If there is one thing that I love, it's a damn good heist film! As a generally well-behaved, law-abiding individual who has not even shoplifted a pack of gum, the very idea of devising an elaborate plot to steal millions of dollars worth of cash or priceless jewels or lift a priceless artifact from the most secure museum on the globe has always fascinated me. That said, video games have never quite captured the look and feel of a heist film. This is just ridiculous considering interactive storytelling is the only medium that could truly make you feel anxious or even give you a rush about taking something away from someone else and knowing that it is just wrong. No matter how much your heart may race when watching a heist flick, you can never feel as invested in the outcome as you can if you were the one making the hard decisions. But, thanks to Andy Schatz and his team at Pocketwatch Games, we now have a heist game worthy of the of all the declarations I just made. Ladies and gentlemen, let's take a trip over to Monaco.
Monaco is a top-down cooperative stealth and collection game where the player chooses one of eight archetypal character classes to steal some loot. In each mission, you are able to play up to four characters in either online or couch co-op – or play solo, if that's your thing – and must work toward retrieving your goal, whether it be stealing a priceless work of art or rescuing another thief to join your ragtag team of misfits and give you a new character class to play with. Each character class is just like one you would find in a heist film. You have the Lookout, expertise in lock picking; the Lookout, expertise in reconnaissance; the Pickpocket, expertise in grabbing loot (thanks to his trained monkey, Hector); the Cleaner, expertise in melee; the Mole, expertise in breach (i.e. busting through walls to grab things); the Gentleman, expertise in stealth; the Hacker, expertise in hacking systems and disabling traps; and the Redhead, expertise in charm. The best way to describe the concept of Monaco is dropping the world of Soderbergh's Out of Sight or Ocean's Eleven into the style of Pac-Man. And while that may not seem like the best way to do things, you would be heartily mistaken. Monaco starts off with four thieves – the Locksmith, the Lookout, the Pickpocket and the Cleaner – trying to break out of a prison in Monaco. After you escape, you begin working on a series of big score heists in an attempt to make enough money to flee the country.
So, how does one use all of these characters to complete these ever-increasingly difficult heists and escape from Monaco? Well, it all comes down to Monaco's brilliant control scheme. What makes it so brilliant is its simplicity. Really, you only use four keys on your controller to play the game: the left and right thumbsticks as well as the left and right trigger. That's all, folks. The left trigger is for sneaking and the right for using any item you picked up. The right thumbstick is used to aim the an object if said object needs to be aimed – like a gun or crossbow. Most of the mechanics are built straight into the left thumbstick. Not only do you use it to move around the level (probably while holding down the left trigger the entire time so no one notices you), but it is also used to interact with any object in your environment. By approaching an object – like a weapon, for example – you simply push forward onto the object and pick it up. This is the same mechanic used to hack a computer, climb a ladder, lock pick a door, put on a disguise, revive a teammate, send a virus into the electric system (if you're the Hacker), bust through a wall (if you're the Mole) or, if you happen to be a male character in a restroom, urinate in the toilet.
[Quick Note for the PC Crowd: You really should play Monaco with a gamepad, PC gamers. A keyboard will suffice if you're…I don't know…stuck in a cramped airplane seat or a cubicle on the company dime, but a gamepad will will be your best friend here.]
Now, don't worry about accidentally starting something by merely walking past a locked door or nearby a computer. Once you push forward on the object, a small countdown clock appears over your character, letting you know when the task will be completed. Nothing that you will want to do will happen instantly in this game. But, with that said, the environment can turn on you on a dime. Every action makes you think about how much time you have before the next guard or innocent bystander turns the corner and sees you, a dog catches your scent and chases after you, a beam from rotating laser security catches you and sounds off the alarm or shoots you with a sleep dart or gun turret. But it all comes down to timing. If you time it all correctly, you could go through the level without alerting anyone to your presence, securing your target and getting all the loot in the process. However, the odds of that ever happening are ever so against you. As the levels progress, each heist becomes much more difficult than the last. Especially if you are choosing to play solo.
