What We Think
Monaco from Pocketwatch Games certainly has been a long time coming. Word of this top-down co-op heist escapade set the indie gaming world ablaze when it took top honors at the 2010 Independent Games Festival. It has been on our radar here at IGR as well, making our Most Anticipated Indie Games list for 2011 and 2012.
Described by lead game designer Andy Schatz as Pac-Man meets Ocean’s Eleven, Monaco starts with a straightforward concept, an accessible interface, and easy-to-learn intuitive mechanics. Once these deceptively simple elements come together however, the game succeeds beyond the hopes of those who have been eagerly waiting to get their grimy paws on it (like us). Somewhere beneath the ground floor of its minimalist facade hides a great deal of complexity and shout-out-loud fun. As a multiplayer title, it demands taut collaboration, and when such synchronicity fails, hilarity ensues. Under no circumstances is Monaco to be missed.
A Story About Robbin’ Hoodlums
Each level begins with you outside the target of your incumbent escapades, with very little intel as to the goings-on inside. It’s up to you and your crew to sniff out the joint, find an entry point, discover weaknesses in security, patrols, disarm security cameras and cause distractions for each other. While there is no separate tutorial, and negligible documentation, you are provided helpful tips within the map itself as new elements are introduced.
The goals are often to nab a heavily-guarded object, often several, before making your speedy get-away and grabbing all the extra loot you can along the way. In multiplayer mode that can become slapstick bumbling thieves tumbling over each other as they make a sloppy grab and run, or an elegant Ocean’s 11 style orchestrated coordination that would put synchronized swimmers to shame.
The story is accordingly lean, but no less alluring – each level chronicles the crew’s descent into debauchery, sinking them ever deeper into a Usual Suspects-style quagmire. Each character takes a turn to share its opinion on the matter at hand and in the process reveals more than just attitude and hints on approaches, but also elevating their otherwise abstract renditions to actual personalities. The final chapter brings a surprise for groups of players who’ve been working together to get rich.
Beyond the story’s pageantry, the gameplay essentially involves collecting all objectives and escaping unscathed using little more than a joystick and some spare strategic button presses. This Lilliputian control scheme is likely why in interviews Schatz likens it to Pac-Man.
Grabbing every coin in a level is not required, but you are scored on each level by the time it took you to complete it. Every coin you miss is counted against you as 10 more seconds added to your time – so you can do well by being a completionist or for doing a speed run, but highly organized and well executed strategy that balances both of these traits will get you the highest ranking. But that’s not the end of it. As a reward for getting 100% of the money in each stage, you unlock hard mode versions of all the stages, more than doubling the amount of content to be had.
Why Do I Have to Be Mr. Pink?
There are a total eight playable characters in Monaco, some that must be unlocked, and because the strategies required in deploying them are so varied, there are almost 8 different games on offer here.
The most basic of social deviants would be the Locksmith, the Pickpocket, and the Lookout, each of whom can do what their name implies; get through locked doors faster, employ a trained monkey to easily get coins carried by civilians, or even have an ESP-like knowledge of the building’s layout and the positions of guards, respectively.
Monaco’s Best and Brightest
The next layer of ne’er-do-wells are the Cleaner, who is capable of KO’ing any guard who is not yet aware of him, allowing you to strong-arm your way through a level. The Mole can clear a path through almost any wall, completely changing possible angles of approach. The Gentleman is a suave, Bond-like agent and a master of disguise. He is able to stand in full view of guards before they think him to be out of place – at least for a few seconds. The Hacker can send viruses through wall outlets and cause security systems and lights to go on the fritz in your favor. The final character type is the Redhead, who will charm the first person who sees her, turning him into a sidekick.
But Monaco isn’t just a stealth game – beyond choosing what specialized character you will employ you’ll have a selection of tools to take advantage of that include anything from First Aid kits, to C4, and this combination will further alter the way you approach a mission. By taking the med kit, for example, your characters can become the Healer or DPS class in a given mission.
A View to a Thrill
The game’s principal design boast is the use of vectors to reveal a highly accurate, real-time line-of-sight from a top down view – relative for each player’s position. In other words, anything you character can “see” paints the otherwise grayscale blueprint of the level’s floor plan in bright colors. As creeps patrol the map, be they guards, or civilians, they leave little footprints until they are close enough that you can hear their footfalls. (The Lookout expands the amount of the map that reveals its interactive objects and the range at which you can detect patrols.) To an onlooker, new to the game, this may appear a bit bewildering, but once you are in the midst of the action, it is very intuitive.
