Review: Monaco is a fun, frantic game about pulling off the perfect heist
Grab a drink. Cue the Ocean's 11 theme. Monaco: What's Yours is Mine is a game about pulling off the perfect heist by sneaking, stealing, failing to sneak and making great escapes across a variety of beautiful time-trial levels laid out like casino blueprints.
Want a taste of the action? Take the viewpoint and controls of Hotline Miami, add a dash of tactical strategy a la Hitman Absolution, sprinkle in the best bits of your favorite bank heist movie and shake it all up, then serve on ice. Monaco: What's Yours is Mine will go down smooth.
Playing the game
Monaco provides fun, excitement, laughs and some playful frustrations. You can play alone if you like, but I recommend recruiting three friends to back you up as you tackle the heists.
The main challenge of the game is navigating through gorgeous, blueprint-like levels to complete an objective and then escape without dying, but at the end of every level you're judged based on how long it took you to pull off the mission. Your objectives span a gamut of illicit activities, from breaking open a safe to robbing a bank or breaking a fellow criminal out of captivity. You can also collect coins along the way to (inexplicably) bolster your ammunition reserves, and you need to collect all the coins on a given level for the best possible score as your final time for the mission is increased based on how many coins you miss. You get three attempts to complete the mission—die, and you have to try the mission again with a different character.
The controls are simple: move around with the WASD keys and aim with your mouse. The keyboard controls are perfectly serviceable, but Monaco's fast-paced top-down gameplay really lends itself to a gamepad controller. Though the action can get hot and heavy when guards are on your tail, it never gets too complicated: if you want to activate or use anything, just move into it. For example, if you run into a locked door just move into it to begin unlocking it, but be careful—these actions take time complete, and a guard could discover you at any moment.
Like Minecraft, Monaco is a game with simple graphics and basic gameplay systems that combine to create situations which let you flex your creativity while solving problems. There are tons of things to interact with: Pick up weapons and health, lockpick doors and safes, hack security systems and lights, then sneak through vents and alleyways while the enemy bumbles around trying to figure out what went wrong.
Your character navigates each map like a figurine on a blueprint, and areas of the map come alive as your character's cone of vision sweeps across them. Anything taller than you will block your sight, creating a fog of war across the map where guards and attack dogs can hide. The sound design of Monaco is excellent: when enemies get close enough you will hear their footsteps as well as see footprints on the grayed-out area of the map where they're walking, giving you a good idea of their speed and direction.
Stumble into an enemy's line of sight and they'll give chase, alerting the rest of the guards in the process. It's rare to run through a mission without getting spotted at least once, but it's obnoxiously easy to evade and escape the enemy; quickly fleeing around a corner or hiding in a vent or bush will usually save your bacon, as guards get bored pretty quickly and give the all-clear. It's simple and a little silly, but far better than if the guards were obnoxiously difficult.
Partners in crime
While it's perfectly playable as a single-player game, Monaco was made for co-op play. Team with up to three other people online or in the same room to work together, tapping the unique skill of each thief to make the heist go smooth.
Setting up a game with friends is easily accomplished through Steam, though Monaco has it's own matchmaking service to hook you up with strangers. Communication is key when pulling the perfect job, so the in-game voice chat system is a welcome addition.
If you have the means (extra controllers, keyboards, mice), you can gather everyone around the same screen. This is a little challenging on the PC version as it may get a little crowded around your desk, but there's nothing like recreating the old-school couch co-op feeling. Monaco's local co-op will probably get more popular when it comes out for Xbox Live Arcade on May 10, but PC players can take advantage of Steam's Big Picture mode and a few wireless controllers right now to get the same experience.
Monaco's roster includes the standard heist archetypes, all with their own special abilities that work well in a team scenario. If you're braving a heist by yourself, it's best to read about the mission before accepting a character—some are much better-suited for certain jobs than others.
Characters go by their talents, not their names—it's safer that way. You start with the Locksmith (an infiltration expert that unlocks doors and safes quickly), the Lookout (can see and hear enemies from far away, even without vision), the Pickpocket (with an undetectable monkey companion that collects coins for you) and the Cleaner, who knocks out enemies that aren't alerted to your presence.
As you play you will start to unlock more characters through the story, such as the Mole (who can break through walls), the Gentleman (quickly disguises himself while hiding), the Hacker (sends out viruses to shut down security) and the Redhead, who can seduce one enemy to open doors for your team.
What is that?
Many times the game becomes a frantic mad dash for the nearest hiding spot, but Monaco's graphical style relies heavily on symbols. It's an iconic look, but when the action ramps up the symbols become more like inscrutable hieroglyphics.
Sometimes I'm not sure whether to run at something, run from something or try to collect it on my way out the door. The systems aren't easy to understand, either; sometimes I would hack a computer thinking it was the opportune time to shut down security, only to find out it didn't do much to thwart the alarms. It's often difficult to tell whether or not you can even interact with something—sometimes it's trial and error to figure out if that thing you're standing next to, whatever it is, is beneficial to your heist. On more than one occasion I found myself wondering: Is that a getaway car or refrigerator?
Hands down, Monaco's major highlight (other than its addictive co-op gameplay) is the sound and music. Beautiful piano scores evoke classic heist films, the soundtrack adjusts itself dynamically based on what's happening onscreen. If you're spotted, get ready for a rambunctious musical number to get your blood pumping as you hustle down the corridors to make your not-so-sneaky escape.
There isn't a whole lot of voice acting in the game: your thieves' dialogue is all text, but the enemies all shout out their surprise and confusion in very convincing French. It's a small thing, but hearing a startled bank teller start shouting in French as he runs for the guards is a grin-inducing treat.
Take what's yours
There are plenty of great indie games available on PC, but there's still nothing quite like Monaco. It's an intoxicating combination of panic and stealth, frantic and fun, simplicity and complexity that plays great alone, yet only gets better as you add more players to the mix.
I highly recommend Monaco to anyone that wants to live out their heist movie fantasies and have a few laughs along the way. Gather your friends, grab some controllers and make some memories about the time you took that casino for everything it was worth.
Monaco: What's Yours is Mine by Pocketwatch Games is available now on the PC and Mac for $15. You can purchase it through Pocketwatch Games' main site using Paypal, Amazon or Google Payments, or go the easy route and pick it up on Steam.