!) but just enough shuffling through to make it so that you have to think on your feet in each level. It’s just changed enough that you don’t know exactly what to expect, but it lets you have a basic plan overall, and that’s a super-satisfying balance.
And when you’re on a real tear, this game all comes together and just feels so good! SO GOOD! There’s an absolute joy in just tearing through the place, the music driving you on, every cymbal crash emphasizing some action, it’s just awesome. And what it really comes down to is that the way it’s designed also sort of helps inform how you play, just through how all the sound and visuals come together. There’s no time limit in the main mode, so it’s POSSIBLE to play the game slowly and pick your way through, but it’s all so propulsive in its feedback that it really gets you to wanting to push yourself.
This doubles down in the arcade mode, which gives you a time limit and a score based on how many you kill and how fast you get out. It reuses the same levels, though that doesn’t matter, given the procedural nature. It does, however, get everything even more propulsive – the few rounds of arcade mode I tried really turn the screws on the time limit, and most of the time I was barely able to get out before the time was over. It’s an excellent challenge, especially if you managed to find the story mode too easy and are looking for something more thrilling.
If you don’t mind a rather extreme challenge, I can’t recommend Ape Out enough, a perfect marriage of style and execution that’s difficult as hell while also managing to be an exciting power fantasy. Every step of the way is exciting and fun, and even when you’re running up against a wall, it has that “one more run!” power that gets you to keep trying, and then whoops, hours are gone. Ape Out is definitely worth checking out and returning to for a quick and excellent experience.