The Discotheque job should have been easy. The Gentleman had insisted. Get in, get the Redhead, and get out. The Pickpocket’s monkey Hector had been sneaking along the dance floor, collecting change when it all hit the fan. The Hacker had been caught in the coat check and the Lookout had been doing her best to revive him when a guard took her out too. The Pickpocket was too far away to help. It was up to me. I only had one smoke bomb left. I sneaked through the lounge, hoping I could put it to good use.
Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine is a colorful indie stealth game, developed by Pocketwatch Games and published by Majesco Entertainment. You and up to three friends take on the roles of members of a group of master thieves in dangerous need of a ticket out of the country. When they draw upon the help of the mysterious Gentleman, they find themselves committing more and more crimes, getting richer but deeper and deeper into trouble.
The game’s stylized retro graphics are presented from a top down perspective. Each of the eight playable character has unique skills and an identifying neon color. The Locksmith is blue and picks door and safe locks faster than any other character. The Lookout is red and allows players to locate unseen enemies and civilians. The Mole is purple and can break holes in walls. Up to four can compose a team of thieves who sneak and steal their way through over a dozen missions full of collectible coins and dangerous guards. The play is given further dynamism by the incorporation of weapons and tools: shotguns, wrenches (equally good for expediting lock picking and bludgeoning guards to death), smoke bombs and more. The game is difficult but fair; cleverly executed visual and sonic clues tip you off to in game occurrences and the mechanics are clearly presented and understandable.
As the story unfolds from mission to mission, an increasing amount of savvy is required to complete objectives, as nightstick wielding embassy guards give way to sniffer dogs and security agents with machine guns. It’s preferable to sneak through the levels quietly, hiding in bushes or vents to escape curious guards, but in case of emergency a little bit of smash and grab or wrench fueled murder isn’t out of the question. The game is in fact more exciting when things get hectic, as you run from guards, trailing bloody foot prints and panting, looking for a corner or vent to hide in.
Though the story is thin, its spartan nature is to its advantage. The abstract graphics and short but entertaining dialogue vignettes between missions give the game an air of mystery and intrigue, allowing the player to fill in the blanks. Fans of heist movies will enjoy imagining the particulars of every mission. Another clever aspect of the story telling is that the challenge levels—harder versions of normal missions, are articulated as being the Pickpocket’s side of the story, rather than the Locksmith’s. This situating of the challenge levels as being in diegesis is one of the many clever touches that make Monaco such a delight. The game in general is incredibly immersive despite its abstraction, with NPCs speaking in French and the levels brilliantly realized aesthetically. Hearing a civilian yell “Guard!” in a Monagesque accent is delightful.
Though the game can be played single player, it’s best played with one to three friends. The more characters, the more abilities at hand to give you an edge in your heists. At the same time there is further room for error, and Monaco is one of the rare but pleasurable games where failing can be a memorable and fun occasion. Trial and error are often necessary to be able to put together the right team to clean out the levels efficiently and safely. I primarily played the game with a pair of friends (favorite characters Locksmith and Lookout respectively). I found the Mole to be fun, myself. The game experience included a great deal of laughter and cheering as we triumphed or failed from mission to mission.
Multiplayer adds other levels of strategy as well. Who picks what items and collects what coins becomes an important element. Every 10 coins gives you an extra smoke bomb, shotgun round, etc. so if one player collects an inordinate amount of coins, they’ll find themselves hogging all the ammo. No one can be left behind as well; if a player goes down, their friends have to come to the rescue and revive them. This becomes equal parts hilarious and nail biting when an ally finds themselves down for the count in the line of a security sensor or in front of a guard’s post. Needless to say, team work is incredibly important, and there’s nothing like co-op to enrich a night of gaming.
All in all I heartily recommend Monaco. It’s a delightful indie game that shows that big innovation and design can come in small packages. Clever level design, challenging and diverse game play, a unique cast of characters and in general excellent design all around make Monaco one of the most delightful treats of the year. Its value is only increased by the fact that it costs only $14.99 on Steam, or $44.99 for a four pack you can split with friends. As cheap as it is, you could say it’s almost a steal.