Indie Focus: Monaco

Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine is a top-down 2D heist game. Using one of eight characters (four of which are unlocked throughout the game) with different special abilities, your job is to complete various heist-based missions to continue the storyline.

You’ll start out with escaping from prison and from there you’ll have a variety of different goals, from breaking into an embassy to steal passports so you can leave the country, to robbing a bank so you can pay a man who has a yacht to help you skip the country.

The story is a simple but effective way of feeding you new objectives, with every cut-scene serving as a short setup for the next mission. It even states your objective at the end of the cut-scene, so you know what you’re doing if you just skipped through it.

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[drop]Much like a heist movie, the storyline is told from different perspectives, in this case from the viewpoint of each of the members of your crew. You start off with the Lockpick’s story, and can unlock another character’s story by finding all the loot in a certain amount of missions.

Loot comes in the form of glowing yellow diamonds (called coins for some reason) that you’ll find around a level. It acts as ammunition for items, which are picked up around levels and range from shotguns and smoke grenades to bandages for healing you and nearby allies.

Collect 10 coins and you’ll get another use of whatever item you have with you. This makes ammunition for these items pretty sparse so you need to be careful when you use it them. I quickly learnt that when using the shotgun grouping enemies together as they’re chasing you is the most efficient way to use it, whereas using your shell on one enemy will get them out of the way but the noise is likely to attract guards to your position.

The game plays like a stealth game most of the time. It’s probably possible to sprint through each level if you’re creative enough but it’s clearly not meant to be played in such a haphazard manner. Everything from the ammo mechanics to the game’s aesthetics point towards planning and taking your time being the aim of the game. For example, guards have a cone of light emanating from their torch, showing you where they’re looking and allowing you to sneak your way past.

It’s a nice aesthetic and it’s particularly interesting that it all hints towards a certain type of gameplay and specific aspects of the game. Clever game design isn’t something I often come across, but Monaco is steeped in it. Its opening levels are a masterclass in introducing elements one at a time without feeling like you’re just being told how to do everything one by one.

The torchlight from guards is never explicitly hinted at as being a cone of vision, but I have played games before and there’s enough visual clues to show you what it represents.

Another example is hiding in bushes. You’re never told you can do this, but when you’re escaping from the prison in the first level, there’s a bush directly in your way as you’re leaving. When you walk into it a little timer appears above your head like it did when picking your cell’s lock and, once the timer is done, your character disappears as he steps into the bush. Without ever stating it explicitly, it’s clear that I’m now hidden.

Ventilation ducts are similar. You’re never told what they are, but the type of white icon is displayed next to them that implies you can interact with them, and when you do you end up in a ventilation duct. It’s very clever game design that introduces elements to you without stopping play or involving a lengthy tutorial level, you’re just shown that you can do these things through gameplay.

This isn’t to say that you’re never explicitly told how to do anything, but even when you are it doesn’t interrupt the gameplay. Instead it’s written in large text on the floor of the level, similar to the way mission objectives were projected onto walls in Splinter Cell Conviction. The text is short and concise, and it never really feel like your hand is being held too much even earlier in the game.

The eight characters offer not only replayability, but they completely change your play style. With the Locksmith, you can quickly sneak into a room and unlock the locked door to leave it before the guard turns around and catches you.

The Cleaner’s ability is to knock any unaware guards out from close range, so he’s better served just doing that. With The Mole, you can break through any wall or object you like with the sledgehammer he carries around, meaning you can just bypass a guard filled room entirely, provided there are no guards too close by who will investigate the noise that is.

You can never be too certain if there’s a guard nearby, even though you can see visual representation of their footprints if they’re very close by, so perhaps you’d prefer the Lookout, who can see all guards and items when sneaking or standing still. The Pickpocket is unique, as he has a monkey minion who will automatically pick up all nearby coins for you without attracting attention (because a monkey wandering around a bank isn’t strange at all), which can be handy in a room that’s full of enemies as well as those shiny coins you need.

Each character offers a completely different style of play when playing alone, but when you duck into the cooperative mode they compliment each other very well. The game not only supports 2-4 player cooperative play, but it really does seem like this is the way to play.

[drop2]Although it doesn’t look like there’s that many people online right now, if you convince a few friends to get the game (or even split the price of a four-pack to save a little money) and play with microphones you’re going to have a superb time either planning elaborate heists or just wandering your way through levels. You can even play cooperative locally by plugging extra controllers in if the mood takes you.

As you may have picked up from the mentioning of certain gameplay mechanics, the game is very “game-y”. That is, it works on its own rules and doesn’t pretend to be realistic at all. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing (in fact I think the focus on realism in the industry can be a bit detrimental to many games), but there are times when it feels a little… off.

Take using a sledgehammer to break into the ATM room of the bank as an example. Nobody finds it suspicious at all that there’s suddenly a large hole in the wall leading outside. It’s silly and a decidedly unrealistic, but it’s easy to forgive as something that’s there to preserve the gameplay.

The focus towards cooperative multiplayer is really the only thing you should be worried about here. It’s a lot of fun in singleplayer but it’s pretty difficult to actually pull off a heist instead of a botched one that results in you running around a bank like an idiot as you find your way back to the exit.

Sometimes you can just plain choose a character that can’t get past a certain point without triggering an alarm. When this happens it doesn’t really feel like you’re the master criminal you’re supposed to be – you certainly didn’t see that happening in Ocean’s Eleven. That’s not to say it’s not fun in single player, but it’s perhaps worth ensuring you’ll have a friend or two who are willing to play it with you either online or locally before you buy it as it certainly seems like it is designed with that in mind.

This is not only a fun game, particularly with some friends, but it’s a masterclass in game design, never letting tutorials interrupt your fun and introducing concepts in an unobtrusive way. It’s a good looking game in a genre that isn’t really explored too often and has gameplay that is very finely crafted. Its sense of humour rounds it all off, such as the prison guard who is fired for letting you escape and keeps reappearing in different jobs as you play through the game, or the exaggerated French accents of the guards when they start shouting as find you, which is pleasantly amusing for some reason.

Monaco is £11.99 on Steam or $15 from its official website, where you’ll get it DRM free via the Humble Store and a key to unlock it on Steam.

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10 Comments

  1. I need to play this with people.

    • You know where I am ;-)

      • Yeah, but Wormwood Scrubs is really difficult for me to get to!

  2. Been tempted to purchase this since it released. I’ve read good things about it everywhere now.

  3. I have picked this up. Did the 4 player pack with my buv and a couple of other friends. But I’ve not had a chance to play yet >.<

  4. I’ve always had my eye on this, but the visuals have put me off a bit, I’m not really into the top-down graphics.

    On a side note, did you get the chance to talk to Luke about Banished?

  5. Keep meaning to get this for the 360.

  6. Any chance of this coming to Playstation platforms at all? Or is locked to the 360 for console play?

  7. Would love this on the Vita

    • Aye, me too. Would be a perfect fit on Vita.

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