|Platform XBLA, Win, Mac, Linux|
|Publisher Pocketwatch Games|
|Developer Pocketwatch Games|
|Release Date 04/24/2013|
Monaco: What's Yours is Mine captures the thrill of pulling off the perfect heist.
The game takes everything exciting about heist movies — the colorful roster of cons, the scheming and the tense near-misses with armed guards — and distills that into a tight, top-down stealth-action game.
Monaco also highlights the frustration of watching your best-laid plans go straight to hell. The game's multiplayer mode brilliantly hits both the highs and lows inherent to a high-stakes, high-risk scenario. But just as a proper heist can't be pulled off by a lone wolf, Monaco's single-player offering proves more frustrating than the loot is worth.
Forget that an armed guard or trap is in a given room, and it's lights out
You and up to three teammates pick a character from a lineup of cons — each with their own special ability — and jump into Monaco's loosely story-based campaign. You'll take your crew through 30-some stages by the end of the game, each furthering the noir-meets-Ocean's 11 (think Frank Sinatra, not George Clooney) narrative bit by bit.
Stages are multi-level mazes packed with locked doors, overactive security systems and dopey (yet lethal) guards. It's your job to get in, fulfill your objectives (generally by grabbing specific assets or rescuing someone) and escape without dying. This requires practice and often a whole lot of trial and error. You'll need to memorize the stage layouts as entire sections of the map are blacked out until you physically traverse them. Forget that an armed guard or trap is in a given room, and it's lights out.
While it's possible to beat any stage with any character, some missions are better suited to certain cons' abilities. Some targets fall more easily to the lighter touch of The Gentleman, for example, who can hide in plain sight for a few moments at a time, while The Cleaner can knock out unsuspecting enemies. Other tasks benefit from The Hacker's ability to turn electrical outlets into security-disabling modules. Part of the fun is finding the optimal team for each mission, in finding the right tool for the job, though I certainly had my favorites by the end of the game.
Monaco's strongest suit is the way it promotes teamwork. Like the best heist flicks, it's the unique personalities — and abilities — of each character working in tandem that make things exciting. The best sessions build a narrative from those interactions: The Hacker disables an alarm and The Cleaner knocks out a guard so The Lockpick can get into a safe.
Monaco's real multiplayer triumph is difficult to qualify — it feels like taking part in a con in progress. The game's look is unique and appealing, the world rendered in bright, chunky pixel art, with a ragtime piano underscoring the action. The overall feeling is slick and nostalgic, complementing the theme. The story comes in snippets of hard-boiled dialogue between levels. And when things do go sour — when I was discovered by a bumbling guard, or inadvertently set off a laser trap, exposing my entire team to suddenly eagle-eyed cops — I felt that heat.
But solo, Monaco loses that tension and feel, playing more like a traditional stealth game. The pace is slower and the action less chaotic – that is, until all hell inevitably breaks loose and you can’t rely upon a partner to revive you. You get four "lives" per stage – when you die, you have to pick a new character — but even with that concession, Monaco isn’t balanced well for solitary thieves.
Monaco's tedious progression structure kills its momentum across single and multiplayer, though it's easier to ignore as a team. To open the second tier of stages, you need to go back and "clean out" earlier missions. This means you need to collect each and every coin in a given stage. This is easy enough in earlier, shorter missions, but later levels contain hundreds of collectibles, and it's far too easy to miss one or two and spend long minutes tracking them down — only to be killed by an errant guard you evaded the first time. Or the first several times.
Monaco's progression structure kills its momentum
There are other strange design decisions that also prove irksome. The Redhead has the ability to "charm" unsuspecting enemy characters, rendering them "friendly." But there's no direct way to control who gets charmed — the effect transfers to the first character that "sees" her, which often means that a harmless NPC is charmed, instead of the heavily armed guard who subsequently shoots her in the face. The same goes for The Gentleman's timed disguise ability, which activates automatically when hidden, allowing for little finesse.
This is frustrating, especially when it means finding yourself in another lopsided firefight or on the receiving end of another epic beatdown. Gear is also a source of frustration. There are a limited number of power-ups, and ammo is scarce. You get one item — one bullet, bomb, or bandage — for every ten coins you collect, after picking up the initial gear. You're always at a disadvantage compared to the guards that come swarming once you've tripped a sensor or run across a foe. Like most elements in the game, this heightens tension in multiplayer, but tips the balance towards aggravation in solo play, since working alone leaves you without back-up. And that's Monaco's biggest problem: it's fun with friends, but that's as much because of the problems it allows you to look past as the successful caper simulation it manages with a team in tow.
Monaco pulls off multiplayer heists beautifully, but leaves single players in the lurch
When Monaco is working — when two or more people are picking through its stages, evading traps, conking out guards, and breaking into dangerous territory, it clicks like an expensive safe. It nails the white-knuckled, Hollywood heist motif with style. But you’re going to need like-minded friends — and a whole lot of patience — to get there.
Monaco was reviewed using a "retail" XBLA code provided by Pocketwatch Games. While Pocketwatch made a statement announcing an unspecified delay for the XBLA release of Monaco on April 23, 2013, none of Polygon's review's staff encountered any technical issues with the reviewable, retail build provided. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.About Polygon's Reviews