Ape Out review: Hotline Cincinnati

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There’s a meme that goes around every so often, something to the effect of “gorillas don’t know modern bodybuilding technique, so we’ve never seen one at full potential”. While Ape Out doesn’t feature gorillas hitting the gym, it does allow players to finally put their sadistic minds into the giant hulked out body of a gorilla and go around ripping off limbs. Unfortunately, Ape Out itself never reaches its own full potential.

Let’s rewind things back to March of 2017 when the world became aware of Ape Out in a rather clever way. Instead of just releasing a video teaser, the games trio of developers and publisher Devolver Digital instead made a playable trailer.

What this meant is that anyone could download a tiny demo of the game and play almost exactly what was shown in the trailer, which was an orange gorilla escaping confinement.

Aside from a unique take on marketing, the gameplay and presentation here was immediately striking. Your top down view of an orange gorilla gave you two ways of interacting with the world and slaughtering your way to freedom: throw enemies into walls at fatal speeds, or grab them human shield style to use their weapons… before throwing them into walls at fatal speeds.

This simple system was assisted greatly by the beautiful minimal art style and jazzy music, the latter of which reacted to your actions.

Fast forward to the full version of the game released in February 2019, and not much has changed from then. Watch any trailer on this page or catch on a stream on Twitch and you will immediately get the idea Ape Out is putting out there.

Lots of comparisons are made to another Devolver Digital title in Hotline Miami, which only help its familiarity once you sit down to try it.

It cannot be understated how much fun it is to play this game. Killing enemies by shunting them into walls is a mechanic that will never get tiring. While your options may seem limited, the game keeps it fresh by steadily introducing different kinds of enemies which open up new ways to play.

This is complimented by the great visual design of the enemies which convey what they do at a glance, which you may not have expected from the minimal art style here.

What may not be immediately clear from that is the procedural generation here. Both the environments and the music are different for every life, with one of them working almost perfectly, and the other being a nuisance.

Let’s start with the music, which is the one of the pair that works wonders. We’ve been told that the music here relies on momentum, and we believe it as you pick up speed going through a level, killing enemies and clearing hazards, the music gets more intense and inspiring, building up this nice feedback loop where you want to keep pushing forward and the music eggs you on.

If you wimp out and hide behind a wall, things come crashing down and the music slows and quiets down. It’s actually a bit of a bummer when you need to beat a hasty retreat, and the tunes simmering down feels like its own punishment.

Unfortunately this does not at all gel well with the environments, which are also procedurally generated. Ape Out is a game that wants to be played in a very specific way, with the music designed to compliment this: fast and ever forward. In this way it reminds us a lot of Doom 2016.

Unfortunately, the environment gets in the way of this to a large degree. Because your character in Ape Out charges forward with each movement and turning around is a chore, you can die very easily to enemies flanking you.

You know what facilitates enemies flanking you? Not knowing where you’re going because the level has been changed around.

These two systems feel at odds with each other and we wished that each level could have been set in stone, and have been made longer with branching paths to facilitate the music.

And length may be a problem for some people here. It is possible, if you’re preternaturally skilled and patient, to finish Ape Out in a single sitting. While a score attack arcade mode, hard mode, and some bonus stuff we won’t mention does stretch it out, this isn’t a game you’ll be returning to time and time again.

While we did mention new enemies keeping that feeling of freshness, we do wish our ape was able to do more during the playthrough. At about the midway point were were begging for more to do or a few different options to dispatch our foes.

This is granted in part by, for example, being able to throw enemies out of the side of a building, but functionally it’s no different by death by wall once again.

The other sore spot here is story. Some may squint really hard and come up with something based on tiny clues, but there doesn’t seem to be much here aside from: some shady business or government is using a gorilla for something devious, which escapes and kills everyone.

With so much weighing Ape Out down – the procedural levels being a bad fit, a short length, lack of variety and a missed opportunity for a story – it’s amazing how much the core mechanics, the music and the art can shine through and still make this a solid recommendation… it just feels like the developers were a few decisions (or some DLC, wink wink) away from making this game an instant classic.

One final point to mention is that we played Ape Out on Nintendo Switch (it’s also available on PC through Steam, GOG and Humble Bundle). The experience was just about flawless and, unless we missed something, we saw a single framerate drop in all the time we played. If you want to Ape Out on the go, the Switch version is fantastic.

Clinton Matos

Clinton Matos

Clinton has been a programmer, engineering student, project manager, asset controller and even a farrier. Now he handles the maker side of htxt.africa.