The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
Monaco is not a game that sells itself well upon first glance. Blocky pixel art and the darkened blueprint of a building greet new players as they enter a level, and the seemingly simplistic gameplay begs the question, “What’s all the fuss about?” The more you play, the more Monaco reveals itself as one of the most sophisticated and nuanced stealth games around. As I played, I warmed to the graphical presentation, grasped the strengths of the multiple characters, and reveled in the fantasy of having every heist movie I’ve ever seen pulled together into one place.
Played from a top-down perspective, Monaco starts out with a gameplay style reminiscent of Pac-Man. Shining gold diamonds are scattered around the level, and sending your character scampering about to pick them up is easy. Outrunning the guards, who trundle after you in pursuit, is just as simple. The floors of each building are darkened until you turn to enter them. At that point, a cone of light reveals what your character can see, blocking off views around corners or darkened underground passageways. Levels pass quickly as you clean them out and continue on your merry way. Decrypting the art style can be tricky early on, but the more you play, the more you grasp what individual objects look like on screen.
The complexity is layered on gradually. New security systems block your way. Pick-up items add a strategic advantage, from sleep crossbows to dynamite. Guards carry heavier firepower. Medical kits become rarer. Objectives lay many floors higher in a building. As the levels progress, cleaning out a stage becomes the real challenge. Completing a level is rarely a great feat, but are you really the kind of criminal willing to settle for a smaller score? Moreover, looting everything is the only way to unlock a second, harder series of levels; during these new sections, a different narrator retells the story with some dramatic changes, and we see the events in a new way. By the end, individual levels are devilishly challenging, filled with twitchy trigger-fingered enemies and constant electronic surveillance. Only the canniest burglars will make it out alive.
Gameplay alternates minute-to-minute between delicate sneaking opportunities and inevitable moments of getting caught. Unlike many stealth games, raised alarms don’t equal a game over. In fact, sometimes it can be the best strategy to cause a loud distraction. While the forgetful AI guards aren’t exactly realistic as they leave off pursuit and return to their posts, players are rewarded by trying multiple strategies to find out what works best.
Success is dependent on knowing the various characters and their unique talents. Do you need the Cleaner to knock out unsuspecting foes? Or does the Hacker manipulate the museum’s laser detection grid? Maybe the Redhead can distract that machine-gun toting embassy soldier? The eight heist artists are each fun in their own right, and since you can only bring in four at once, completing a level with a new mix of characters offers a brand new challenge.
The solo game is enjoyable, but later levels are often exercises in frustration – a lone infiltrator bites the dust too easily, especially once those levels extend to lengthy half-hour affairs. When you die, you re-enter with a different thief, but you can’t take advantage of multiple class abilities simultaneously. That’s why Monaco reaches its zenith only when more players begin to drop in. Up to four companions can tackle a stage together, each bringing unique talents to distract, steal, and escape the scene of the crime. I adore the cooperative vibe as you race and sneak about each floor, occasionally backtracking to revive a fallen comrade. The layering of different character’s abilities adds even more strategic options as you work together to confront ever-more challenging security. For instance, the Mole might dig through the nearby wall so that the Locksmith can open the safe in record time. Developer Pocketwatch Games also deserves praise for catering to its players; online and offline play options are both seamless and fun.
Whether you’re all on the same couch or meeting up online, Monaco offers a multiplayer experience unlike any other game on the market. The text-based story that unfolds between levels is great fun, especially once you begin to see the different perspectives on the tale that unlock as you play. Rule out impatient players and graphics snobs when picking your team, but everyone else should gear up for the big heist.
Email the author Matt Miller, or follow on Game Informer.