Monaco, the latest multiplayer game from Pocketwatch Games, has arrived and is primed to put together a crack team of shady criminal types to pull off a series of heists. Does this indie title manage to steal our hearts? Or does is it make us feel like we've been cheated out of our money?
Multiplayer is the name of the game, ladies and gents. Well, the actual name of the game is Monaco: What's Yours is Mine, but that's beside the point. This is one title that is made that much better by making nice and playing with others. And given the game's premise, it would only make sense that you'd need to partner up with friends or strangers online in order to get the most out of your gameplay experience.
Monaco's story about pulling off heists, breaking into buildings with tight security, and setting fellow thieves free is told through many stages that branch off into other characters' story arcs. You can play each stage with up to four players, each one picking one of the eight different thief characters in the game, though only four are initially available.
At the outset of the game, you only have the Locksmith, the Lookout, the Pickpocket, and the Cleaner. Like any good heist film, you spend the first few levels performing small smash-and-grab jobs and rounding up the rest of the crew, since your heists involve the talents of the Hacker, the Gentleman, the Redhead, and the Mole. Every single one of these thieves has a special skill that can either help or hinder heist attempts, depending on what kind of obstacles lie in wait for our criminal heroes.
The Locksmith can get through locked doors quicker than the others, the Lookout can spot dangers from afar, the Pickpocket's pet monkey helps collect coins, and the Cleaner can knock out guards with a melee attack. The Hacker can hack electrical outlets so that electronic devices in the immediate area go haywire, the Gentleman can disguise himself when hidden, the Redhead can seduce guards, and the Mole can breach rooms by taking his hammer to walls. Forget Ocean's 11, because I'd rather have Monaco's 8!
You can either go it alone or play with multiplayer turned on so that you can get a full party of thieves to complete objectives successfully, and more importantly, complete them faster. What you'll immediately notice when starting up a stage is that the visuals are slick, somewhat confusing, but wholly engrossing. Maps are laid out from a top-down perspective and look like blueprints. You'll see rooms, doors, computers, cameras, stairwells, and other objects on the map, but unless they're directly in your line of sight, you won't be able to tell what they're doing and they'll be bathed in gray.
Much like the "fog of war" in real-time strategy games like StarCraft 2 or Warcraft, you won't be able to see whatever isn't directly in front of you, especially when they're obscured by walls or pillars. But anything in your field of vision shows up in brilliant colors, which makes for a pretty cool effect when sneaking around the dark, drab stages. Having a Lookout definitely helps identify dangers ahead, so it's never a bad idea to have one in the group, especially when you're playing a stage for the first time and don't know the layout.
Having a full party with four different characters is definitely the way to go in Monaco, a game in which co-operative gameplay is paramount. Many of the choices you'll have to make in the game revolve around the synergy between certain characters. Do you use the Locksmith to quickly unlock a door so that the Hacker can get access to a computer without tripping off alarms? If the alarm is tripped, do you have a Cleaner to knock out the guard if he comes to investigate? And if the way out is blocked by more guards, do you have a Mole that can bust through a wall that will lead straight to the parking lot where a getaway car awaits?
Proper planning, coordination, and teamwork is imperative when playing a game like Monaco, which is why I definitely recommend playing it with friends rather than just looking for pick-up groups online. You'll have a better handle on communication and it'll probably be a lot better if you aim expletives at your friends for messing up a heist, rather than berating complete strangers.
While it's incredibly fun to achieve goals together and pull off heists like the ones we dreamed about as kids, the co-operative multiplayer is also a bit of a double-edged sword in that sometimes more experienced players can carry whole groups and hit all of the objectives without giving newbies enough time to adjust to the game. This results in some players making it to later stages without really knowing what to do in other levels, how to effectively play with their chosen characters, or how different thieves should be paired up depending on the stage's objectives.
Of course, new players could always take it slow and complete the game in single-player mode in order to get acclimated to the game's style, pace, and different characters' strengths and weaknesses, but this is a game that's meant to be played in co-op, so I once again have to recommend playing with your buds. You'll thank me later.
Of course, I can't finish out this review without mentioning the dazzling music in this game. The soundtrack is composed by Austin Wintory, the Grammy-nominated composer who worked on the music for thatgamecompany's Journey. The soundtrack gives you the old-school noir feel, but is jazzy, upbeat, and helps drive the clandestine action forward. For example, even though it sucks getting caught, the ramped-up chase music that starts playing gets my heart pumping and fuels the race to get the hell away from guards any way possible. It's amazing how a soundtrack can do so much for stylistically simple (although deceptively so), game like Monaco.
You'll fall in love with the characters, the awesome heist story, the music, and the rush you can get from playing with three other thieves. It may seem a little steep at $14.99 for an indie game you could probably beat within a few days, but the leaderboards should keep enthusiasts coming back to top their high scores and clear times. So even after you beat it, you'll want to go back with your team and try to do it even faster and more efficiently, cleaning out everything and getting the best times possible. And you know what? It only makes sense that a game about thievery should steal away all of your free time.
This review is based on a retail copy of Monaco: What's Yours is Mine for PC.