REVIEW: Monaco: What's Yours is Mine
REVIEW: Monaco: What's Yours is Mine
Pocketwatch Games' sneaky, smashing heist experience makes it onto Steam and XBLA
What's yours will become mine
Way back in 2010, Monaco, a mere 5 weeks in development at the time, took two prizes at the prestigious Independent Games Festival: Excellence in Design and the Seamus McNally Grand Prize. Three years later, Monaco, now known fully as "Monaco: What's Yours is Mine" has sneaked, stolen, and crashed onto the Steam and XBLA platforms in one of the bigger indie game releases this year. Monaco is truly an original game in the best way – its sense of style and its gameplay mechanics are different, creative, and compelling.
Monaco: What's Yours is Mine revolves around a team of criminals – escaped from various forms of prison, house arrest, and similar confinements – and their exploits through the titular city-state of Monaco. You start off by breaking a seemingly ragtag group of criminals out of prison, and the first few missions double as a quick tutorial for new players. The story itself is presented in a minimalist style, with short scenes prior to the start of each level in which the characters' premise and goals are presented via text. Even though the pre-mission scenes are brief and simple, the criminals' interactions with each other still show personality, and by the time you're halfway in, each characters' personality will have leaked out in one way or another.
Since the game is set in Monaco, the characters featured within all express themselves with a stereotypical, yet adorable, French accent, which is only a small portion of what is some excellent audio design. Music (soundtrack by Austin Wintory of Journey fame) changes or starts up in response to events happening during your playthrough of a level, every action and interaction has its own unique sound effect, and the use of sound to determine where guards approach from fully makes use of stereo audio as the sound of their footsteps plays through the appropriate speaker, fading in and out as they move around relative to your position. Additionally, general atmospheric sounds, such as seagulls in a seaside mission, or a door squeaking, serve to set the mood well.
Monaco is a game with very unique visual flair. Put simply, it looks really freaking cool. Every scene, every menu, and every bit of the game plays, and feels, like it could be printed out and hung up on a wall somewhere as a poster and a tribute to its style. It's a bold blend of minimalist design and individual personality – the menus are simple and feature more empty space than buttons and icons, while the in-game levels, enemies, and characters are represented in a unique fashion that keeps everything instantly recognizable by a combination of shiny neon colors, silhouettes, and bold text.
Vision and planning!
Each mission is played from a top-down perspective, with the floor plans of your heist location readily viewable. Thus, those who desire a strategic approach to the game are in luck, as approaches, guard paths, and alarm positions are all fluid and dependent on your own style and ability to utilize both your own character class, and the layout and resources available in each level.
In Monaco, a total of eight classes – which you help to unlock via the first couple missions – are available to select in any mission. Each class plays to different strengths and offers distinctly different strategic options. Prefer stealthily and deliberately planning out the best route of approach and getting in and out without a guard even knowing what hit them before it's too late? The Gentleman may suit you, as his disguise allows you to walk in plain sight of guards for a small period of time, recharging itself while you're hidden. Want to make more sinister use of your sneaking prowess? The Cleaner instantly puts unaware enemies to sleep if you approach them unnoticed. And so on and so forth – each class offers its own unique take on how to best approach a level, and as the game's creator Andy Schatz notes, the classes are not designed to be balanced against each other, but rather to offer distinctly different options for every player's own style of play. In that regard, Monaco succeeds in a superb fashion.
The gameplay itself thus depends in a large part on the player's style of play. Monaco isn't merely a stealth game – it's a heist movie turned into an action game with stealth as a core element. The pacing of each level shifts fluidly with your play: trip an alarm and you'll find yourself frantically running around, only to find more guards approaching from the next corner. Climb out a window or into a tree to hide, and as the guards lose your trail, the game itself feels like it slows down, almost as if the game is catching its breath along with you. Line of sight and vision play a large part in how you move your character, as any direct line of sight will cause guards and civilians to become alerted to you, indicated by a question mark gradually filling up in red over their heads. Once alerted to your presence, the question mark turns into an exclamation mark, and then you will need to use your own resourcefulness to lose them and continue on. Do you just keep running and hope for the best? Do you duck into a storeroom and listen as their footsteps draw closer... and then fade away? Do you pull the trigger and use one of your limited pieces of gear? Fast, on-the-fly decisions add a sense of urgency, and this sense of urgency constantly plays with the player in its tradeoffs with the stealth mechanic. That said, the sense of urgency can sometimes go overboard a bit: any guards you incapacitate – whether by gunfire or any other means – will inevitably be revived by others or wake up on their own. Ultimately, this means that since the results of your actions are temporary, your rewards for taking risks sometimes don't feel sufficiently influential on the flow of the mission itself.
