Good Game Design – APE OUT: Style Through Chaos

Good Game Design – APE OUT: Style Through Chaos


APE OUT is the latest action game published
by Devolver Digital, and on the surface it looks pretty simplistic. Donning a minimalist art style, the only goal
is to break out of captivity by any means necessary, which usually means plastering
your opposition into walls or each other to reach the exits. But as you continue on, you quickly realize
that it takes this concept into pretty deep waters by adding in new elements constantly,
such as repelling armored guards crashing through the windows, bombs with a short fuse
landing all around you, or the lights going out to test your stealth abilities. The result is something phenomenal – not only
does it feel satisfying to string together combos of destroying the threats in your way,
but also addictingly stressful as you feel your heart pounding out of your chest when
you succeed. It’s a must-play, there isn’t much else
out there like it, but what struck me most upon its completion was how it tied everything
together through its abundance of style. I’m Snoman, welcome to Good Game Design,
let’s talk about it. If I had to describe APE OUT in one word it
would be “chaos”, and it somehow exemplifies this theming in its visuals, gameplay and
music all at the same time. Let’s break that down a little bit. Right from the first loading screen you can
tell this game is unpredictable. Stopmotion paper-mache esque backgrounds represent
the patchwork nature of the levels you have to escape from. You see, each stage in APE OUT seems to have
its own basic layout that the game allows you to see every time you die, which generally
involves moving to the right, but each individual room and placement of objects within seem
to be procedurally generated, at least to a small degree. So while you can work toward the general direction
of the finish line, you’re still going to be guessing and thinking on your feet on a
micro-level. On top of this, the title cards for each area
seem to pop in and out at random with equally irregular sound effects, reinforcing the pandemonium
to come in a creative way. But that’s really just the beginning – how
you interact with the baddies trying to take you down enhances this feeling of intensity
and quick thinking. You learn very early on that you can grab
people and hold them hostage which creates a protective barrier from the front until
they are shot and killed. You can throw them into another enemy to get
rid of both at once, or even let the body shield use their last remaining bullet to
shoot them down as well. You move slowly when you’re holding someone
though, so generally speaking it’s best to use them in a pinch and keep moving. It teaches you in this narrow hallway that
shields can be extremely helpful when there’s a plethora of guys shooting at once, I just
kept grabbing the next victim and waiting until I had a chance to move forward. But in the next area you realize this strategy
doesn’t work when you’re surrounded from many sides. So even if you learn how each foe operates,
you still have to constantly improvise when it comes to how they’ll interact with each
other. Like how a bomb expert will explode if they’re
shot, so you don’t want to hold them for long, or machine gun baddies don’t let up
after 1 bullet, so using a shield against them isn’t very effective, though they are
great to turn against others. Most of my time playing APE OUT was spent
yelling at the screen as I had to swiftly think about the best course of action and
either escape the dangerous situation, or look for better positioning to have an advantage. What I found really helpful is that even though
the main gameplay loop is extremely hectic, it’s very clear with the information it
gives you at any given moment. For example, it shows how much damage you’ve
taken by the amount of blood underneath you – a few drops is 1 hit, a lot of blood is
2, and 3 is, well, death. So this helps you decide if you need to play
extra cautious, or can try something a bit more reckless. Also, each enemy type has their own unique
movement and attack patterns, but they’re easily identifiable by their size or what
hat their wearing. You quickly learn the benefits and downsides
of facing each one, and can use that knowledge almost immediately when they show up again
– it becomes a gut reaction over time. It even shows you the controls on the ground
but it doesn’t tell you what they do – this game wants you to try out your abilities in
action and experiment amidst the chaos. It’s insanely challenging, but it still
makes you feel like you have a chance because you’re given all the information needed
to succeed. Finally, the music is probably the coolest
part of APE OUT’s style. It actually plays a big role in the visuals
as well – each level you play is part of a 4-track side of a record that flips and plays
side B at the midway point. This is a unique way to give the player a
short break to catch their breath that’s more than just a simple loading screen. I also like that each record tells a different
story, you’ll go from running down 30 floors of a skyscraper, to the jungles of a warzone,
to the various rooms and compartments of a cargo ship. But the sound design itself is extremely important
to how APE OUT feels, which is odd because there’s isn’t really a traditional “soundtrack”
at all. Instead, it employs a series of drum loops
and pre-recorded tracks that play at different times depending on what’s happening on screen. If the action is ramping up, the drums get
louder and more frantic, but if you’re in a section without any bad guys, it’s slower
and subdued. Seriously, there’s thousands of samples
it chooses from to play in any given situation. I loved this part – when you hide out in the
storage crates, it plays a light beat on the cymbals until you sneak attack an unsuspecting
guard, it really feels like you’re watching a movie unfold because the music is reactive
instead of a stationary track. In essence, you get to create the records
of music that you’re playing which not only seems like it took a lot of work to get right,
but also gives a cohesive style to the whole affair. It feels like the developers really went above
and beyond to make sure the basic goal of APE OUT was done in as compelling of a way
as possible – it’s so much more than just running around and throwing people to some
jazz infused drum beats. It’s visually stunning, predictably unpredictable
in its gameplay, and somehow catchy with its music even though its improvised on the spot. It all comes together to spell out CHAOS in
big bloody capital letters, and ties everything back to that theming with a giant memorable
bow. From little touches like your score showing
up in the blood of your victims to constantly throwing dicey curve balls at you, APE OUT
never feels old and has a style uniquely all its own. Thanks for watching another episode of Good
Game Design, I’ll see you guys next time. Stay frosty my friends. Did you know you can gain access to all kinds
of frosty rewards on the Snoman Gaming Patreon? You’ll get monthly updates on current projects,
newsletters of underappreciated games I recommend, and even the ability to vote on future video
topics! You can join this list of beautiful people
by helping support the channel over at patreon.com/snomangaming. Buh-bye!

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