When a crowd gathers at a convention, you go. It’s kind of just human instinct. As long as there aren’t shirts flying through the air or people yelling at other people on a stage, you can’t go wrong with a crowd’s interest in a particular gaming spectacle. In the case of SXSW 2017, tucked away in the back corner of the Gaming Expo where faceless curtains hide concrete walls and endless cables, I found a crowd.
What was this crowd looking at? Ape Out, a highly stylish action game from indie developer Gabe Cuzzillo. The premise is equal parts simple and absurd: you are a gorilla trying to escape its human captors and their labyrinthine facilities. Your weapons are your hands, utilizing your immense primate strength to grab bad guys and throw them around like featherweight ragdolls.
It’s ridiculous how well it plays. You try to get from one starting position to a massive, unwieldy door at some other position with a bunch of procedurally generated hallways in between. If you see a room full of guys with guns, you’ll want to figure out who to pick up first to absorb the initial volley of bullets. If you see a guy with dynamite on his back, you’ll want to find a killing path that leaves him vulnerable and the room open enough to throw him and escape the blast.
You feel like you move slow yet the action is quick and deliberate. You snap people up at a pleasing distance and throw them even farther. And the moment-to-moment interactions between enemy types and room layouts (busting through glass to punch a guy in the back never gets old) engenders the best parts of games like Hotline Miami‘s puzzle combat design.
The real emphasis, however, is the style. Presented top-down and in strident swatches of solid color, it looks like a propaganda poster in motion. Walls and pillars seem to extend off into infinity as if they are beaming blocks of lights moving past the camera. And then there’s the jazzy, Whiplash-esque soundtrack of pounding, unrelenting drums punctuated by haphazard cymbal crashes accompanying each kill.
Even just walking by the booth, it wasn’t hard to see why there was a crowd. And sitting down to play it, it’s easy to see why the stuck around. It’s expected to release this summer for PC, but you can play the trailer right now. Yes, I said what you think I said. Go play the trailer and get a taste for yourself.