Heist, heist, bébé
Monaco: What's Yours Is Mine sure has come a long way since winning the Grand Prize at the 2010 Independent Games Festival. Here we are, three years later, with the finished product finally hitting digital retailers on both PC and Xbox Live Arcade.
Though it may look like it, Monaco is not a simple stealth game about stealing money. Oh no, it's much more than that. This is a heist game, a game that will require players to be seen and create distractions in order to get in, get the loot, and get out. Creating and executing plans is an important gameplay facet of Monaco, and watching those plans fail horribly is an even more important one.
Monaco: What's Yours Is Mine (PC [reviewed], Xbox Live Arcade)
The plot of Monaco begins with four characters escaping prison and then, naturally, looking to get the hell out of Dodge… err, Monaco. The events are narrated by The Locksmith, one of the escaped prisoners and soon-to-be heist party member. Before fleeing, however, the group decides to make a few pit stops to pick up extra crew members and, unsurprisingly, rob everything with a foundation. Four extra characters are added, making a total of eight completely distinct party members, both in personality and gameplay.
Allow me to take a quick roll call: The Locksmith is able to open locks quicker than anyone else; The Lookout can see the locations of enemies across the entire map while sneaking or standing still; The Pickpocket has a monkey named Hector who picks up gold automatically and is otherwise just adorable; The Cleaner can temporarily knock enemies unconscious after an unnoticed approach; The Mole can dig through walls, creating new paths; The Gentleman has a regenerative disguise, allowing him to pass by enemies in full view for a short time; The Hacker can turn any outlet into a computer to disable electronics; and finally The Redhead can distract a single enemy with her sultry looks.
Everyone is bound to have a favorite or two to play as and each character is always useful. Occasionally, certain levels will favor specific characters (The Mole doesn't do too great on levels mostly outdoors, for example), but any character can thrive in any level with the appropriate, adapted play style.
The crux that makes playing Monaco so inherently satisfying is its accessibility. With the exception of items, everything from hacking computers to lock picking is done by holding a single direction. By coming in contact with an obstacle, whatever it may be, and holding the direction of the obstacle, a radial dial will begin to fill. Once the dial is complete, the action is performed.
This concept is well-introduced and incredibly easy to grasp, making Monaco a game that anyone can pick up and play. Buttons aren't completely neglected, so all you button-lovers out there can stop your worrying. For example, holding down the sneak button will make the character move slowly, creating less footstep noise and making the characters seem less suspicious to onlookers.
The other pushable button uses an equipped item. Useable items consist of a variety of guns (which need to be aimed), smoke bombs, EMPs, bombs, wrenches, and bandages. Knowing when to use each of these items plays a huge role in staying alive during a heist. Need to bypass a lot of security doors and lasers? Shut down the power with an EMP before you storm in. Has the shit hit the fan and you need to lose notoriety? I hope you have a smoke bomb and an escape route!
Collecting ten coins scattered around the map will replenish one use of the equipped item, so it is important to budget item use accordingly, especially in multiplayer as the same amount of coins must be divided among a greater number of collectors. Luckily, a quick button press will display the game's HUD, showing character health, item count, the objectives, and remaining gold coins for each floor.
Each of the 33 missions has one central objective to complete in order to advance. Early on, rescuing new characters or collecting specific loot are the more common objectives. Completing the objective doesn't end the mission, however, as you need to escape in a getaway vehicle first in true fashion. This usually requires traversing previous floors to get back to the starting location, which is definitely easier said than done.
The last thing you want to do is complete a mission to a T only to die with your getaway car in plain sight, and with all of your senses heightened and adrenaline in your blood, you’ll have to fight to keep your head on straight. The best part about Monaco, though, is that if that scenario does happen, it’s all on you.
It is also possible to "clean out" a mission by collecting every last piece of gold scattered across the map. The game does a great job of telling the player exactly how much gold is left and when the entire level is cleaned out to prevent useless searching. Besides the obvious completionist element, cleaning out missions also works towards unlocking a second campaign which consists of much more difficult missions, as narrated from a different heist member's perspective.
