Did you, by any chance, while playing Hotline Miami, ever stop and think, “this game would be so much better if I was a gorilla”?
You probably didn’t. But after playing Ape Out, a highly stylised frenetic action game from Gabe Cuzzillo and Devolver Digital, you’ll likely wish you did. Ape Out is just that: it’s Hotline Miami, except you’re a gorilla. And honestly, it’s all the better for it.
In Hotline Miami, sometimes you have a moment or two to survey your scene. A wider field of view gives you a decent idea of what you’re up against, allowing you to (at least attempt) to plan out a route. Not so in Ape Out. The premise is the same; run from A to B, avoiding getting killed in the meantime. But here, there’s no time to stop and think; no way to check what lies ahead. You just have to keep moving, keeping your wits about you. Where Hotline Miami arms you with a gun, allowing you to take out enemies from a distance, that’s not the case with Ape Out. Did I mention you’re a gorilla? Gorillas don’t have guns. But they do have brute force, which happens to be your only defence.
Ape Out eases you in gently, starting off with smaller levels with fewer enemies to allow you to get to grips with the controls. Your field of view is narrow, with only ever a small amount of floor space visible at one time. Walls and doors block your path, and with no minimap to call upon it’s up to you to navigate your way to safety. That means always moving to the right, but should you come across a wall or a dead end, you’ll have no other option but to find another route.
Enemies come in different shapes and sizes in Ape Out, but they all have guns. Early levels start with simple rifles. One bullet won’t hurt you, and should you see someone aiming their sights at you, you generally have time to get out of the way – or knock them to a bloody end before they can sink a bullet in you. But before long you’ll come up against shotgun-wielding enemies, and enemies carrying explosives. One bullet might not kill you, but getting caught in the middle of a grenade going off certainly will.
The game’s levels are separated into four “albums”, each with a side A and a side B. That’s eight blocks of levels, all getting harder as you progress – and by side B of the first album, you’ll already be turning the air blue. It’s a challenging game, but one so captivating that you won’t think twice about constantly pushing that ‘retry’ button.
Ape Out continually ups the ante as you progress, throwing more enemies at you, making levels longer, putting new obstacles in your way. From doors that require brute strength to get through to levels soaked in darkness, where all you can see is a beam of light from your enemy’s sights, Ape Out constantly surprises and challenges. It’s a game that never lets you get comfortable; it will keep you on the edge of your seat, heart pounding, hands sweating.
More than anything, it’s Ape Out‘s hypnotic visuals and sound design that set it apart from the crowd. It’s superbly simplistic in terms of art style; usually only a few blocks of colours are on screen at any one time. There’s no heads-up display; your gorilla’s health is denoted only by how much blood is trailing after him on the floor. It’s a style that may seem jarring at first, but somehow, it really works. Seeing blocky rooms of green and blue, surrounded in a shadowy void of black, splattered with vivid red blood is quite the spectacle.
While visuals may be low key, however, Ape Out‘s audio isn’t. By far, its rhythmic, booming jazz-inspired soundtrack is the star of the show. The audio is apparently randomly-generated, too, with beats and rhythms being based on your movements in-game. It’s very well implemented, so that everything feels intended and purposeful. Booming drums give way to clashing cymbals, with a beat that never gives up, spurring you on every step of the way.
Like its music, Ape Out‘s levels are also procedurally-generated. It’s a term that usually turns me away from games; too many titles rely on AI to generate poorly thought-out levels that severely impede their enjoyment. That’s not the case in Ape Out. Changes between retries are subtle; rooms might move around, and doors and walls won’t be in the same place as they were before. But each level still feels like it has been meaningfully put together. The random generation never feels sloppy or haphazard. It simply means that you can never rely on muscle memory for completing a level. Each retry is essentially a new challenge, keeping you on your toes.
Ape Out isn’t for the faint-hearted, but if you enjoy Hotline Miami-style gameplay, I urge you to give it a go. Be prepared to die and die some more, but this is a game that’ll get into your psyche, and beg you to carry on. As you progress, your heart will likely be beating as fast as the music, but the adrenaline pumping around your system will only spur you on further. Each death is a tragedy, but each one only makes that eventual success ultimately more rewarding.