Successfully pulling off a heist is never an easy feat. There are many intricacies and factors to take into account when you’re planning on robbing a place clean or busting out an imprisoned partner in crime. Granted, I’ve never actually been a part of a real heist because, quite frankly, I’d be too stupid and/or too nervous to actually do what I’m supposed to do. That said, Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine from developer Pocketwatch Games is an entertaining take on the classic heist in video game form that provides plenty of tense moments, as well as the aforementioned intricacies.
Monaco’s story follows the exploits of eight devious heist experts. Before each chapter, you’re treated to short bits of dialogue between the characters, and along the way you encounter some fun moments and “good heist gone bad” sequences. The storytelling in Monaco is neither deep nor extravagant, but it’s functional and keeps its focus on the idea of a group of people who are trying to get rich quick and get the hell out of town.
Only four characters are available from the beginning. As you progress through missions, you find new allies that can fill different roles. Each character has special abilities that he or she can employ to make pulling off jobs much smoother. The Locksmith, for example, can open locked doors at a much faster rate than his comrades; the Mole can pound through walls; the Hacker can upload viruses to shut down security systems; and the Pickpocket has a pet monkey that can collect scattered coins.
Each of these “professionals” works well in specific situations, and it’s often best to try out different characters depending on the level you’re playing. The Locksmith may be good at getting in and out of places fast, but if a building is loaded with trip wires, turrets, and cameras, it’s best to utilize the nerdy skill set of the Hacker, who can easily mess with the infrastructure of these security measures.
As far as level design is concerned, Monaco features a collection of brilliant stages that are teeming with pleasantly intense challenges. Armed guards walk up and down corridors; civilians appear in certain areas ready to rat you and your suspicious compadres out to the authorities; and multiple floors hold riches that you truly need to scour for. The whole thing is elegantly designed to make you think before you act, though sometimes you just need to wing it and hope that a hiding place or disguise is just around the corner.
You’ve got access to different types of weapons and power-ups as you raid buildings of their wealth. Guns can be used to take down threats, though they’re loud and attract the attention of other nearby hostile characters. If you’d rather make a dramatic exit, you can use smoke bombs to get the best of your enemies. Of course, if you wish to avoid harming anyone, you can use a bow to shoot tranquilizer darts at anyone dumb enough to try and stop you. These are just a few of the power-ups you can employ as you play Monaco. Every item has limited uses, but collecting 10 coins gives you one more shotgun shell, tranq, and so on.
What makes Monaco such a wonderful game is that you can play it by yourself or with others and get two completely different experiences. If you choose to go it alone, the greed-themed adventure takes on more of a stealth game formula. Since no one has your back, you need to pick your spots, hide in bushes, and wait for perfect timing. Everything you do needs to be calculated, whether you’re disposing of a guard, hacking a computer, or removing cash from rooms.
When you play with others (either friends or random partners), everyone has a different role. Choosing the right team of characters is certainly essential, but it’s how you communicate between your cohorts that really makes co-op astoundingly refreshing. One player can focus on shutting down the power while another distracts some guards. Meanwhile another player can loot the joint while the fourth teammate starts working on some locks to move on to the next floor of a building. Then again, everyone can screw up, and Monaco then becomes a wild game of cat and mouse, humorously forcing players to scatter and figure out what the heck to do next.
You'll undoubtedly come across moments that border on frustrating, whether you’re playing by yourself or with others, which is a bit of shame. While Monaco requires players to function as a well-oiled machine, certain spots are ridiculously challenging, going so far as to test your patience and relying on annoying trial-and-error. It’s great that Monaco provides an ample challenge — it’s just hard to deny the fact that certain sequences feel a bit too brutal. Then again, heists can’t be expected to be a total breeze.
After you get a few stages in, you may start to notice a lack of variety. While the levels themselves do offer dynamic shifts in layout and structure, you’re basically doing the same thing in every one of Monaco’s story chapters. Basically, you need to go into a place, rob a certain item, and leave. It’s easier said than done, and you’ve got a quantifiable amount of hazards to watch out for, but there’s no denying that things don’t change too much as you go from one job to the next.
Monaco features a lovely visual style that’s simple but pretty. The whole thing consists of great pixel art and magnificent color use. Areas you can’t see are grayed out, but as you get near them color begins to flow through rooms and down halls, allowing you to catch a glimpse of the area around you. It’s an intelligent art style that’s pivotal to the actual gameplay, and it looks downright great, too.
The audio design in Monaco is equally impressive. The sound of picking up coins is crisp; footsteps have an almost calming pitter-patter to them; and hearing doors open never gets old. Additionally, the soundtrack is remarkable and fitting. Composer Austin Wintory managed to create truly outstanding piano themes that would fit perfectly in silent films of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Themes range from mischievous to hectic, and when you hear that piano beat get louder and faster, you know it’s time to run.
You can probably get through the first string of missions in Monaco in about five or six hours. Collecting every coin in multiple stages opens up new, remixed versions of previous stages, creating a more formidable challenge and telling the game’s story from a different perspective. Throw in the fact that you can play every level with a team of up to four players total, and you’ve got more than enough justification to return to the game’s missions multiple times.
Monaco is a bold game that gives you a lot of reasons to care about it. As a single-player venture, you can find a whole lot of enjoyment out of just stealthily completing heists. Playing with friends means you can coordinate a good looting job and assign specific tasks to everyone involved. Meanwhile, engaging in co-op with strangers makes for a hectic good time. Certain parts of the game are more frustrating than others, and after a while you get a sense that you’ve been doing the same thing, but there’s just no denying that Monaco presents you with a ton of beautifully frantic fun.
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