Winner of the Independent Games Festival of 2010, Monaco is a title that’s approximately three years in the making. One that I was completely oblivious to for reasons unknown to me. After hours of successful heists and magnificent blunders alike, the worst crime I could’ve committed is to have let this gem slip by unnoticed.
The story of Monaco begins as a group of thieves escape from prison. They look for a path to freedom, all while riches constantly tantalize the dastardly heroes into committing one dangerous crime after another. It’s a seemingly simple story that plays out through the perspective of the locksmith, but as the pickpocket begins to spin his own tale, it becomes apparent that all is not what it seems. What transpires is a narrative similar to the one from the classic, “The Usual Suspects.” While it doesn’t quite hit the high marks of the movie it draws inspiration from, it’s more than what I expected. Full of little details I only noticed on a second play through after learning all the facts, it does an excellent job of setting the stage.
It’s not unreasonable to think that Monaco is not a very good looking game upon loading into the first stage. It’s top-down and most of what one can see is blocked off by a fog of war with all character models blocky, as though they were 3D renderings of 8-bit sprites. However, the reason for the art design became apparent once I started playing it. The simplistic nature of the graphics allows for little miscommunication between the game and the player on exactly what’s going on and what needs to be done to meet the objective. The sharp corners of the level helped show the exact line of sight I had and whether or not the AI could spot me.
The blocky character models showed the precise orientation that I was facing at all times, while also giving clear indications to which enemies were threats and which were simple civilians. From the wide top-down view, it was easy for me ascertain the task before me and begin formulating a path through the various traps and hostile enemies in my way. It’s not going to win any awards for its visual fidelity but what’s present here serves the game and its various core mechanics well.
The core game play of Monaco revolves around various classes and the use of their unique skills. Classes like the Locksmith, Redhead, Cleaner, Pickpocket and more each have their own specific gimmick that can be utilized to tackle the level in very different ways. For example, the Cleaner is able to quietly put enemies out of commission temporarily, given he is able to sneak up on them. With this skill, one would be inclined to wait in the shadows and start taking people out from behind one at a time with great patience. The Pickpocket has a helper monkey that goes around his proximity automatically looting coins off the ground and unsuspecting pockets alike. The helper monkey not only makes a great companion (because who doesn’t want a monkey) but will allow the Pickpocket to fatten his own wallets without putting himself at risk.
When one dies in the single player campaign, there’s an option to resume from the last entrance, but only by using a different class. This forces the player to be extremely careful when playing as their favorite class, while also forcing them to change up their strategy when they die and respawn as a different character until their lives run out. With a total of eight different playable classes, it’s worthwhile to test them all to see what they are capable of. On top of that, there are various tools that can be picked up and used that add another layer of strategy. Some are simple like the shotgun (point the end that goes boom at the thing you want dead) and others more complex like the smoke bomb, which can be used in a variety of ways, from helping the player get out of a sticky situation or even as cover when that pesky safe is taking too long to open.
I am generally not someone who cares very much about getting the best times or the highest score, but for some reason I found myself deeply involved in the leader boards of Monaco. The score that gets recorded is the time it takes to finish the mission and for each coin missed, time is added which makes the score worse. Given the fact that to unlock the harder difficulty missions one must “clear” the level by getting all the coins, it behooves the player to get all the loot and leave swiftly. A suitable objective for a game about thieves, I would say.
There is a daily and all-time leader board section, which makes it possible for just about anyone to rank, giving a sense of accomplishment while showing what they could shoot for. It’s an elegant solution to the idea of leader boards only belonging to the hardcore. I think I’ll enjoy my position at the top until the release date, when I’m sure I’ll get knocked down into oblivion. Still, while the game is completely playable from beginning to end as a single player game, it doesn’t reach its true potential until it’s played with others in the co-op campaign.
Even as the missions remain the same, everyone chooses their class at the start and must stick with it to the end of the mission. If one player dies, the others cannot proceed until he/she is revived and if all the players are dead at the same time, it’s game over. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of having an almost perfect run and losing it all when one player dies in a bad spot. However, it’s equal parts satisfying when the players come together using their skills to complement one another to pull off a heist that would make the cast of Ocean’s Eleven shy away in envy.
I think it’s safe to say everyone at one point has fantasized about robbing a bank while getting away scot-free, and this is the closest I’ve felt to realizing that dream. If you disagree, pretend I didn’t make the previous statement and don’t contact the FBI. My impending arrest notwithstanding, it’s also worth noting that the Grammy nominated Austin Wintory of “Journey” fame composed the music for Monaco. It’s equal parts catchy and charming as the piano tracks seemed out of place at first, but later felt inseparable to the game’s very core the more I played.
Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine is truly an outstanding title and it’s here to rob us of our time and money. Yet, just like the perfect heist; no one will be left the wiser as they’ll all be left with a smile on their face.
Fun Tidbit: On the very last mission of the Pickpocket’s story, play as all the different characters for a surprise.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.