Do you have the right gear equipped? Each level provides certain options in terms of gear – and your character is able to equip one type at any given time. Equip a shotgun in case of emergencies where you're completely surrounded and don't mind being heard; lure the guards into one chokepoint and take them out with one efficient shot. If you're in a level with a high amount of electronic surveillance equipment, an EMP can temporarily take down all of that and enable you to make it into and out of otherwise seemingly impregnable digital fortresses – but beware, if you're seen and surrounded, you don't have a shotgun to fall back on. All told, there are eight types of gear. In terms of level-specific items, there are also health kits and disguises scattered around the levels. Keeping track of health kits and disguises can get you out of hairy situations, or in the case of the disguise, help you get past a particularly tricky corridor. Once used, they're gone, thus adding another layer of decision-making in your choices for each individual level.
Sneaking around, toying with the guards, and not being caught or killed are fun and all, but of course Monaco is still a heist game. As such, you'll want to steal stuff – the more, the better. Scattered around the levels are golden diamond shaped goodies, and for every ten gathered, you get one more ‘ammo’ in terms of whatever gear you've decided to equip. Clear out an entire level – that is, find and gather every single one of the golden diamonds – and you get a bonus towards unlocking future missions. The mechanic is fun and engaging, and also serves as a difficulty choice of sorts: merely passing a mission can be easy, even on single player, while actually clearing the level out increases the difficulty significantly, especially in later levels. Make no mistake, Monaco is a challenging game, and it challenges you in every decision you make – there is no single ‘right’ way to play it, and that is where the strength of its gameplay variety lies. That said, it does feel as if some parts in some levels are clearly designed for multiplayer rather than single player, and the difficulty of achieving certain things between the two modes supports this notion – things that are borderline frustrating in single player, I found, often instantly became more enjoyable when additional players were added.
Multiplayer character selection
While single player is often more of a deliberate approach, multiplayer – which Monaco supports in the form of both local player co-op as well as online co-op (but not both!) – can range anywhere from chaotic scrambling reminiscent of cartoon heists, to majestic Ocean's Eleven-style schemes where each player and their chosen class plays a specific role. Perhaps you'd like to try using the Redhead, who distracts guards with her womanly charms, in tandem with the Locksmith as he quickly gets past a locked door. Or maybe you'd like to use the Lookout to spot out guards, and when they're far enough away, use the Mole to dig through walls for tidy shortcuts and get in and out without ever being near an enemy, all while the Hacker disables nearby automated systems. The variety and strategies available in single player are only magnified in multiplayer, and while Monaco excels in both single and multiplayer, it is in multiplayer that the game truly is at its dynamic, exhilarating best.
The eight classes... Which will you choose?
Another draw of the game is the speed run aspect, enhanced greatly by the fact that golden diamond locations are randomized each time you load a level. Gone are the days of memorizing a single best approach with a single ideal class, and in its place is the glory that is achieving first place on the Monaco leaderboards. The game provides both single player and multiplayer leaderboards, and in my review period, I noticed all sorts of classes and team variations atop the leaderboards, suggesting that this approach is one that adds yet more variety to the already colorful gameplay in Monaco. Additionally, a level editor has been promised and will surely bring another layer of variety and replayability to the game.
The attention to detail in Monaco is astounding, and it's clear that the folks at Pocketwatch Games have put amazing amounts of dedication and heart into its creation. On top of the polish to obvious things, you can combine keyboard and controller input on the PC, and local co-op has drop-in. Menus and controls are responsive, clean-cut, and intuitive. The gameplay mechanics and focus are original in their design and execution.
It's rare that any game approaches this level of polish and detail in sound, visual, and overall design. It's rarer yet that everything is then packaged together into such a dynamic, fluid, and replayable gameplay experience that simultaneously promotes single player, multiplayer, and many different play styles within. Monaco: What's Yours is Mine manages to achieve all of that, all while being developed by a small indie developer. Pocketwatch Games' team of two Andys (Andy Schatz and Andy Nguyen) have managed – nay, accomplished, with aplomb, a game and experience that is instantly a classic. It's an original experience in the best of ways: Monaco is unique, flashy, welcoming, and challenging all at the same time. Taken on their own, each individual aspect of the game excels in the details, but put together, Monaco: What's Yours is Mine is a comprehensive masterpiece.
Monaco: What's Yours Is Mine
Developer: Pocketwatch Games
Self-Published on PC, published by Majesco Entertainment on XBLA
Platforms: PC/Mac/Xbox Live Arcade
Launch date: April 24, 2013
Price: $US 15