All the characters are represented with a 8-bit pixel-art torsos, with various accessories to differentiate them, distinguishing them from the other thugs. Objects on the map share this informative design and it is quite obvious what will happen when you interact with them (with a few small exceptions). Others you will clearly recognize after an initial interaction along with the opportunities and threats they present.
Guards who have come looking for you will swing their square heads around in an exaggerated arc, wondering where you went. The animation of the characters’ bodies is a jerky gait, but even though it’s a top-town, highly stylized view, you can still vividly imagine beefy cops chasing after stereotypical con men with big money bags slung over their shoulders.
Additionally, performing most actions is very straightforward requiring little more than pushing up against the object to perform a contextually relevant action. For example – your crew has decided to enter the Museum though the window. There is no additional button to press; just move up to the window, and once a clock timer counts its way down, you’re through.
The Ole’ Softshoe
The situation: The Cleaner steps quickly to an unaware member of high society, and knocks them out – no button presses required, but the timing is critical – loiter too long, and their suspicion will raise quickly. As you sneak past guards and civilians, they won’t immediately become alerted to your presence. Should one of them see you, a question mark will appear over his head, and will begin to fill up from the bottom. As this occurs you are still perfectly safe. However running around like a nut will cause guards to become alerted to you much faster.
To deal with this, there IS a button press, and it will cause you to tip-toe around. Once a guard’s ‘?’ has filled completely, he will leave his post to check you out. If he maintains a line-of-sight on you as he approaches, or if he taps you on the shoulder and doesn’t care for the cut of your jib, he will then go into full-blown alert status and try to subdue you. To escape, you will need to break line of sight and double back into a good hiding place.
That’s as complex as the mechanics get. This frees you up to focus on navigating your crook as he carries out his misdeeds. Many of the doors in each location are locked, so these will need to be picked before gaining access. Again, all it takes to deal with the lock is to move against it, wait for the timer to count down, and the action is complete.
Cheese it! The Fuzz!
The soundtrack by Austin Wintory (best known to the gaming world for his work on Journey – link to our review) is a charmingly fitting Scott Joplin-inspired rag reminiscent of early silent film piano scores. Being seen will cue the invisible pianist to stir up some classic chase music; everything you’d imagine from the Keystone Cops in a black-and-white picture show. Once you successfully evade capture, it’ll return to olde-timey sneaking music. At first blush it sounded a bit MIDI-piano-ish but then it became clear that the tone of the piano was of a more diegetic bent.
An Almost Perfect Crime
I found only two things to gripe about, the first of which is easily fixable, and that is that the ATMs in some levels hide money to collect, but, they appear as Hand symbols which you have by that point learned to recognize as an alarm, should you touch it. While Safes contain hidden money too, they are marked with Dollar Signs, while again, the ATMs are not. This caused some confusion as my partner and I spent several minutes searching in vain for the last 10 money drops in levels with ATMs.
My other issue pertains to the character of the Redhead, whose ultimate utility I may have misunderstood. Charming the first person that sees you is an OK method to deal with getting caught, but unfortunately, they never leave your side after that. (It seems that one can break this initial seductive link between her and a creep, typically by becoming inaccessible – say for example through a hole in the wall created by the Mole – at which point a new suitor can be kited about.)
In one mission my co-op partner-in-crime (IGR’s Indie-Game-Freak) charmed a guard dog who was being led by a human trainer. The dog would not leave his side, and the trainer was always following right behind. My partner tried to stay out of sight of the trainer, hilariously running around a big pillar in the room, but he was inevitably found and caught. The Redhead’s skill had worked against him. In other missions she proved no more favorable in getting the job done. Is it an underdeveloped character? A “hard mode” option? Or is there some advantage to her “talents” that is decidedly unapparent?
Great Riches and Filthy Lucre Await You in Monaco
I played through the full campaign mode and one of the expanded higher difficulty levels. Half of my play-through was done in multiplayer. So even though it’s best played with buddies, it is just as fun as a solo job. Once you have unlocked and cleared everything in the story mode, there are still high score tables to throw yourself at, containing both daily and all-time high scores.
Monaco is itself a work of art. A ready-to-become-classic that you will want to break out at all your parties. Even non-gamer types will have fun with this easy to learn romp, and that may be its highest accolade.
The wait is over. Assemble your team, and take what’s yours.
Monaco game – Official Site at Pocketwatch Games
Get Monaco on Steam
Review by HappyWulf with additional notes and comments by Indie-Game-Freak. Further editing by Callabrantus.