Is there any better possible combination than simians and gaming? Technically it may be possible but Donkey Kong, Ape Escape and Ooki Blocks raise the bar fairly high. Ape Out is an action-roguelike looking to join the ranks of primate-featuring titles high in the gaming treetops, but unlike the normally cute and upbeat adventures of its predecessors, the game marches to a dark and bloody jungle beat. The ape has a long road ahead after escaping from its cage, rampaging through the complex that’s trapped it inside, and the body count quickly goes through the roof.
An ape’s only power is its strength. It can’t fly, breathe fire, or even hang from its tail, but anything in arm’s reach is going to remain broken or whole depending on the ape’s whim. Windows, doors, and of course people are either tool or obstacle, depending on the situation, and using them right is the key to escape. Seeing as the ape is a beast of pure wild muscle, though, “using them right” is a euphemism for “breaking”. Glass is fragile, doors can be wrenched off their hinges, and people come apart just by smushing them against a wall. Anything the ape can grab can be destroyed, but the people carry guns specifically for the purpose of maintaining a safe distance from things that might want to tear a few limbs off.
The ape in Ape Out is just a standard garden-variety gorilla rampaging in a top-down perspective through a base patrolled by heavily-armed guards. Each level is a long series of randomized rooms and corridors, and whether you take out every guard along the way, sprint to the end, or find a comfortable middle ground is completely the player’s choice. You’re an ape, you want out, but it’s incredibly fun to push one guard into another and turn them into a painterly splat on the ground. Apes are more than just brute strength, though, so survival means learning how the guards are also tools for survival. A guard wearing a bulletproof vest is a great shield against multiple attackers, while one wearing a bomb is a handy projectile explosion to take out multiple enemies at once. A machine gun guard fires in panic when held, which is great for clearing a room, but one with a flamethrower can be as dangerous to the ape as anyone it’s attempting to set alight because the napalm goes everywhere. The trick to survival is finding just the right balance of aggression; leave too many people alive and you get shot in the back, but pushing ahead too fast is a great way to end up with a bomb in the face. There’s a tempo to Ape Out, driven by a jazzy drumbeat punctuated by the cymbal-crash of splattered enemies.
While the action feels great and it’s fantastically satisfying to wield the primal strength of an ape on the run, the most immediately striking feature of Ape Out is its audiovisual treatment. There’s a major 60s vibe running through every aspect of the art, from the movie poster-style visuals to the relentless off-kilter drums. The art speaks for itself, looking simple in screenshots and a like living modern-art graphic design in motion. The music and sound effects are equally arresting, with the up-tempo drum beat punctuated with a crash of cymbals for every person you throw. The soundtrack becomes a free-form jam, with the background beat working as accompaniment for the sounds of the action, fusing perfectly with the graphic style to create that most potentially worrisome of games, the art project. Except this art is about an ape turning people into red splats on the floor, leaving behind a handful of minimalist limbs you can pick up and throw at enemies to conveniently stun them for a moment.
Sometimes art has something deep and meaningful to say about the human condition. The power of uniting against the terrible darkness that exists outside consciousness, the inevitability of the empty void of death, contrasting how terrible and beautiful the simple act of Being is, etc. These are all big and important statements and any artist expressing them has so much to work with that there are an endless variety of ways to present the information. This doesn’t make the little statements matter any less, though. Sometimes it’s just as vital to the human condition to rampage through a complex, soaking in a unique art style as the drums pound along and each musical piece is made unique thanks to the audio-accompaniment of the action, with the message being “It’s awesome to be a giant ape!”
For a taste of the truth burning in Ape Out‘s heart, check out the playable trailer. It’s like all the best bits of a demo compressed down to a minute’s worth of play, fully structured for maximum impact in minimal time.