It was the perfect job. The Locksmith made getting in through the back door nice and simple. While the Redhead “distracted” the fat, balding guard at the security console, the Hacker – fingers leaping across the keyboard – disabled the security cameras. The crown jewels were as good as ours.
But then the Cleaner just had to go and start hitting people.
Welcome to Monaco: a game that proudly professes “What’s Yours Is Mine”, though fails to communicate just how difficult achieving so complete a state of possession actually is. It’s a four-player, top-down, co-op stealth heist simulator that’s less Danny Ocean and more Jacques Clouseau. Every level inevitably descends into an elaborate slapstick farce, with bumbling French guards waving their night sticks and yelling “Vous arrêtez!” as you flee in desperate circles to the tune of a dynamic ragtime soundtrack.
There’s more character packed into the low-fi stylings of Monaco than any game we’ve played this year. Facilitating this is a simple, arcade-like core gameplay that plays upon the power balance of Pac-Man. Guards can be seen as ghosts themselves, whilst the powerups aren’t so much pellets as they are shotguns, smokebombs, disguises and sticks of dynamite that blow chunks out of a mostly-destructible environment. Add to those ghosts a cone of vision, sound sensitivity and multiple levels of alertness, and you’ve got the basis for some thrilling arcade stealth mayhem.
There’s more character packed into the low-fi stylings of Monaco than any game we’ve played this year
The environment is a tricky mistress, too. Automated security systems escalate in complexity and lethality with each level. Simple trip-lasers go from setting off an alarm, to activating automated turrets. Locked doors, which any player can open, become replaced with hand-print scanners that require a security system hack before they can be opened. Those bumbling guards become elite commandos that trade in their night sticks for AK-47s and tranquiliser crossbows.
Player abilities escalate accordingly, giving each character access to new items that can be used to manipulate the AI or the environment. All-new characters are also added to the band of criminals, each with their own equally-useful ability that makes no four-player party the perfect selection.
But it’s not all about four-player chaos. The most deceptive aspect of Monaco is that it’s almost two games in one. Playing alone offers an experience akin to a slow, tense stealth game – one with a wild variety of approaches thanks to the completely different abilities of each character. Though multiplayer allows incapacitated players to be revived by teammates, the same ability is obviously not afforded to sole players. Instead, the game offers them three lives, with the chance to select a new character upon each death.
You’d think that the ability to revive each other in co-op play would make the game too easy, but you haven’t attempted to rob the Banque Albert with Nathan, Terrence and Patrick. What possessed Terrence to wander directly in front of the security camera, seconds after we’d warned him about the security camera – before we’d even made it out of the parking lot? Attempts to ‘ghost’ a mission ended in immediate detection, whilst a mansion infiltration saw us not even making it through the front door before guards came swarming and filled us with shotgun pellets. We spent half of one heist hiding in a bush, waiting for Nathan to lose his tail around a corner. He died. But it was all bloody fantastic fun. Any game that makes failure this entertaining already has a lot going for it.
One of the smartest design decisions Monaco makes is never allowing players to fully engineer a safe state in each level. This isn’t Thief, where you can systematically knock out every guard, store their body in a dark corner, and put out every torch then steal in total safety. Here, knocked out or tranquilised guards will eventually wake up. Guards killed by bullets can be revived if another guard finds the body. All pickups are consumables with temporary effects. Hacking a security computer creates a “hack node” that follows the player around and disables the nearest security device, then disappears after a short time. Abilities need to be used in tandem, with each creating a window of opportunity that others must then exploit.
Thus, communication is key. Though, communication generally deteriorates into yelling, screaming, laughing, and the entire spectrum thereof, all at once. The manner in which the music escalates alongside the calamity is perfect. No situation is unsalvageable, however – the Cleaner’s burning desire to start hitting people over the head can be the cause of trouble, or the perfect way out. Monaco is not a game about the perfect job; it’s about the wildest recovery, the most daring escape, and figuring out how to do it better the next time around.
There’s a healthy selection of available heists in the first campaign, with a full second campaign unlocking super-hard ‘expert’ variations on the missions as each are cleaned out. The story itself is even a tricky, multi-perspective affair; something cheeky and interesting, but never interrupting gameplay. A brilliant finale and epilogue allow players to finally let off some steam in a Tarantino-esque twist.
The only flaw is the lag that comes with online play. Peer-to-peer hosting requires a super connection, and though it’s playable without one, it’s not the ideal experience. Still, there’s LAN play, and even support for four players on the same PC, provided you have three controllers.
Despite this, Monaco is deep. Monaco is magnificent. Monaco is mine. Go get your own.