Monaco Review: A Stolen Heart

The crime caper is a genre that has been incredibly popular in every form of media it has touched, from books to TV to movies. The daring accomplishments-slash-blunders of the protagonists in media like Ocean’s Eleven and Snatch captivate audiences for a very specific reason: There’s nothing quite like seeing a complicated plan – or a complicated disaster – unfold before your eyes. It’s like watching a row of dominoes fall one by one.

Monaco captures that feeling so effectively that these caper movies may as well be obsolete. Why watch complicated heists when you can perform your own?

The IGF apparently thought along the same lines in 2010, giving Monaco – a completely unknown game fighting well-known contenders like Super Meat Boy and Joe Danger – the Grand Prize. It deserved it, too. Monaco is a fantastic game, and even before four years of polish it was clear that it was something special. Now that it’s finally out, everyone can enjoy the simple pleasures of robbing banks and embassies blind.

Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), XBLA
Developer: Pocketwatch Games
Publisher: Pocketwatch Games
Released: April 24, 2013
MSRP: $14.99

Monaco follows a group of thieves, thugs, and the odd sociopath as they loot and sneak their way through the country of the same name. The narrative plays like a cross between a caper movie and a crime drama: Characters from the gang are interviewed by a police officer, thus setting the framework for each level. The story is fairly low-key, so you can skip it without feeling too bad. I recommend reading it, though, as it’s well-written, even if the blurbs are quite short.

You didn’t come here for a story, though. You came here to steal. Luckily for you, Monaco makes stealing look absurdly easy. The basic premise is simple: move around a map from a bird’s eye view, pick locks, hack computers, sneak about, grab loot, and escape. The less loot you steal, the higher penalty you have to your time when you finish the level. Generally, this comes down to running through the levels and trying to avoid being seen or heard by any NPCs.

If you are seen, it doesn’t matter too much; it takes a while for an NPC to actually go and investigate where you are. You’ll have to stay in their line of sight for some time to trigger a response. The question mark next to their head indicates their curiosity in your actions, and the higher it gets the more they begin to move toward you and look closely. If it fills up, the NPC will either run to where you were last seen and investigate the area (guard) or run to a guard to tell on you (civilian). All levels have some mix of NPC types, but you’ll quickly learn to discern the civvies from their burlier, angrier brothers.

You aren’t just facing people, either. There are plenty of security gadgets to trip you up. The most common is the laser tripwire, which will either sound an alarm or shoot you with a sleeping dart. Both are incredibly annoying. Security cameras, alarm-rigged doors, turnstiles, and even dogs also seek to impede your path towards your payday. Dogs in particular are a pain to shake, as they will follow you until they lose your scent.

Every level has a plethora of actions to perform – usually on the aforementioned gadgets – all of which are done simply by holding the movement key against the object. Thanks to this simplicity, the learning curve on Monaco is virtually non-existent. Hacking a computer? No problem, just walk into it! All actions benefit you in some way, although some (like opening an alarm-wired door) can trip you up if you aren’t careful. The most powerful of all these actions is flipping off the power. It gives you a great chance to move through the level unimpeded by lights or security measures, and it also requires a guard to fix. If you can flip off the power and then knock out the guard who comes to turn it on, you’ll have a huge window of opportunity.

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