These missions are a reflection of the standard campaign maps and story, but have slight alterations like extra areas and more hazards, based on how the new narrator saw the events, to make them more challenging. It is an extremely clever way to include this second, tougher campaign and is totally justified. This second set of missions is meant to challenge players and put them to the test. All eight characters are available from the first mission (a detail which is cleverly tied into the story element) and the only impossible plans are the ones you haven't thought of yet.
While both single-player and multiplayer technically offer the same exact levels, the experiences are polar opposites. Single-player feels, by and large, calm and collected, even when plans are conceived and executed on the fly. Items are more plentiful, considering that all of the coins are collected by a single player, instead of being spread out among others. However, only one item can be held at a time, making plans both more open and restricted at the same time.
Multiplayer, on the other hand, is a fantastic ruckus with all sorts of unpredictability, both locally and online. Executing a multiple-person plan to perfection is easily one of the best "John Bender from The Breakfast Club fist-in-the-air" moments in all of videogames; many high tens were exchanged as well. On the flip side, having a seemingly genius plan blow up in your face because a stupid guard wasn't where you thought he would be creates such a frantic and chaotic situation which immediately becomes hilariously unpredictable.
You know what they say: "The best laid plans of psychotic sociopaths often go hilariously awry."
There's even a competitive mode, consisting of only one map, which manages to not feel totally ham-fisted into the game. The mode has a clever design that still follows the heist formula and can get quite intense towards the end, since everyone is a greedy bastard. Additionally, both daily and online leaderboards are included for single- and multiplayer and seem to be an amalgamation of the time it takes to complete a mission and the amount of coins collected. Protip: bring The Pickpocket when going for leaderboard scores!
After playing single-player, multiplayer local, and multiplayer online, on the bustling PAX East show floor and alone in the comfort of my quiet home, not once have I been disappointed. I can assure you that Monaco offers an all-around good time no matter how you play, each experience with its own unique characteristics and challenges.
There were a few rare occasions in which I was reminded that I was playing a videogame, as minor bugs crept up while playing. For example, if The Cleaner is hiding in, say, a bush, he will unintentionally knock an enemy out if the enemy comes within “cleaning distance” of him even if no input is issued by the player, which unfortunately results in him being thrust out of hiding and becoming vulnerable. Also, there was one moment in which an AI enemy got stuck walking into walls after giving chase, only resetting after he was disturbed again. I didn't come across anything game-breaking by any stretch of the imagination, but these small little annoyances can mess up those awesome plans we were totally cooking up.
Monaco is one of those games that looks great in screenshots but looks absolutely gorgeous in motion. The lighting system combined with the beautiful colors makes exploring a map feel like skimming on top of a rainbow. This is only intensified by the contrast that the dark gray fog of war and clean, crisp white lettering provide. The character art, both for the playable characters and NPCs, are just precise enough to give everyone a healthy dose of personality, including the endearing, synchronized head bobs that each NPC exhibits when trying to get a better look at a disturbance they heard in the other room. I can't get enough of it!
The music is equally sublime, perfectly fitting the heist-movie aesthetic with ragtime piano that ramps up as the action heightens and calms down as things subside, and will get stuck in your head from the moment the game boots up. I would expect no less from the Grammy-nominated Austin Wintory, as he hits yet another home run with the Monaco soundtrack.
Not only does Monaco have a delightful and satisfying amount of worthwhile content included in the game itself, a map editor is planned for the probably-near future, ensuring that the content can and will keep on flowing. I'm still discovering small intricacies as I continue to play, and every repeated mission feels completely different depending on the chosen characters and the players controlling them. I experienced a few minor hiccups, but nothing that felt egregious or devastating to the point where it took away from the overall package.
Monaco: What's Yours is Mine truly is a game for anyone and everyone. It is simple enough to pick up and immediately understand how things work, while at the same time offers the complexity to have multiple players spend a few minutes sitting still, devising a self-titled "Best Plan Ever" complete with tracing the plan on the screen with fingers, saying “Ready? GO!”, only to see it backfire in seconds. Regardless of whether you plan on flying solo or with some buddies, do yourself a favor and go play Monaco. I know I'll be doing the same for a long time into the future.
THE VERDICT - Monaco: What's Yours is Mine
Reviewed by Patrick Hancock