If you’ve ever dreamed of a power fantasy where you are a rampaging ape trying to escape various scenarios with nothing but your massive fists, then Ape Out is exactly what you’ve been waiting for. The latest game from publisher Devolver Digital features gameplay that is reminiscent of Hotline Miami, but with more focus on brawling, rather than long-range weaponry, as you race to escape captivity.
Ape Out is a game that relies on a simple control scheme: grabbing and smashing. As you move throughout the labyrinthian levels, enemies will attempt to gun you down. You can reach out and grab enemies, turning them into human shields to soak up damage, while turning their weapons against their allies. Alternatively, you can smash them into walls–or other humans–to create an explosion of gore. By the end of each level, you’ll have left a trail of bodies and blood that feels more like a work of art than a brutal annihilation.
There is no wrong way to progress through levels in Ape Out, as they are procedurally generated. Each time you die, you restart at the beginning of each short map, with the goal of navigating the maze to your eventual escape. The campaign is broken down into four “albums” that will have you navigating high-rise office buildings, boats, shipping container ports and more. There are two sides to each album, which each contain about four “tracks” to progress through. Levels are relatively short, requiring only a minute or two to complete, but they are endlessly replayable. Every scenario presents you with new paths and new challenges that stand in your way.
As you progress through the campaign, enemy types begin to vary more. Most enemies carry a specific weapon, and understanding the nuances between weapons can mean life or death for your ape. For instance, larger brute enemies may carry a shotgun which has massive spread. When grabbing these enemies, they will fire a single, wide shot that can clear out entire groups of foes at once. Alternatively, some enemies carry bombs on their bodies, and when thrown, erupt into an explosion that can end your run if you’re too close to the blast. Knowing which enemies to grab, and when, will ensure you’re successful in Ape Out.
The soundtrack is core to the experience of Ape Out, featuring a frenetic, freeform jazz score that blends seamlessly with the action. As you lumber around the levels, you’ll be marching to the fast-paced drum beat while slinging bodies left and right. As each enemy explodes, a satisfying cymbal crash accompanies your actions. This creates an eclectic orchestra of music and mayhem that is woven so deeply into the gameplay that you feel like you’re conducting the band.
Graphically, the game features a limited, yet vibrant, palette of colors, with a flat style to the artwork. The overall aesthetic feels very much like 1960s-era abstract art piece, similar to the introduction of the show Mad Men. There is also a photographic film grain effect applied to the overall experience that feels as though you are watching a vintage movie as you progress through the game.
What makes Ape Out so unique is the split-second decision-making of whether to grab a specific enemy and use them to clear out a room, or smash them against the wall and continue on. The game is played from a top-down approach, with walls and other objects extending upwards towards the screen. This gives a unique perspective that isn’t very conducive to tactical approaches, as there is not much visibility to your surroundings. The gameplay really shines when you play aggressively, channeling your inner ape, and approaching situations without much structure or planning.
After completing the roughly three-hour campaign, you’ll have the opportunity to play through Arcade Mode, which adds a countdown timer to each level. You’ll rack up points for each enemy you eliminate and garner bonus points for escaping the level unscathed. This mode, blended with the procedural level generation, creates a near-infinite amount of replayability for those interested in chasing high scores. There is also a harder difficulty for the main campaign if you’re seeking a more challenging story.
Overall, Ape Out is a fantastic game that blends blistering action with a feverish score that is nothing short of amazing. The gameplay is extremely satisfying as you grab, smash and shoot your way to the exit of each level. With endless ways to approach each scenario, Ape Out is cleverly disguised as a sandbox puzzler that contains hours of enjoyment. The album-based campaign is incredibly fun, dropping you into a variety of different environments to escape. The campaign’s climax is surprising and well worth the price of entry alone.