Every Friday, several A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
Last week, I had very few thoughts on the topic of proper ape containment. Today, thanks to several hours spent with Devolver Digital’s infectiously joyful new gorilla-murder simulator, Ape Out, I do. Who says video games can’t be educational?
For instance, I never knew that big, open lobbies and atria aren’t just great for creating public spaces that help us deal with the pressures of modern life; they’re also the best ways to stop a rampaging ape from going ham on you and your faceless buddies. Playing Ape Out, from designer Gabe Cuzzillo, you quickly learn that while an ape hates cages, it absolutely loves walls, which provide both cover from incoming gunfire, and a convenient surface with which to pummel its former captors into an assembled heap of red and bloody parts. Despite your primate avatar’s yearning for freedom, the game’s hardest moments come when they’re forced into the open air, depriving them of their best guard-murdering tools.
That’s another thing I’ve learned about trying to get between the ape and what the ape wants: You probably want a good life insurance policy, one that covers “a gorilla grabbed my buddy Carl and then he fired his shotgun straight into my face.” (Or, as it’s known in actuarial terms, “natural causes, if you have decided to get in the way of an extremely angry ape.”) Although stealth is sometimes possible (and even preferred), Ape Out is a righteously violent game; there’s nothing quite like watching a gun-toting goon careen across the screen from a well-timed shove, slamming into a wall with a drumbeat crunch that melds seamlessly with the game’s cheerful jazz soundtrack. It’s some of the best sound design in recent memory; at times, it feels like you’re playing an electronic drum set made of the ridiculously rag-dolling corpses of your hapless foes. (Feel free to use that as a pull quote, Devolver.)
At its best, Ape Out makes an argument about the way aesthetics can elevate a very simple game into something that looks, and feels, exquisite. Boiled down to its basics, Cuzzillo’s game is little more than a procedurally generated Hotline Miami clone with slightly less satisfying controls, and a more forgiving stance on death. (All apes can take exactly three bullets, or one explosion, before going down. Science has proven this.) The game’s genius is apparent in the scratchy texture of the backgrounds, or the ways walls bend the ape’s field of vision. It’s in the satisfying beat of their feet on a hard metal floor, or the satisfying beat of a shotgun guy’s torso exploding into one of his idiot buddies. Or even in the squiggly line you see every time you die, tracing your ape’s progress through a level, and teasing you with how close you got to making it out. Ape Out doesn’t always play great—some of its later levels can reach hair-pulling levels of randomly generated unfairness. But it always feels great, and that matters, especially when you’re playing something this breezy and quick.
It’s enough to make you ponder: Are we the real caged apes, trapped in the flimsy bars of glossy, big-budget development, massive studios, and crunch? In a way, aren’t we all compli—Oh shit, the ape is free! Oh GOD NO. OH GOD, IT’S KILLING US. WHY DID WE EVER HOPE TO CONTAIN THIS LARGE, BEAUTIFUL BEAST?!