Video Games & Tech

Monaco; What’s yours is Mine Review – 7GPP

by on 02/06/2013
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Despite barely having enough patience to wait for the toast in the morning, I do enjoy stealth games. I find the tension and suspense very engrossing, and the professional feeling you get while creeping around evading guards, to me, is infinitely more satisfying than your average running and gunning. It’s unfortunate, then, that I’m not exactly what you’d call good at stealth games. I tend get discovered. A lot. Luckily for me, though, I’m a firm believer in the “Pragmatist’s School of Stealth”. In more simple terms, when I do get discovered; I’m really good at killing people and running away. I know for a fact that probably a great many people reading this can relate to preferring their sneaking as a side rather than as a main; and if you’re one of them, Monaco; What’s Yours is Mine will be right up your street.

 At heart, this beautiful indie co-op sneak ‘em up is all about getting together a crack team of criminals, specialists and ne’er do wells helping each other pull off daring heists in a variety of different locations, from banks to mansions, casinos and even boats. But sneaking through laser tripwires and disabling alarm systems like a well-oiled pixelly machine is only half the story. Each mission is on a timer, and completing your objective is only one side of the coin. The real aim is to do so in the quickest time possible, with daily leaderboards constantly taunting your (if you’re anything like me) slapstick and python-esque like efforts at being a master criminal. To complicate the issue, coins are scattered all over the levels; hidden inside locked rooms, inside safes, hidden by civilians, and so on, and for each coin that’s left uncollected, you’re awarded a time penalty. So if you want to get the perfect score, you need more than just stealth. A mastery of speed and teamwork is also necessary.

 Unfortunately, this means the game can be unnecessarily difficult at times, as it suffers the same problem many online co-op games suffer from; lack of communication. Unless you pre-arrange to play with friends, almost no one bothers to use the chat function, never mind use microphones, and while this might be an annoyance in other team games, the nature of Monaco means everyone can very quickly get into trouble. With the fact that the game’s difficulty increases significantly after the first 6 or 7 levels, if you simply wish to drop in and play a quick game then depending on the team, it can be a very punishing game indeed, and with only a limited number of retries, it can even become very detrimental, to have to constantly chase after other people, or revive them, or even start over.

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This, however, leads me nicely onto the heart of this game, and why I enjoy it so much, despite its occasional frustrations. The chaos. Things will go wrong during the course of a level. There’s no point in attempting to map out guard’s patrol routes and complete the level without being seen. There are no rewards, and in fact doing so will probably punish you with a laughably long completion time. It may go against your nature, but patience is most definitely not a virtue in Monaco. 

If you’re anything like me and my team-mates then no doubt you will start off each level by sticking together, using each team member’s special abilities to advance quickly as a group. But soon enough a guard will spot you, or tripwires will trigger, or guard dogs will sniff you out. And then suddenly a stealth operation switches into an all out mad arcade dash round the level. The music goes from subdued tones to frantic piano thumping jazz improv, and just like a pub during last orders, everyone attempts to escape at the same time, while desperately seeking coins. You will probably get split up, and again if you’re anything like me you’ll find yourself spending a lot of time simply exploring, regrouping and seeking out the rest of your team. 

 The exploration element is interesting as well. The game is played from a top-down perspective, however unlike most top-down or isometric games where everything is visible, even in adjoining rooms, in Monaco the only area of the map visible is your immediate surroundings, and even this is limited to your character’s line of sight. You might, for example, be in a narrow corridor. Here, the view is very claustrophobic, seeing nothing more than a narrow cone directly in front and behind you. However step into a large hall and suddenly the gray map is flooded with life and colour.

The developers have clearly made an attempt to fill each level design with as much colour and depth as possible, and because you’re constantly on the move, the environment is constantly changing from gray, to beautiful deep blues, greens, purples, reds and blacks, before fading to unremarkable gray once again. Open a door in Monaco and you never have a clue what’s on the other side. It could be a safe, or a room full of guards. The only clue you have is the fog of war, which cleverly takes the form of a blueprint, highlighting different rooms and other items of interest. It’s a very clever take on the traditional fog of war, and rather than being a gimmick, it adds a unique tactical spin on the game.

 

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In terms of gameplay there’s a lot to keep you busy in Monaco. Several different characters are available right from the beginning, each with a special skill, such as The Cleaner knocking out unaware guards, or The Pickpocket’s pet monkey that he can send to remotely collect coins. Additionally, two more characters can be unlocked in the game’s opening chapters. However each of the game’s 33 levels are so diverse that there’s never really a “perfect team”, pretty much any character you chose is bound to be useful thanks to a range of weapons, tools and disguises scattered around each level that any character can use. Of course, you could in theory attempt these levels on your own, but doing so would really miss the heart of the game. After all, choosing the right team for the right job, may not be necessary, but it certainly helps, and it’s definitely part of the fun.

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The only other downside to Monaco for me is that it sometimes feels like it doesn’t know what it wants to be. It shows you a time you need to beat before handing you a pile of shotguns, crossbows, wrenches and smoke bombs and, practically telling you to go and wreak havoc. However the level design and the overall atmosphere of the game seems to want to be taken more seriously.

You are presented as a team of master thieves planning the perfect steal, and indeed most levels give the player ample hiding places, escape routes and other opportunities to remain undetected, but it begs the question; what’s the point? If I’m trying to do the level in the quickest time possible I’m just going to plough through those alarms and blast anyone that tries to stop me with my shotgun, not hide in cupboards and try to remain unseen. It’s like trying to make a game like Splinter Cell, then turning it into Call of Duty halfway through. If it doesn’t put you off, then it could still leave you wondering “what’s the point?”. 

Nevertheless if you don’t mind it’s indecisiveness and just try and take it as it is, then Monaco is an excellent title, well worth your time and money. It’s a beautiful looking game, thanks to both the art style and the unique viewpoints, and the arcade style gameplay, once it gets started, is equal parts chaotic and hilarious, and it certainly has plenty of depth to keep you coming back time and time again for just one more heist. At just £11.99 you’d be hard pressed to find an experience anything like the madcap arcade fun of Monaco, and for that I’d say it’s well worth your time; stealth fan or not.

 

7 GPP

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