Redheads, moles and thieves, that’s what they call us at the towns we meet
Monaco is a stylish co-op indie heist game just released on Steam and Xbox 360. It’s been in the making so long that some had begun to think it was vaporware, an impossible dream that would never meet reality. Now it’s out it’s easy to see where that time went as we are presented with a game of admittedly limited scope, but such polish every neon line gleams into the crime-filled night.
Monaco lets you take on heists across a lengthy campaign (or two depending on how you look at it) by yourself, or with up to three other people. There are a number of different characters to take on, each with their own special abilities that twist the gameplay in significant ways. Everyone can pick a door lock or hack a computer, but some can do it faster, some can dispose of guards, one can smash through walls (which is oddly liberating and something rarely seen even in mainstream games) and one has a pet monkey that gathers the gold for you, even if the monkey did literally nothing I’d still play as that character, the gathering is a bonus. Gold is important as it effects your final score and also provides you with ammo for your weapons. While this is a robbery game rather than a murder simulator, it’s so easy for things to get out of hand that you’ll often find yourself resorting to a shotgun, frantically running around looking for cash which will provide you with an extra shot or two to fend off the guards.
Aesthetically, Monaco is up there with Hotline Miami, Journey and Limbo as exquisite experiences that are achievements on their own, regardless of the gameplay. Each character is simply cast as a blocky little thing in the centre of your screen, but clever use of colour and animation mean it’s easy to tell who each player is and what function they provide. Similarly, the levels are simple and in some ways crude architecturally, but with a beautiful and effective lighting engine, the screen becomes a dynamic and shifting light show as you creep past windows and your perspective on the world changes. Sight is all important, as a pervasive fog of war envelops the level, with only one of the characters able to tell what’s going on past a wall or locked door. You’ll find yourself nervously creeping into rooms, or as the mole ploughing through walls, only to find yourself in impossible situations with a guard right in your face. Your only option is to run and then the graceful shifting lights turn into a strobing kaleidoscope as you sprint from room to room, with the outstanding piano score frantically trying to keep up with the action on screen.
Everything about the game oozes with class, from the witty dialogue and level names (Mansion Moucharder is much harder than the previous levels) to the choice of strong neon colours and the lonely piano providing the music. While the game can often end up in mayhem, it’s hard not to feel slick as you casually stroll out the exit of a bank, after robbing it clean, making for the getaway car with three companions.
The game does a good job of teaching you the basics before ramping up the difficulty considerably, and while each level is fairly easy to survive through, getting every coin or doing it within a time limit or keeping stealth is a much greater challenge. Your best laid plans will be burnt to the ground, especially in co-op when a lack of decent communication or a single mistake and tripped alarm can cause chaos for everyone. If you die you can be brought back by teammates, but you’ll feel the shame of letting the side down as you cause more disruption as your friends fight their way back to you. Although it gets difficult to do everything smoothly, in some ways it’s more fun when it goes wrong as you really have to think on your feet and what was playing like a top-down Thief game quickly turns into a mixture of Pac-Man and Smash TV.
It’s hard to find fault with the game as everything it tries it does so well. Most people will be able to get at least 6-8 hours of the game in singleplayer, but if you’re fond of leaderboards or have people to play co-op with this could easily head towards a hundred hours or more as you try to perfect each map. Each level itself can be completed in two to three minutes, with the later ones getting more complex and involved. Taking a cue from Hotline:Miami, a level never overstays its welcome and you’re always pushed towards something new.
I can’t help but feel this is an important indie game and will be fighting for ‘Best of 2013’ prizes at the end of the year. There’s enough twists and clever little quirks to make it more than just another well-polished indie title, and the gameplay is tight enough to put many AAA games to shame. I would have liked a little more variety in the locations and objectives, but here’s hoping we’ll get to go back to Monaco.