Ape Out Review: the Planet of the Apes according to Devolver Digital

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Our prison guard looks bored at a scientist at the work table, turning away from the cage in which he hopes to have locked up Mother Nature forever. No one seems to know what is going to happen, except us.
Observing the scene from the windows of our prison, in the very brief as intense initial impasse, we perceive all the impotence of the gorilla protagonist of the adventure, but only for a moment: when we unleash our anger, there will be nothing left to stop us .
From that moment, a bestial rhythm and an animal power will accompany us in numerous escapes and clashes between our monkey avatar and various forms of human captivity, which we can overcome only with the perfect combination of strategy and tactics, timing and reactivity.
Thanks to the new, yet new intuition of Devolver Digital, which has been able to capture the creative potential of Gabe Cazzillo's work, arrives in digital stores Ape Out, a "soft miamilike" that combines style, action and playful quality in an exciting, tribal and environmental mix .

A brutal style

As said at the beginning, Ape Out does not tell a single story, but many small episodes of liberation and rebellion of nature, incarnated in the various gorillas that we will meet in the game, against the specia of man's slavery. In an extraordinary parallel between musical work and videogame, the experience is divided into four music albums, each consisting of two "sides" as for the vinyls, and each containing about four tracks, also recalling in this the particular format of musical support.

Each album describes, both stylistically and playfully, a type of imprisonment and use of animals by man: from hunters' boats to scientific laboratories, we will help Mother Nature to escape from the most disparate situations, and this will have a decidedly significant impact on the economy of experience even on the merely playful level. Indeed, it will be the level design, from a point of view both artistic and thematic, to represent the element on which are built varieties and quality of the challenge throughout the experience.
The game offers in fact less mechanical than those generally proposed by a miamilike, given that, by choice of the author, we will not have available white or firearms with which to fight and there are no dodges or parades of any kind. Paradoxically, it is precisely to these choices that we owe the evocative power and the immersive effect of the game: the possibility to interact in a few ways, but all deeply meaningful and with a playful impact, makes every single moment of the experience relevant and concrete .

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In addition to moving freely in the scenarios, our avatar can only push an enemy away or use as shields the various guards that will happen between their paws, trying to exploit their fear to hit the other soldiers with their own weapons. These simple mechanics, however, are translated differently depending on the level in which we are interacting: for example, throwing an enemy against a wall with all our animal strength, most likely will make it explode in a riot of blood and death, as well as stun impact the guards close to him.

We can also take some of the shreds of the body of the enemies and use them as brutal bullets, which in some situations creates unpredictable and decidedly complex situations to manage : who knows what happens if an enemy catches up with bazooka the bust of his old patrol friend, that we have just launched against …
Here, then, that according to the theme of the level and its level design, even these very simple mechanics become tribal instruments of death and violence. Among bombs falling from the sky, containers to be used as cover and explosive barrels, the speed and intelligence with which we will translate the level will be the only tools that will guarantee us to save Mother Nature, or to make her succumb to the clutches of technology and science

Modular death

Although the game is described as procedurally constructed, both in the levels and in the accompaniment of sound, it would perhaps be more correct to speak of modularity. In fact, each of the levels present (both in normal and in the hard mode) is based on specific themes, and is divided into zones that will repeat each attempt regardless of how many tests we will do.

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If a level provides for an escape from a laboratory, for example, the session in which the enemies assail us after reaching us through the lifts will always be present, and at most to change will be the architecture and design of the room, or the number and type of enemies. All this can easily be seen from the screen that appears when we fail, which will show us exactly where we were on the path, through levels that change at the microscopic level but never in the basic structure . This is perhaps the element that in some cases makes the balance slightly lacking: the randomness of modularity could in fact lead us to face a guard with the flamethrower in a corridor, causing us a substantially unavoidable damage or put us in front a soldier with a shotgun (which has an immense range of action) in a very small room with no covers. Probably, it is to overcome this problem that Cazzillo has given the opportunity to the player to be hit at least twice before receiving the coup de grace: unlike the more traditional miamilike, Ape Out therefore offers a challenge less focused on " try and repeat "and more linked to having to learn to perfection the rhythms of attack and movements of the enemy. Despite this element of randomness, and a small "trial and error" component linked to the discovery of the effects of certain enemy weapons and the resistance of the guards, the game is substantially balanced and never excessively frustrating throughout its duration, especially in " normal "of the plot. After completing each album, in fact, you will unlock both the "difficult" version and the "arcade" mode, in which a timer and a scoring system will evaluate our performance, according to the most coriacea tradition of the genre

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Jazz tribale

While the soundtrack is inspired by jazz sounds for the menus and final credits, the whole experience is accompanied by a tribal and modular rhythm which reacts to the player's actions building sounds based on what happens on the screen. Every impact of the enemy against the wall represents a specific sound, every felling a drum, every crash a dish, every enemy a chilling scream.

All these sounds come together in a casual but nevertheless programmed way, in this very particular and distorted form of jam session that will see us participating as brutal and bestial conductors of orchestra . Even the choice of visual and graphic style, easily dereceable for a distracted look as poor for budget issues, turns out to be an absolutely fundamental element of the work, also and above all from a playful point of view: the design of the enemies, of the places and the spaces are perfect, and it is absurd how in a game with a color palette so marked it is impossible to get confused in interactions.

Moreover, the excellent use of lights, shadows and changing colors depending on the physical state of the gorilla adds an unthinkable variety to the experience, which with simple chromatic choices can even insert hints of stealth and dramatically enhance the value of the level design .