Monaco Review: A Stolen Heart

Generally speaking, you will perform three different actions regularly, and each has a character that does said action very quickly: unlocking stuff (locksmith), hacking computers (hacker), and climbing through vents and windows (lookout). Unlocking is normally relegated to doors and safes (which contain absurd amounts of loot). Hacking creates a virus that turns off the nearest lights and security measures, but only one at a time (although there’s a delay when moving from one system to the next). Climbing does exactly what you think, but it’s also a great way to escape as guards will rarely follow you into vents or stage ambushes at the exits.

Characters are more than just the differences in their action speeds, though. Each character – with the exception of the locksmith, who just unlocks stupidly fast – has a specific special ability that can be used to help you out of dire straits. For example, the lookout can “sense” the locations of enemies while sneaking, while the gentleman automatically disguises (does exactly what you think) when unseen. Thanks to this, each level can be played in a different way depending on the character you chose, so giving older levels a whirl is entirely plausible. The cleaner and gentleman are personal favorites, as the cleaner knocks out guards (making moving around easier) and the gentleman can simply walk right by security checkpoints.

Finally, there are items which you can use to aid your heist. These are the only active abilities in the game, and they are triggered by simply clicking the mouse. Each level usually has a selection of items, ranging from the EMP (blacks out all electronics on the floor for a short while) to the shotgun. The early levels tend to stick you with a single item, but after you reach about halfway through the first series of missions, you’ll start running across racks of items to choose from. They tend to support different playstyles, from the stealth offense (sleeping darts) to the panic button (smoke bomb) to the healer (bandage).

The fact that Monaco caters to these different styles without making one stronger than another is a feat in and of itself. Every level (well, except the first) has multiple paths that can be exploited by different characters, and your choice will drastically change how you play. The locksmith might take advantage of his ability to pick the locks on small hiding rooms, while the mole might use his wall-smashing ability to simply bypass an entire gauntlet of security. All styles are valid, balanced, and encouraged, and that’s a rarity in gaming.

Of course, if your friend goes in half-cocked, there’s not much you can do. Monaco supports up to four players in the game at any one time, and – much like you would expect from a sneaking game with multiple players – all hell can quickly break loose. This also means that pulling together the perfect plan is incredibly satisfying. You can have a cleaner knock out a guard and flip the power switch to allow the locksmith to get to a safe unimpeded, for example. When you have other people with you, you can pull off those complicated, split-second timed heists just like you’ve always thought about. Because of this emphasis on planning and teamwork, it’s one of the most satisfying co-op experiences out there, even when everything goes wrong and you have to desperately save your friends. Everyone has to pull their weight to bring home the bacon.

The one downside to Monaco’s gameplay is the lack of a public level editor. This is a game that screams for custom levels, but you’ll have to make do with the existing ones for now. That’s not too terrible – the levels in the game are fantastic as-is – but greater player involvement in the community is always a plus. Expect to see Steam Workshop support and a smooth, easy-to-use map editor at some point in the future.

While plenty of indie games suffer from presentation problems, Monaco sure doesn’t; it’s one stunning game. Characters move with bouncing fluidity, lighting effects are excellent (as they should be in a game about stealth), and line-of-sight illumination (only parts of the map your character can see have color, and it follows real-time line of sight) is the best I’ve ever seen. It takes the indie low-fi aesthetic and twists it into something wholly unique. The only other game that I can think of that approaches Monaco’s art style is Hotline Miami, and that’s a long shot. The music is also particularly good, and captures the feel of older Bond movies without feeling cheesy. Monaco is a game with class.

Monaco perfectly captures the essence of a good caper, and does so with such elegant simplicity and focus that it’s mind-boggling someone else didn’t do it first. The easy learning curve, the variety of characters, the sprawling levels, and the lovely sound and art all combine to make an extremely appealing and replayable game. It may only be April, but Monaco is already a strong contender for Game of the Year.

Pros

  • Simple, easy-to-understand mechanics
  • Detailed maps with lots of potential paths
  • Excellent replayability
  • Lovely visuals
  • Ridiculously fun co-op

Cons

  • Overwhelming number of potential choices
  • No pre-mission map for planning purposes
  • No level editor

Final Score: 95/100


Game Front employs a 100-point scale when reviewing games to be as accurate about the experience as possible. Read the full rundown of what our review scores mean.


James Murff’s other work can be seen here, and you can follow him on Twitter at @jamesmurff.

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