Ape Out Review: Crushing Guns Set to Crashing Drums
Sometimes the best ideas are so basic you wonder how it took so long for them to come to pass. The developers of Ape Out answer a very simple question with their top-down escape game: wouldn't it be fun to play a game where you're an angry ape exacting righteous revenge on its cruel captors?
Yes. That would be very fun.
There's a little bit more nuance to be found in Ape Out, but not much. The game promises an ape trying to get out, and that's exactly what it delivers four times over.
The end result is a joyous game which you can breeze through in just a single setting, yet offers just enough replayability to keep you coming back for more.
If you're looking for a fun, inexpensive addition to your catalog, Ape Out more than justifies its modest price tag.
Simple Doesn't Have to Mean Basic
There's no tutorial to be had in Ape Out. Instead, you're thrown right into the mix, with all the instructions you need printed out on the floor of the opening stages in block letters.
Fortunately, there aren't a whole lot of controls to learn. Use the left trigger or mouse button to grab, the right trigger or mouse button to throw, and try not to get shot while you do it. There are some minor tweaks which show up from time to time, like punching through barriers or pulling off doors, but for the most part, that's all there is. Grab. Throw. Kill. Escape.
It would be easy to assume that such a basic control system would go flat after just a few levels, but that's where the strong design of Ape Out shines through. By slowly, yet consistently introducing new elements as players progress from stage to stage, the game manages to keep things fresh without overcomplicating the matter.
New enemies are introduced, with different weapons or defenses to require varied approaches. Removable doors which become shields offer you the ability to gain some much-needed defense, which is still more than capable of providing a dose of offense, too.
Everything comes together to make for a deep playing experience despite the shallow controls and goals. Getting through the green door which marks your safe exit never feels like just more of the same, and it gets no less frustrating to find yourself gunned down when you were so close to freedom.
Catchy Music Helps to Drive You Onward
In many games, it feels like the soundtrack is more of an afterthought than a part of the game, but there's no mistaking the importance of sound design in Ape Out.
The game is carried out with a constant jazzy beat as you progress through the various stages, but the true flourish comes in the crashing cymbals which accompany every crushing kill your ape scores.
There's a special satisfaction which comes from stringing together a series of timely kills to create a chain of crashing cymbals as you beat a bloody path to your destination. This is definitely not a game to be played on mute while you listen to your own music or a favorite podcast.
Every Level Carries its Own Twists
The other way that Ape Out gets a lot out of so little is in the way each new level changes the game just a little bit. No change is so severe that an explainer is required, but also not so small that it doesn't add a new element to worry about. In total there are four levels, each represented as its own album, and each carries unique tweaks to match its theme.
The first area you'll notice the game-changing is the enemies you face. In the beginning, you'll only have to deal with simple, easy-to-kill riflemen and shotgun-wielding enemies with the added protection of body armor. As your ape progresses, however, more and more foes enter the field, with everything from automatic weapons to flame throwers. There are even exploding enemies who must always be thrown far away when killed to avoid dying in their explosion.
The bigger changes come in the form of the levels themselves. Each represents an ape imprisoned by a different captor in a different facility.
You begin in a testing facility, where your primary elemental concerns come from elevators delivering new groups of baddies. Fleeing a rich collector in a skyscraper exposes you to elite troops ziplining in, or sniping you through the big windows.
The jungle dictator has heavily armed troops and leads to a desperate escape through missiles dropped by the ruler's enemies.
Finally, the ape who makes its play for freedom from storage on a ship gets to run roughshod while playing hide-and-seek in the ship's many shipping containers.
Each album's unique elements make the play through a more charming experience, and keep you on your toes throughout the game.
Time Flies, For Better and Worse
One of the game's strengths may also be one of its biggest weaknesses. Between the relatively short levels and the upbeat tempo of the music keeping you pressing forward, the pace of Ape Out is outstanding. There's no time to get bored as there's always another enemy waiting around the corner, and every death just means a quick respawn to the start of the level. While a game which makes you want to keep playing is great, it does highlight a drawback in the form of the game's short playtime.
With only four base levels, each of which can be completed in under a half hour if you're on your game, you can find yourself at the end credits before you know it.
There are, however, worse things to say about a game than acknowledging you got to the end and didn't want to put it down.
Arcade and Break-In Add Life
It's clear that Ape Out's team knew players would be wanting more when their ape made a final successful escape from the freighter, and that's where Arcade mode and Break-In come into play.
Arcade is a simple mode which turns your progression through the game into a scored endeavor. You earn points the more kills you make and faster you progress, all while avoiding a run-ending death at the wrong end of a bullet. With local and global leaderboards, you can challenge friends or the world as you try for the best score.
Break-In doesn't offer just more trips down familiar territory, however. Instead, it turns the game on its head. Your ape is not trying to get out, it's trying to get in to rescue its child. That means that first, you have to beat a path through a new facility styled after the opening stage, but also that once you get there, you have to turn around and make it back out with your offspring on your back.
Although it is just one new level, the large size, difficult enemies, and need to double back makes it a challenging one which can provide a great deal of additional play.
- Engrossing gameplay despite minimal controls
- Easy to start but with growing challenges
- Fantastic soundtrack drives you on
- Short play time for the campaign
- The random generation of enemies occasionally leads to runs, which seem unfair
There's a lot to love about Ape Out and not many glaring flaws to point to. It's important to come into the game understanding what you're getting. If the idea of a game which occupies your time for just a few gaming sessions before you move on doesn't appeal to you, this likely is not the title for you.
If you're seeking something fun and fresh to give you a new challenge, however, then Ape Out is an excellent option.
It may be a simple game with basic controls, but that doesn't mean it doesn't still provide a challenge which rewards sound, strategic play. There's depth to be found in learning enemies' habits and plotting routes through each level.
Ape Out is not a game which is likely to still be on the top of your playlist several months down the line, but for an inexpensive short-term romp, it delivers.
[Note: A review copy of Ape Out was provided by Devolver Digital for this review.]