Monaco Review: Harness Your Inner Criminal
Indie studio Pocketwatch Games have finally released their much anticipated title, Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine, winner of the grand prize at the 2010 Independent Games Festival. In a group that included hits like Super Meat Boy and Joe Danger, Monaco’s early build stood out from the pack.
If you’ve ever wondered what Ocean’s Eleven would play like as a game, look no further.
Monaco follows the adventures of a rag tag group of thieves as they travel from job to job, robbing everything from hotels to museums. Separate campaigns show how the story unfolds from the perspective of the game’s various characters.
The dialogue sections are brief, but entertaining, characters contributing their distinct voices to the conversations as they jump into the fold. For instance, The Gentleman speaks in a more regal manner than the rest of the group, hinting at his social class with an air of regality. The Hacker communicates through blocks of un-spaced text, alluding to the lines of code our techy friend will be filtering through in his adventure.
Without delving too much into the overarching plot of Monaco, there will be deception and trickery afoot. The further you push into the game, the more is revealed regarding the identities of characters and the true nature of the story.
Where Monaco shines the brightest is when you stop listening to the characters talk and start guiding them through the game’s varied locales. The goal of each level is to collect and escape with the loot of interest, whether they’re passports, artifacts, or unmarked bills, as well as gold scattered across the landscape. Though the basic concept is nothing extraordinary, the execution is nothing short of incredible. Monaco twists the stealth genre in a way I’ve never seen before.
Although you’re encouraged to be discreet, drawing enemies out of their predetermined paths is essential to collecting the loot stored around each level. Speed is up to you. Some will choose to run through lootin’ and shootin’, others will take a slow and methodical approach to reaching their goal. Just how bad do you want that cash?
Laser triggered alarms, automated turrets, guards, civilians, and more stand between you and the riches you desire. Fortunately, each of the eight playable characters offer unique talents and abilities which can be used at your discretion to counter the environment. The Cleaner can knock out unsuspecting guards, The Redhead can charm alerted enemies, The Locksmith burns through locks and safes rapidly, and so on. Choosing the appropriate character for your venue will go a long way towards a successful mission.
The true potential of the game is unlocked when these characters combine their talents in co-op mode. Solo play offers a nice challenge and I had a ton of fun progressing through the campaigns by myself, but it is hard to go back to solo after experiencing the beautiful coordination of multiplayer. Assuming roles is essential to executing a quick, clean heist. Secondary characters will work in the background, clearing sensors, locks, and pathways as their companions snatch everything in sight.
I can’t remember the last time I felt such joy and fear simultaneously while playing a game. If you’re the last man standing for your crime team, reviving your fallen allies is a nerve-racking experience. Cross your fingers that your teammate didn’t die in the crosshairs of an automated turret, or you have quite the problem on your hands.
Items add the final variant in gameplay. What your character’s ability is limited to can be compensated for with one of pickups around the level. If you’re not able to hack outlets like The Hacker, you can carry EMP grenades that disable all surrounding tech temporarily. If you don’t have the luxury of The Gentleman’s disguise, you can pick up a suit that temporarily cloaks you. First aid kits will restore health and eliminate your bloody footprints, while shotguns and SMGs allow you to blast towards your goal.
The player views each level like an architectural blueprint, which only reveals the contents of rooms once the player begins to explore. What starts out as a dull gray is quickly filled with bright lights and neon characters, who attempt to maneuver past the different guards and traps without being scene. You would think cat burglars would dress a little more discreetly, but the unique tones do a good job setting the player apart from the environment.
Monaco’s use of the field of vision is probably the game’s standout feature. Unlike many entries in the stealth genre, the view you’re given does not provide omnipotence. Players view from the top down and see nothing more than what their character can see. Walls and structures block you from seeing what lies ahead, but they also protect you from the enemy’s line of sight. There is a fear of the unknown as you move from room to room, which makes the extra sets of eyes that co-op can provide invaluable.
Level design is brilliant, with unique locales each having quirks that make them stand out. One particularly memorable level in a nightclub was filled to the brim with flashing lights and pulsing floor tiles. What made this particularly awesome was the doubling of these floor tiles as alarm triggers. The combination of form and function was simply amazing, and there were a host of Easter eggs that more adventurous explorers will discover as they comb through each level.
Leading in with a fast paced, ragtime piano cut, the soundtrack is brilliant and pairs with the game well. Soft piano plays in the background, speeding up and slowing down based on the intensity of the moment. On the run after setting off an alarm? Music will heighten in speed and stature, simulating the rise in heart rate of a thief on the run.
World sounds are distinct yet realistic. After generators and security switches are shut down, they churn and eventually hum back to life. Shrill alarms ring and barking dogs chase after you once they catch your scent. You’ll begin to pay attention to the litany of sounds and what they indicate if you hope to improve your thievery.
As an added bonus, the level select music was surprisingly soothing. While taking notes in between rounds of gameplay, I often let the game sit in the campaign section untouched. Instead of the unbearable loops that many games fall victim to in these areas, Monaco had a quiet, beautiful piano track that allowed me to focus on the task at hand. Kudos to Austin Wintory, who composed the stellar soundtrack.
I can say without trepidation that this will be one of my favorite games of 2013. There are many games in the stealth and heist genres, and none of them are quite like Monaco. Games like Payday: The Heist pretend to be members of the same group, but they all turn in to shoot-em ups that don’t display the grace and coordination that the “perfect job” entails.
Monaco gives players the freedom to do whatever they choose. Shootouts a la Heat? Check. Deception a la Inside Man? Check. If you prefer a certain character, you’ll be challenged more than others in certain levels, but there’s always a path to the finish.
My only concern is replay value once players finish the campaigns. Leaderboard focused players will hone their craft in order to reach the top of the charts, but others will be left wanting more. Fortunately, a level editor is on the way for PC, allowing the growing community to make their own contributions to the game. This will add longevity and even more variety to an already great game.
PC gamers, grab this game immediately. Pocketwatch Games created an immensely fun game that deserves your attention. With a Mac release in the works and the XBLA debut set for this Friday, May 10, gamers on other platforms will get to experience the madness for themselves soon enough. Check out the trailer below, and step into the shoes of a criminal ASAP.
9.5 out of 10 Buddhas
(PC version used for this review)
- Unique characters provide diverse gameplay options
- Level design is fantastic
- Graphics bright and beautiful
- Killer soundtrack
- Field of vision adds unique twist to stealth genre
The Not So Awesome
- Will this game have replay value?
Buy or Pass: Monaco is definitely a buy
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