Channel your inner gorilla and go apeshit crazy on some human enemies. While this game offers a very stylish jazzy rampage, it is also a masterclass in how to annoy the fuck out of me.
I picked Ape Out up because it is from Devolver Digital. That is usually reason enough to give a game a shot. I also have a soft spot for games that were mainly developed by one person, in this case by Gabe Cuzzillo.
The game doesn’t bother with a story. In Ape Out you are a gorilla trying to escape through randomized levels in a top-down perspective. That is all there is to know.
On your way out you can either kill the human enemies or try to run past them. But the humans carry guns and shoot at you, so running away will not work most of the time. Instead of escaping peacefully, you may push your enemies against each other or against the wall which will end with their bodies splattered on the screen.
What makes Ape Out so special is the style. Visually you get bold colors, nice color schemes, and some kinetic typography. As you move through the first levels you can take in all the little visual ideas. Some reviews compared the design to the works of Saul Bass which is quite fitting. Musically the whole game is drenched in jazz tunes, keyed to your actions. This part is really well done.
Because the music is so important the levels are organized in albums. After four levels the game informs you that you have completed side A. That’s also a nice little touch. All in all, you get four albums (worlds) with seven to eight levels each.
Along the way, levels change a little bit. You have to escape through skyscrapers, factories, war zones, ships. New enemies now carry machine guns or fire throwers. Instead of just pushing enemies you may also grab them so you can make them shoot other enemies.
The first few levels are easy enough. You can boldly waltz through the area, throw a few guards against the walls. The most annoying enemy is one with explosives. Splash him against the wall and the resulting blast may take you out as well if you stand too close. This results in a few random deaths, but you can still progress rather fast.
Things change somewhere in the middle of the third album. By this time you have already seen most of what the game has to offer. Levels are essentially the same, the little changes don’t feel like something new. So Ape Out does what other games might do in a situation like this: Put in more of the same enemies. Put them into groups. That’s when I started screaming at the screen.
The first few levels let you blast through the areas. Yes, you may die occasionally. But you can run around and react to the enemies you encounter. This will not work in later levels unless you get really lucky. There are just too many enemies. As soon as they see you they will try to kill you. Some (triggered) enemies can shoot you even if they are more that one screen away from you. In other instances you may run into a group of five enemies, manage to deal with four of them, only to have the last one kill you.
And this is the point where the game breaks. Instead of rampaging through the levels you have to switch your approach to hide and seek. Move only a few meters, check for enemies, then move on or retreat. That’s neither fun nor very ape-like. Why should gorilla-mayhem play like a stealth game?
On a sidenote: I am not a fan of games without stories. Sure, the gorilla is trying to escape. Is there anywhere he wants to escape to? At least the levels should allow for some storytelling. But you start every album in a new cage. Were you captured in the meantime? Are these different gorillas?
Well, fine, no story. Just rampaging then.
The worst (gaming experience in the last few months)
As I made it to the fourth album my attitude had changed a lot. Instead of new ideas you get: longer level, more enemies, more annoying enemies. Anything to make the game harder. Harder, but not better. In fact, it was quite a drag. I have absolutely no interest in playing a level again and again because some random bullshit killed me.
And boy, did I get killed a lot. Level 4.5 »Abandon Ship« takes the cake. This is the worst level design I encountered in a long time. A difficult level just for the sake of being difficult. While some enemies only wound you when they hit you the first time, a new enemy with a rocket launcher kills you with the very first hit. Yeah, great, thanks.
At this point I had already lost my motivation. Getting killed again and again because of some random bullshit wasn’t helping at all. Of course, trying to beat that level with no motivation wasn’t helping either. I just wandered around waiting to get killed off. I nearly stopped playing the game completely.
Why use the first levels to establish Ape Out as a game all about visual style and music, and as soon as you run out of major ideas just increase the difficulty? Why the fuck should anybody walk through most of the game and then hit a brick wall at the end? It is just bad game design.
An hour later, after dozens of attempts, I finally beat that level. But beating the level doesn’t even give you much satisfaction. It is not like beating a strong boss in Dead Souls or Cuphead. It is just too random.
Howlongtobeat.com puts a playthrough at around 2,5 hours. Really? That will only happen if you are really good or really lucky. I am usually a slower player, it took me around 5,5 hours (and a lot of yelling) to finish the game.
But I should point out: I prefer platformers, puzzle games or card games. I don’t like games where I just walk around killing everything in sight. If you like this kind of games, or if you are a younger (and react faster), you probably won’t have as many problems as I had.
Also Ape Out takes quite some time to load (on a PC) and I had the game crash on me a few times (between levels). I don’t see why this was the case. I have bigger games running without any problems.
As I said in the beginning, I have a soft spot for games by a single developer. It takes a lot of time and effort to finish such a game. And this game is bigger than some of the other indie games I like.
Ape Out got some reviews which praised the art and the music. And these parts are pretty great. But they are worn out after two or maybe three albums. They are just not worth getting harassed by the shitty gameplay in the second half of the game.
Verdict: Graphics top. Music top. Gameplay meh. Wait for a sale or play the first two albums elsewhere.