Ape Out (PC, Devolver Digital) – Review
After a quick install and a quicker introduction, I was dropped into the scene. It’s fairly simple: you play as an ape, and your job is to run from through a gauntlet of human guards sporting various firearms to get to the other side of the map. To defend yourself, you can pick up a single human and use them as a human shield (literally), you can turn them on their friends as they squeeze off a round from the weapon they’re holding, or you and then decide to fling them against a wall into a bloody mess. While you’re sprinting along, grabbing, throwing, and splooshing guards into goo, there’s a jazz drum beat happening over top of it all, making exclamations when you do actions in the world. Grab a guard and throw them into another guard, you might get treated to a random high hat, or a bass kick drum to signal their heads clonking together like a pair of coconuts.
Ape Out is dripping with style, with an art and music design second to none right now. Unfortunately, style only goes so far, and in the end, you need some substance. Substance is something that Ape Out is lacking in pretty dramatic fashion. First, Ape Out is broken into four segments: The Lab, The High Rise, The Jungle, and The Ship, each of which is eight maps. While getting started in the game in The Lab was a learning experience, and each map had its own various hazards and bad guys to deal with, there wasn’t really a lot you’re gaining in the way of experience along the way. If you can beat the first area, you can beat the last area, maybe with a little more effort, but you’re not really being taught any new mechanics between the four areas. The music may change, there might be new guards with new weapons, but you’re still running from left to right as fast as your little ape legs can carry you.
The procedural generation of Ape Out is really its downfall. Every map, every guard is different with the start of each scene, and a lot of the maps have random “monster closets” where guards just keep spawning from. You find out early on that a lot of your success early on consist of “did the game spawn guards in a good order or did they randomly drop 15 guards in a section with no easy way to deal with them?” I had map runs where I ran the entire length of the map straight down the middle and was left alone for most of it. I had sections where no amount of gaming skill could have made up for the fact that three guards with grenades spawned in the one place I was heading and all started throwing grenades. There’s a particular difficulty spike at the end of the first segment that involves less about you being skilled, but more about the order at which guards spawn. Which you really can’t control, of course: you get a bad seed for guard spawns, you just have to die and start over at the checkpoint. The lack of any standard maps or guard patterns also means you can’t plan anything; you’re literally just running as quickly as you can and hoping for the best. While that can lead to some zaniness and is great for replayability, this randomness can also be frustrating. I’m someone who likes stealthing through sections, sneaking through, quietly knocking guards out, and having a plan, so this “sprint-through-a-map-like-Guy-Fieri-with-his-ass-on-fire” mentality didn’t really work for me.
Mercifully, the checkpointing is reasonable and the reloads are quick. If you think of a Super Meatboy or Trials game where you hit a button and POOF, you’re back the start, that’s about how quickly the game moves.
While Ape Out is a tasty little three-hour snack for $15, it’s hardly a gaming masterpiece as a lot of these early reviews seem to be praising it to be. It was fun, I finished it, but recommending it to others is a bit tricky. If you’re looking to scratch that Hotline Miami itch, which is where Ape Out draws a lot of its influence from, this is not that game; its randomness and speed ruin that vibe really quickly. Standing on its own merits, Ape Out was a fun little ditty, one that will quietly exit stage right from my brain. Someday, Ape Out will be on sale on Steam and I’ll remember it fondly with a, “Oh, was that this year? Yeah, that was okay.”