Ape Out Review: Guns, gore and gorillas

Ape Out is not a terribly long game, but it is a fun one. It’s an entertaining and creative riff on the format popularised by Hotline Miami, a barbarous explosion of violence that belies its more rhythm-based gameplay.

You play an angry, caged gorilla ready to throw off the shackles of oppression and embark on a bloody rampage in a bid for freedom. Ape Out unfolds across four different levels, each divided into two parts — Side A and Side B. The reason for its use of cassette tape nomenclature is that the game is fuelled by a procedurally generated jazz soundtrack. The muted thrum of bongo drums perfectly underscores the mayhem, giving the whole exercise a sense of powerful locomotion, the stylish visuals steeped in blaxploitation cinema only adding to the feel of a reckless jailbreak.

There are only three real controls in Ape Out. You move your gorilla around with the left stick and everything else is on your L2 and R2 triggers. Pressing R2 unleashes a devastating shove attack that sends armed guards flying into walls at a rate of knots so high that they explode, limbs flying in all directions — limbs you can then pick up and start hurling. Pressing L2 allows you to grab a nearby guard and hold them in front of you as a human shield, absorbing incoming fire and becoming throwable with another press of the R2 trigger. Like Hotline Miami before it, the key to surviving in Ape Out is split-second decision making. It becomes a macabre dance, the rampage ebbing and flowing as you move from guard to guard, room to room.

The objective is always to get from one side of the current room to the next. Reaching the Green Door on the other side will allow you to progress to the next room, quicksaving your progress. Death often comes swiftly – -your gorilla can only take three or four shots before dropping — and the reload is almost instantaneous. Each death screen shows you how far you made it through this particular room and how close you got to freedom.

I want to give a fast shout out to developers Cuzzillo, Boch and Foddy for really getting the feel of a giant ape going mad right. Just moving your gorilla around feels exactly the way it should. The gorilla feels like it weighs a ton but is as powerful and agile as you would expect it to be. When it hits top speed, it takes on the feel of a boulder rolling down a hill. As you round a corner, there’s a subtle animation that conveys the shifting of its weight to stay upright. When your ape bleeds, the amount will tell you how hurt you are and how many shots you can take before dying. It’s beautiful work and its attention to detail like this that ties the entire game together.

Its this perfectly balanced nexus of speed, savagery and rhythm that give Ape Out the same “one more try” feel that Hotline Miami cultivated. If I die, I’m never bummed about it, I just reload and go again. This time it will be different. This time I know what to do. But you don’t! Not really! Because every level and the placement of every guard within it is procedurally generated too! So every time you die, you’ll emerge into a level often rather different than the one you were just in.

This makes the game surprisingly difficult. From time to time, the random rolls will not go your way and you’ll be totally surrounded by guards with zero recourse. On other runs, you won’t run into anyone and trivially bypass the level. Such is the danger of procedurally generated content — when it works, it works a treat. When it doesn’t, it can be weird at best and brutally unfair at worst. For the most part, I found Ape Out presented a solid challenge, hard enough that it kept prodding the part of the brain that makes you mutter “No, I can do this,” and accessible enough that anyone could pick it up and have a crack.

If you’re looking for something quick and fun, a great game to pass the time while in transit, Ape Out makes an extremely strong case for itself.

Gabe Cuzzillo, Matt Boch, and Bennett Foddy
Devolver Digital
Nintendo Switch, Windows PC
Available: March 1, 2019

Review conducted on Nintendo Switch with a pre-release code provided by the publisher.

David Smith

David Smith is the former games and technology editor at The AU Review. He has previously written for PC World Australia. You can find him on Twitter at @RhunWords.