When I originally saw Monaco at PAX Prime a while back without getting my hands on it, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with it. The game was exactly a looker, and at a distance, it didn’t do much for me. That was until I was able to play Monaco, and then my opinion changed dramatically.
Monaco is based around a team of Ocean’s Eleven-style thieves, following the team as they try desperately to flee the French Riviera after a heist gone bad. Each one of the original four teammates tells the story of his escape from his point of view. Not named, they are simply known as the Locksmith, the Lookout, the Cleaner, and the Pickpocket. Along the way, the Monaco team meets up with several other characters to add to their band of merry miscreants and loot French landmarks along their escape vector from Monaco. Not exactly a thrilling story, as the “cut scenes” are simply pixelated with speech bubbles and a few lines of written dialogue, but the idea is simple: your four man team goes into a high security area and pilfers objects to help facilitate their escape from Monaco proper…or fill up their retirement fund.
Monaco is a top-down, four player co-op stealth game, where each one of your teammates has a special ability at their disposal. The Locksmith opens doors and windows quickly, the Lookout can see enemies all over the map without having line of sight, the Cleaner can knock out unsuspecting guards, and the Pickpocket has a monkey that loots all coins in the nearby vicinity. During the story, you meet up with the Gentleman, who can disguise himself and walk around in the open, the Redhead who can make guards fall in love with her, the Mole who can break through walls, and the Hacker who…well, duh. You enter the map and can only see what is presented in your or your teammates’ field of view; so much of the map is generally blacked out. Your goal is to sneak through the level without raising too much of a ruckus, as quickly as possible and grabbing as much loot as you possibly can. Upon completion of the level, you’re given a final time for completing all of your objectives, subtracting any missed loot from your final time.
There are two extremely different ways to play Monaco, co-op and solo, with solo Monaco being a vastly different experience from co-op Monaco. Playing solo Monaco, you are the only thief on the level, with only one of the seven skills at your disposal. If you get knocked out by a guard, you come back as another of the remaining thieves. You must use stealth and move slowly, only raising an alarm when absolutely necessary, or you don’t have a required skill to crack through an area. On the other hand, a four player co-op Monaco game is chaos. Players can revive one another if knocked out, so getting knocked out or killed isn’t nearly the threat that playing solo is. Also, unless you’re playing in a pre-made team of thieves, Monaco turns into a very elaborate Keystone Cops-style game of Pac-Man, with all four thieves sprinting all over the map, tripping alarms and trying to grab coins as quickly as possible. As there is no penalty for raising alarms or killing guards (only for not collecting all the coins in a level), things just get chaotic. It’s the equivalent of playing any of the Hitman or Splinter Cell games with three other people you don’t know: internet rules dictate at least one of them is going to be a troll and try to set off every alarm in arm’s reach. I’m not saying it wasn’t enjoyable; I’m just saying that obviously that’s not the way Monaco is meant to be played.
Another issue is that some of the teammates are a bit overpowered. I played through most of Monaco as the Gentleman for his ability to be disguised for short periods of time. While the rest of the team each has their abilities, alarms get raised within a three second count of someone seeing anyone else on the team. The Gentleman’s ability to move about freely is almost a game-breaking mechanic. Sure, you’re going to have trouble disabling lasers or hacking computers, but you’re generally invisible anyway – who cares? The Mole’s ability to break through walls is great, but obviously attracts a lot of attention, and there you are on the other side of your freshly made wall with your sledgehammer in your hand surrounded by guards. The Lockpick’s ability to open doors quickly is great, but again, once a guard spots you, it’s time to start running.
Originally, I was turned off by the pixelated faux 8-bit art style of Monaco, but it really grew on me as I was quietly cracking safes and collecting coins. The only problem with this art style is that as you are zoomed out of the map so far, it does get tricky to see details, and it isn’t impossible to lose track of where your character is on the map. Is that guard looking my way? Is that even a guard? Is he armed with a weapon? Wait, is that a door or a vent? These are common questions you’ll be asking yourself.
It may sound like I’m being critical of Monaco, but it’s out of love. Monaco is a brilliant idea for a heist/caper game, but some of the execution falls a bit flat. I can understand having a time mechanic in Monaco and giving you a score based on your final heist time, but Monaco‘s lack of any kind of penalty for killing guards and tripping alarms, or not giving bonuses for using your abilities or remaining stealthy is a major miss. Four player co-op in Monaco quickly devolves from Ocean’s Eleven into The Three Stooges. However, if you manage to grab a friend or two and are able to talk with them to coordinate your caper, Monaco shines like the diamond it was meant to be.