There are a handful of locations in the world that evoke a certain kind of glamour and mystique. Paris, New York, Tokyo, Berlin…Monaco is also one of those. A playground for both the wealthy and the amoral, Monaco is a tiny city/state located in a corner of Southern France and is mostly known for its casinos, F1 racing, and nightlife.
This is also a popular location for Bond movies and heist flicks, and it’s the latter identification with this place that has inspired Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine by Pocketwatch Games; a single or multiplayer stealth/action game which follows a crew of expert criminals who work to pull of a series of scores in the world’s second smallest country.
Monaco is a top-down stealth adventure in which you can play as one of a number of character classes; each with his own strengths and weaknesses. Which one you choose greatly depends on how you want to go about things.
The visual style of Monaco is very basic, yet deceptive in that many parts of it can be manipulated depending on who you are controlling. Not only that, but the buildings featured here are based on actual designs of locations within the city. Another nice touch is that the language spoken in ambient dialogue is French. It’s small but important details like this that contribute to this game’s overall picture and pull you into the experience.
In many ways, Monaco is highly reminiscent of last year’s top-down indie hit: Hotline Miami. Both games use bare-bones graphics, quick gameplay transitions, quick turnaround on fail-states, and extremely well-chosen music to set the proper tone. Where this game diverges is that it doesn’t reward recklessness… most of the time, anyway. Part of the appeal of a good stealth game is gauging between cautiousness and boldness; sometimes within the same mission. On more than one occasion, I found myself in plain view of my escape vehicle with a laser grid or guard blocking my path. Having to make the decision between doubling back to find a quiet exit or making a mad dash for it is when this game is at its most thrilling.
Early in the game, I was admittedly unimpressed with the mechanics of this game as I could basically steamroll my way through a section and escape before getting killed by guards. It took about six missions for that to no longer be a viable option. From that point on however, being careful becomes imperative.
As a pure stealth game, this isn’t as complex as something like Deus Ex or Splinter Cell but considering the accommodation it makes for different classes and play styles, not to mention the quick ‘drop-in/drop out’ nature of the levels, it doesn’t really need to be. Like Left 4 Dead compared with other shooters, Monaco makes up for its lack of depth with accessibility.
One feature of excellent stealth games like Hitman: Blood Money and Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory is that they present you with a game space and let you navigate it how you see fit. Monaco does this, and also provides you with multiple exit options. In singleplayer, you have up to four ‘lives’ per mission, in which you can choose which crew members to use for the job. It’s flexible in that you can choose them at any point (helpful in case you choose an inappropriate class with which to start). With co-op, the challenge is that you need to choose carefully because your character may not be best suited to the mission. Then again, that can be fun too.
The game also has a feature that is on the surface helpful, but more often than not serves as a bit of an exploit. When stealing items, whatever you have picked up is a done deal; meaning if your character is killed, the replacement doesn’t have to re-acquire it. In fact, when your new character spawns it’s at the beginning of that particular floor. This means it is a viable strategy for one of your classes to race like a bat out of Hell to hoover up as many treasures as possible before getting killed, and then using your remaining characters to escape. To be fair, this is less viable in later levels but this look behind the curtain of Monaco‘s mechanics breaks its immersion a little bit.
While each character has his own strengths and weaknesses, this isn’t really the most balanced game. In my experience, the Gentleman and Hacker were by far the most useful classes in the majority of scenarios. It’s not the end of the world or anything, but it can be a bit of a bummer wanting to try a different character knowing s/he will quickly get killed…leading you back to your aces.
One of the truly fun things about this game as a co-op experience is that you don’t necessarily need to be good at the game for it to be fun. In fact, sucking at Monaco (or even griefing for that matter) can make for some absolutely hilarious emergent moments. My experience has been mostly as the unpredictable element that makes the perfect score go awry (I can’t speak for anyone else I was playing with, but I had fun).
Classic films like Heat and Ocean’s Eleven present the vicarious thrill of pulling off an impossible heist and getting away scot free (well, maybe not so much in the case of the former), and recent games have tried to emulate that feeling. GTA, Kane and Lynch, and Payday have all attempted to capture the delicate balance between teamwork and self-preservation with heist gameplay, but it’s ironically an indie game with rudimentary graphics that has managed to crack this code and deliver an experience comes as close as a game ever has to capturing the true essence of the genre.
[+Many classes available] [+Accessible to beginners and pros] [+Authentic environments/language] [+Outstanding presentation] [+Multiple paths available] [-Respawn exploit breaks immersion] [-Some classes clearly more useful than others]