I’ve run into Ape Out at a few indie gaming event around Chicago for the last year or so. I first remember running into it when I first covered Bit Bash way back in 2017. It always stood out instantly, at whatever event it was at, with crowds lining up to play a stylized, silhouetted ape ready to bash its captors into red smears. It was hypnotic then, and it’s come together masterfully since.
Developed by Gabe Cuzzillo, Bennett Foddy (of QWOP and Getting Over it with Bennett Foddy fame), and Matt Boch, Ape Out is a game reduced to pure gameplay mechanics, but they come together in such a masterful way that despite its simple graphics and its minimalist, top-down view, the description betrays the clever use of titles, perspective, color, and music. Ape Out is a brutal masterpiece that ends up being gorgeous in its violent way.
As you attempt your escape, you reduce people to bloodstain. Mixed with your own blood and other debris, Ape Out makes some scenes look like impressionist paintings. The art style is incredibly simple, and reminds me of the low res vector graphics from Another World (Out of this World in NA) released way back in 1991 mixed with splatters of gore that end up looking like a video game Jackson Pollock painting. To top it all off there is a frantic jazz-styled soundtrack that consists only of percussion.
Just like its style, and soundtrack, the premise is extremely simple: you play an ape that is escaping from its captors. The action is quick and merciless, and very reminiscent of Hotline Miami, and even though you can take a few shots and keep moving, you aren’t indestructible. Line of sight is your greatest ally, because you can’t quite dodge bullets. Unlike Hotline Miami, you can’t just pick up a gun, either. You can toss people and instantly turn them into red puddles and limbs, or you can grab them to use them as a human shield.
There are multiple different enemy types you’ll encounter, with most of them carrying some sort of gun—though rocket launchers and flamethrowers get thrown into the mix eventually. There is always a slight delay before you are shot at, but when you are in their sights, you will be shot without mercy until you are killed.
Ape Out gives you four different facilities to break out from. There are multiple locations that you must break out of—a research facility, a high rise, a military base and a cargo ship. Each new level is introduced with a stylish title card and accompanying music, effortlessly achieving style that the likes of Super Hot tried so hard for. Each location has its own enemy types, layouts, and other points of interest, but they’re all represented in the same, minimalist, top-down view—a description that again betrays the clever use of typefaces for titles, perspective, and color.
The first few areas you run through are mostly static, but other environmental hazards start to come into play that can help or hurt your escape attempts. Darkness can hide you from gun toting humans, and different locations have different rooms or obstacles that provide cover from gunfire.
The soundtrack to Ape Out is absolutely integral to the experience. Consisting of only percussion, and even then mostly cymbals and drums, it adds a primal urgency, and is absolutely stylish while so doing.
Injuries to your ape avatar are not tracked through a health bar—in fact, there’s no UI at all. Instead, the more injured the ape is, the more blood he leaves behind in his blood trail. You can’t get that health back in the level, but between levels the ape is healed to full, ready to rampage again in its attempts at freedom. Fighting every enemy you come across isn’t always the best option—sometimes running, and the clever use of cover can get you out of situations easier than fighting. But you don’t always have the choice.
Ape Out isn’t a very long game—in fact, it’s possible to beat it in only a couple hours, even if it’s your first time playing it. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, though, but its fast-paced nature allows for multiple retries in quick-succession, only stopping to show you an overview of your progress through whatever level whenever you die. Fortunately, if you want to spend more time with Ape Out, Arcade Mode increasing the time you can spend with the game by trying for a high score or a best time.
Ape Out is almost perfect in every way, and has addictive, mechanically satisfying gameplay. It’s beautiful, brutal, and addicting—from its combat and level design, to its soundtrack and style. Don’t miss this one.
Ape Out is available now on Windows and Nintendo Switch.
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