With the recent release of Monaco, the internet is buzzing about this unique game. I recently sat down with two friends and played my way through the first few hours, and I can say that this heist simulator is all it's hyped up to be, gentle readers.
A strongly graphic visual style immediately sucks you in.
In Monaco, you and up to three friends play as a gang of thieves on a variety of missions. It might be a bank robbery, or a prison break, or a daring escape from a burning yacht. Different characters are available, and each has a specific useful skill. The Lockpick can pick locks faster. The Lookout keeps track of guards outside your field of vision. The Pickpocket (my personal favorite) has a pet monkey that sneaks ahead to steal coins. The Cleaner knocks out unsuspecting guards. There are more unlockable characters, and you can mix and match them to accomplish your goals in different ways. Going into a heavily-guarded compound without the aid of the Lookout or the Cleaner is incredibly challenging.
And that's the great thing about the game. It's challenging. It starts off simply enough, but the difficulty curves up very quickly, with larger levels, increased security and traps, civilians that will alert guards and dogs that can track your scent. If you have friends obsessed with collecting every coin and cracking every safe (as mine were) it makes things that much harder. Even after only two hours of gameplay I'd experienced plenty of frustrating moments. Gloriously, the game can become even more fun when things go wrong. Sure, it's great to pull off a perfect heist, avoiding every guard and not once raising the alarm, but it's also really fun to scramble to a hiding spot when the entire place is on alert, outrunning guards and ducking into vents and bushes, using your precious few smoke bombs and weapons to escape, waiting for calm to settle before trying, and perhaps, failing, yet again.
Shared field of vision with guards around every corner makes for a highly cooperative experience.
Above everything, this is a game that emphasizes cooperation. As we quickly learned, going three separate ways into a building is a recipe for disaster. Inevitably, someone will run into a challenge their character can't deal with or raise the alarm, and everyone is put in danger, resulting in your teammates yelling at you to stay with the group and stick to the plan. Especially in later levels, coordination is required. One person disables the security systems while another takes out the guards. One person sneaks ahead, offering a wider shared view of the building. In dire situations, someone can create a distraction and hide, letting the rest of the party escape. And if someone goes down, someone else will have to find a way to revive their teammates without being discovered.
It's refreshing to play a game that falls outside the usual genres of shooter, platforming and the like. This isn't the sort of game where you can run into a room, guns blazing, and expect to walk out unharmed. Your weapons and resources are very limited. Maybe you'll have a shotgun with one bullet in it. Maybe you'll have two smoke bombs. These are the sort of tools to be saved for desperate times, when every guard is bearing down on you. A bare glimpse of a guard's pixelated back in the hallway ahead is enough to set your heart racing. This is a stealth game, and it's easy to get overpowered and outmatched. Some games that try emphasize stealth make it all too easy to shoot your way out of a problem. In Monaco, if you pull out a gun, you know you're in trouble.
Beyond the fantastic gameplay, the game feels right. Areas not within the players' range of sight are grayed out, while seen areas are awash in muted colors. The plunky jazz club piano music is straight out of a noir movie. When the guards are in hot pursuit, the music intensifies, becoming more frantic until things calm down. As the game takes place in the French-speaking country of Monaco, the characters all speak in French. It adds a lot to the atmosphere to hear the guards stalking around, muttering to themselves or shouting out to escaping thieves in French, while the thieves' (English) dialogue is peppered with “oui, oui”s and other such phrases. The game is utterly immersive, and you'll be leaning in close to your screen before long, desperate to keep track of the labyrinthine levels and countless details.
And there are a lot of details.
With a game this unique and engaging, you can't go wrong. I had a blast during the few hours I played, so it's well worth your time to check out Monaco.