Building worlds and delivering emotional hooks is hard. It is often fascinating, how indie studios manage that against the backdrop of scarce resources and existential dependencies. Many gems don’t cross the threshold of high polished demos. Well meant, nicely done but one does not lose ones heart (or much time) to them. A feeling like going to be bed without dessert.
My peers, a mixed bunch of gamers and non-gamers, talk, if even, rather about expensive IPs like Assasin’s Creed, GTA and Uncharted. When playing together, they only react with a respectful nod towards party-slash-multiplayer-concepts like What the Golf, Monaco or Castle Crashers; but the couch-coop-party ends with Mario Kart, maybe a retro-driven platformer or, well, FIFA.
Ape Out by Devolver Digital however takes a special place in this circus of categories. It figuratively explodes from the medium and digs deep into the limbic system so that you have to ask how and with what sorcery this game manages to do that.
Because even and in particular those people without extensive history in video gaming find access to the game in shockingly short time. That is arguably a provable fact. Recently, when I passed the controller to my girlfriend in order for her to play the game, every minute I could secure evidence to support that thesis. Here are some of these exhibits.
Exhibit M-1: Movements
Ape Out is happening in two dimensions. The third dimension is present, in form of an overdrawn vanashing-point perspective from above (see exhibit DMA-97 GTA), but it is not merely decoration. These buildings are made of walls, gutters, glass and they are going to get blown apart. That is clear for every gamer from the very first hit of a button. While it does not alter the action on the screen to move ones head, to shake, swing and throw the controller, it does alter the gaming experience. My girlfriend could not let go of these reflexes till the end. And she did so with blatant satisfaction.
Exhibit 24: Onomatopoeia
They say that in real immersion you lose track of space and time. When the woman on the controller, crushing NPCs, began to express herself with increasingly deeper and louder noises (they were not words in the literal sense) I never was more convinced of that phenomenon. I deliberately asked myself if I got gaming totally wrong all these years because I didn’t know these sounds from me playing. Or did I just not listen to myself?
Exhibit B: All That Jazz
Oh my god, these beats. The sound of Ape Out is no simple Dynamic Music System anymore, it is a drum-solo that became a game – but it is no finished piece of art that you just can witness. This jungle of rimshots, crashes and licks, that rhythm was the one of my playing girlfriend. A congenial jam session, a spontaneous melody built from atonal accents. Growing into an ecstatic spiral, this performance was the pace-giving, literal “That” in “All That Jazz”.
Exhibit <3: Narrative
To put it simple, Ape Out follows at least three central motifs. First: Getting out. Second: Everybody getting out. Third: Getting back in to get those out who we needed to leave behind. No price too high for that. An arc of drama that begins with a big I, followed by a WE, ending with an act of love. It might not be appropriate to call that romantic but we couldn’t help crying a tear or two when the little Ape jumped on the back of the big Ape and both followed a trail of formerly shed blood towards freedom. Morbid, maybe, but fuck this shit, we’re out of here!
One thing left to mention is that despite defeats and numerous resets the heart rate felt just like the never resting textures of that game look. Ape Out can be a single player experience too, of course. A visit to the club can be a single person adventure. But to never try it with company would be rather apish.
This post is also available in: German