While you can play through Monaco without ever jumping online or having a friend plug in their controller and play alongside you, you will hit the proverbial wall so much that you may just throw your controller through a window (and I do not mean the proverbial one). Just as I assume it is in real life (thanks to the countless hours of movies, TV and Richard Stark's Parker novels I have consumed), heists ca
n go much better with a team. Unless, of course, your team finks on you, steals your wife and leaves you to die somewhere… But back to Monaco! Cooperating with other people, as we learned in pre-K, is a good thing. In Monaco, co-op works with up to four players and each of those players can be doing something that is important to the heist. You can either stay close to other players or venture forth and help the team in other ways. For example, you can have the Hacker and the Pickpocket going around the level and just cleaning out the loot from all secure rooms while the Gentleman and the Locksmith complete the mission objective. My one complaint with co-op – and my only one for the whole game, really – is that when you and your team are all around one another, you may end up losing track of your character, especially when you all pick up disguises. Each character class is separated by a different color, but the pixel art can make it a tad difficult to distinguish between the pinks and oranges or the blues and greens. It rarely ever becomes an issue and – at least in my time playing the game – has yet to cause me to do something that affects the outcome of my playthrough.
But, despite that one minor gripe, the art design of Monaco is fantastic. Essentially, each level is designed to look like a blueprint. At first, the level is clouded in black, indicating that you have not yet traversed that area. As you move about throughout the level, you will begin seeing the names of each room/area and what is inside that room, whether it be a hackable computer, some loot or the piece that you need to steal to complete the heist. That blueprint look adds to the feel of you completing a heist from a '60s-era robbery flick, where all those guys pull out a blueprint of the building and plan out how to breach and loot the building. Andy Schatz – who oversaw game design and art direction – outdid himself here. Just because the game is in pixel art does not mean that it isn't a stunning piece of interactive art to marvel upon. And Andy Nguyen's level design adds just as much of that marvel to the game. Each environment has a different look and feel from the last and no two play exactly like one another.
Another shining achievment in Monaco is the musical score. The music in Monaco plays like a silent film-era crime flick. It's all piano/organ music that gets louder and faster and played harder as you mess up. That's right, kids: the music organically changes as the heist goes North or South. The music really ends up being a character in and of itself, letting you know that things might be taking a turn for the worse. And it doesn't just got from soft to LOUD instantly. If you appear in front of a guard and he notices you, the music will slowly get louder and faster as the guard is trying to determine if you are a threat or someone who should be there. When you go back into cover and the guard no longer sees you, the music will slowly return to its original level and tempo. Plus, the music is by none other than Austin Wintory, whose music from last year's Journey won a BAFTA and was the first time video game music had been nominated for a Grammy. So the music in Monaco is a pretty high-caliber aural spectacle.
If you haven't guessed by now, Monaco is definitely something that you should be playing and playing and playing some more. There really isn't much focus on creating a phenomenal cooperative experience out there in the realm of video games. Sure, there's a ton of team-based multiplayer in most modern shooters on the market, but I have never played one where I felt I was on a team. The best online experiences I have had with games are in co-op. And Monaco is most assuredly a game that you cannot survive without great teamwork. I know that we are just fresh into the second quarter of a year that will usher in two brand new consoles and a number of new, blockbuster titles being released. But, as it stands, Monaco is definitely an early contender for all of the Game of the Year gold stars and smiley faces. I cannot wait to see what the team at Pocketwatch Games does next! Now, back to me planning my own heist to steal time away from a woman who finds me frustrating.
If you would like to play Monaco: What's Yours Is Mine for yourself, check it out on Pocketwatch Games' website!
Pop culture geek, Nick Boisson, lives in front of his computer, where he is Section Editor of Comics Bulletin's video game appendage and shares his slushily obsessive love of video games, comics, television and film with the Internet masses. In the physical realm, he works in Guest Relations for Florida Supercon in Miami as well as a day-to-day job, which he refuses to identify to the public. We're thinking something in-between confidential informant and professional chum-scrubber.