Some of the best heist movies are all about the build up. That hour or so block of time where a ragtag group of thieves analyzes blueprints, hacks into databases, bribes security and plots escape routes like star charts is full of comedy, tension and maybe even a strange budding romance. And then it comes time for the heist. Maybe plans go awry. Maybe not everyone makes it out with their lives or freedom intact. No matter what, though, everyone always wonders how they will pull it off. Then it all culminates in the “bad guys” getting away and the audience grinning from ear to ear at how those best laid plans were pulled off. Like any good heist, Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine, is full of those moments and even lets friends along for the ride.
One of the biggest strengths of Monaco is in how easy it plays. Movement is controlled with the WASD or arrow keys, items are used with the spacebar and sneaking and shooting is done using the mouse; a controller option is also available. By casually introducing the player to its fundamentals over the course of a few missions, Monaco soon becomes a game about figuring out what works best. Simply walking up to a locked door and pressing against it causes it to slowly unlock. The same principle applies to computers, security cameras, health packs or even knocking out guards. If a guard gets suspicious, a large “?” will slowly fill over his head and he will proceed to investigate and then attack if alerted. Objectives mainly consist of collecting a set amount of items or rescuing a future team member and then escaping without losing every life. Coins/loot are scattered around the level and collecting them all can be quite the challenge.
Sounds pretty simple, right? It’s fair to say that Monaco is deceptively simple at first. Missions quickly ramp up the obstacles and complexity very fast and it can get overwhelming. Guards start to carry guns, civilians start alerting patrols, there are less places to hide and even doors and cameras must be deactivated with a computer or an alarm will sound. This is where mastering and experimenting with the different characters become important. Sure The Locksmith can open doors and safes the fastest but he can’t knock out the guards – that’s what The Cleaner is for. The Lookout can see distant guards and mark them on the map while The Gentleman can temporarily disguise himself. A total of eight playable characters are available and they are virtually the same except for their one key ability. Those playing solo will often run through a mission and hit that one spot where they would give anything to be The Cleaner just to take out that one annoying guard or be The Hacker and disable a room full of electronic security. Thankfully, Monaco has multiplayer and this is where the real fun (and chaos) unfolds.
Up to four people can play a mission at a time either locally or online. Where playing Monaco solo becomes an exercise in patience and stealth, playing cooperatively is often one of teamwork and excitement. It might be unexpected, but the online community in Monaco is very friendly. Full of experts and novices, very few players place blame on a mission gone awry. People talk out strategies, offer advice and congratulate each other on jobs well done.
Playing online also provides a good opportunity to see how other characters operate. Maybe an individual is only comfortable playing as The Cleaner and knocking out every guard in sight to keep safe. Some of that pressure is alleviated when realizing that other skills are just as useful and the same player might try and learn the ropes of a character they are unfamiliar with. When teamwork and timing work out, missions can be cleared swiftly and with very few guards being alerted. But even when the alarms start going off and your teammates run around, Monaco is still fun. There’s a certain frantic beauty in watching everything on the screen scatter off in different directions searching for a safe place to hide. In the end, however, it might be best for a player’s initial run be a solo affair. Grasping the game’s difficulty spike and area layout will help cool the nerves when it comes time to beating it with buddies.
Graphics & Sound
Employing a blocky pixel template for its level and character design, Monaco goes for a distinct art style rather than realism. In the same way that a player could identify Link in the original Legend of Zelda with his trademark green tones, characters are just as easy to make out. The Locksmith is dotted with blues while The Pickpocket and his monkey are shaded in yellow. Where the guards with white shirts and black hair will only melee, the ones with white shirts and blonde hair will shoot stun darts. It may initially look simple but it helps players familiarize themselves with the game world. Though environments constantly recycle obstacles, traps and more, they are carefully planned out to make the player think before acting. Every corner and every small room has its purpose; characters will even urinate in the toilets! Though all the action is presented in a top-down view like the first two Grand Theft Auto titles, only the visible area is seen by the player. Unexplored areas or rooms behind locked doors aren’t actually blacked out. Instead they are given a black and white styled blueprint. No enemies can be seen but things like walls, security cameras, loot and stairs will be highlighted. It’s a wonderful touch and makes the player feel as if they are mapping out the level as they explore.
Austin Wintory, of Journey fame, composed Monaco’s score. Considering Wintory’s pedigree, some might be surprised at how simplistic this score is. Instead of making a soundtrack featuring lots of instrumentation, Wintory’s score is performed using a piano. Feeling reminiscent of the days of silent films and black and white car chases, Monaco’s music actually works despite how scattered it can sometimes sound. Certain sections are frantic while others are slower; whenever spotted by a guard the piano will often ramp up in tempo matching the potentially dangerous results. Though it might not be something a player will want to listen to in their spare time, it certainly is a great marriage with the game’s vibe.
Despite what sounds like overall simplicity, Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine is a complex game that must be played. The thrill of planning heists and pulling them off is just as entertaining as watching them blow up into frenzied attempts to keep alive. More importantly, Monaco is one of the best co-op games to come around in quite some time. Instead of having matches feel like straight-up competitions, they instead become learning experiences, ways to meet helpful people and, honestly, just the best way to play. Playing solo will definitely attract a large speedrunning crowd because doing faster runs with different characters and strategies is quite alluring. As of right now, Monaco is also available for the Xbox Live Arcade and is a great reason to play the game on a big screen with friends. Don’t let this one slip through your fingers.
Note: A copy of the game was provided to Gaming Illustrated by the publisher for the purpose of this review.