Den of thieves.
The idiom about “honor among thieves” is put to the test in Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine, a charming and challenging indie heist game on PC and XBLA. It completely succeeds in marrying the twists and turns of classic crime movies with the addictive nature of arcade staples like Pac-Man. When played alone, it stands proudly as a rewarding stealth game with a surprisingly engaging story. But when played with three friends, Monaco becomes one of the most chaotically entertaining multiplayer experiences of the past year.
Throughout 30 chapters, you’ll fleece banks, escape burning yachts, and bust fellow thieves out of prison. The wide variety of objectives is key in conveying the surprisingly intricate story. Fans of The Third Man, Reservoir Dogs, and The Usual Suspects will find a lot of great homages and storytelling devices. Over the course of the campaign I actually grew to care about each of the eight bandits, thanks not only to their distinct abilities, but also to small touches like unique idling animations and dialogue cadences. Their inherent talents make replaying levels a joy, and experimenting with each one is key to passing some of the late-game missions. For example, the Hacker can quickly disable security systems, the Mole can dig through walls, and the Redhead can seduce hostile guards. This all culminates with a wonderfully satisfying suite of missions that defy expectations and deliver immense payoffs.
When playing by yourself, Monaco is a methodical series of well-designed challenges. I gladly devoted quite a few nights to mastering levels in order to see my name positioned at the top of the leaderboards. But Monaco shines brightest when a party of four saddles up to a single television or monitor. Despite having a shared goal and promoting teamwork, a natural spirit of competition arose during each level – I wanted to be the star of the team. I wanted to be the one to gather the most coins, grab the targeted loot, and ultimately make it to the exit first. In a time when local multiplayer has become rare, Monaco stands out as a testament that competitive and cooperative fun can be had playing in the same room. (Online co-op is also supported.)
Though it’s minimalistic, this stylish, pixelated depiction of the French Riviera succeeds on nearly all fronts, matching the vibrant energy of their real-world analogues. The din of lavish casinos and sprawling majesty of royal palaces come across exceedingly well. Where the art style occasionally backfires is when the lack of detail in the environment becomes confusing – too often, I found myself being chased down a hallway only to discover that the what I thought was a door was actually a light socket. You can’t escape through one of those.
The most interesting mechanic in Monaco is in its treatment of line of sight. Unlike a lot of top-down games, here you never know what might be on the other side of a closed door until you open it. Likewise, you can use this to your advantage by sticking behind cover and evading your pursuers. It takes a bit to get used to, but once I grew accustomed to its unique take on vision, I found myself wondering why so few top-down games implement a similar system.
Of course, it wouldn’t work at all if Monaco were the type of stealth game that you automatically fail every time you’re spotted. In fact, it’s at its frantic best when your team of up to four completely botches a mission and becomes less like Ocean’s Eleven and more like Benny Hill. The chaotic scramble to evade guards, disarm lasers, and find your mark unravels with impeccable charm.
Monaco only fumbles a bit in the balancing of certain wildly overpowered enemies who threaten to tip the challenge towards unfair. Being torn to pieces by a shotgun fired from across a parking lot doesn’t feel all that satisfying. Luckily there aren’t many of those guys, and they don’t amount to more than a minor annoyance. But in a game this good, it’s something that’s certainly noticeable.
The entire package is enhanced by a fantastic score from Austin Wintory, the Grammy-nominated composer of Journey. A distant departure from his music in IGN’s 2012 Game of the Year, the composition for Monaco is an energetic throwback to jazz throughout the ’50s and ’60s. The dynamic music ebbs and flows depending on the state of your heist. Remaining stealthy means a simple piano riff, while completely running amok brings in a slew of chaotic instrumental accompaniments. It felt like I was listening to my own personal theme music.
Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine delivers one of the purest and most enjoyable cooperative experiences I’ve had in quite some time. With a great atmosphere and deceptively simple mechanics, it stands out as one of the most unique and addicting games of 2013.
By Marty Sliva