I don’t care what any dumb babies on the internet say, the best level in any videogame is the heist mission. Whether it’s the carefully calculated “get in and get out” gameplay of the Thief series or the Heat-inspired action setpiece that was GTAIV’s “Three Leaf Clover”, the heist mission is (almost) always a special treat. It’s no wonder then that some of my favorite games revolve entirely around this concept, such as Sly Cooper, Payday: The Heist, and in a surreal way, the Hitman series.
You can also now add Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine to that list.
Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine (XBLA, Windows)
Developed and Published by Pocketwatch Games (Windows) & Majesco Entertainment (XBLA)
The key to Monaco’s success is it’s simplicity. Every part of the game’s design is steeped in this simplicity, making for an approachable whilst still engaging game. This is apparent in even the goals of the levels. Every level is a variation of this simple formula: get in, grab what you need, and get out. That need of yours changes from level to level, whether it be steal some jewels to saving a buddy, but it all boils down to that formula. Littered around the level is gold which acts as the game’s way of tracking points, as well as a semi-vital resource.
You see, hidden in the level are a bunch of items which you can use to get out of a hairy situation, be it as an escape mechanism (the smoke bomb), an act of desperation (the wrench), a last ditch effort (the shotgun), etc. Problem is, the only way to gain additional uses of these items beyond the initial one is by collecting 10 gold. This creates an issue of risking the mission on a possible get outta jail free card or rolling the dice on your skills alone. It works beautifully.
Similar to the various items, the game has 8 characters to choose from, each with different abilities. For instance, the mole can break down walls and the pickpocket can use his monkey to collect gold at long range. Very few of the characters feel less useful than the others at your disposal, with only the lockpicker and Redhead sticking out as being very situational. Beyond that, the different ways the various characters synergize with the various levels as well as fellow characters leads to many an argument over which strategy is best.
Something to be praised is the game’s controls, as they are as easy to understand as could be. Use the stick to move, the left trigger to sneak, and the right trigger to use an item. Beyond that, everything is done by pushing up against it. Wanna lockpick that door? Push the stick towards it. Wanna hack that computer? Push the stick towards it. That’s it. All of Monaco’s key function are tied to at any one time 3 parts of the controller. This makes it extraordinarily easy to introduce new players to the game.
Speaking of introducing new players, Monaco is very much a game meant to be played in co-op, especially on the couch. What is at first a game all about taking your time and being cautious quickly turns into a madcap example of how there’s never truly a perfect plan. Really, the many ways a perfectly orchestrated scheme can fall completely apart is something akin to art, and Monaco is our Van Gogh. Eventually, you and your buddies will figure out a groove and find out how best to work together… and when it’s best to abandon all plans and just run for your lives.
One thing that always stuck out to me about Monaco is it’s visual style. The combination of dull building blueprints with striking, boldly-colored blocky environments really does wonders for making the game memorable, at least visually. Similarly, the music by Journey composer Austin Wintory perfectly suits the slightly whimsical, slightly stereotypical French tone of the whole affair. However, after a while tracks start to repeat just a bit too much, leading to an occasional muting.
Really, beyond the kind of uselessness of two of the characters and the occasional confusion the constantly moving shadows can cause, there isn’t much to nitpick about. Trying to find an online match is a bit of hassle due to the lame lobby based system in place. However, this can be ignored. The only real issue Monaco has is it’s single-player component. It’s fine and can be tons of fun in it’s own right, but the solidarity of the whole affair does cause it to feel like a much more sane experience, which is what Monaco should not be.
Even with the stale single player experience, Monaco is a game that shouldn’t be missed. It’s truly rare to see a game so perfectly exemplify the strengths of a genre/concept. Similar to what last year’s Mark of the Ninja did for the stealth, Monaco manages to truly find out what does and doesn’t work with heists. For just that alone the game deserves your 15 bucks. Or however many crazy spacebucks the rest of you use.