Monaco is a game about pulling heists. You move through the floorplan of whatever building it is that you’re breaking into, viewed top-down in abstracted black-on-black. What your character can hear, you see, Marauder’s Map-style. What your character can see appears in sunbursts of luminous full-color—still abstract, but information-complete. You get in, you steal something, and you get out (optionally collecting coins along the way, both to unlock new heists and to earn additional ammunition).
A successful multiplayer run is like clockwork, everyone in tune with everyone else, everything timed down to the split-second. When things go wrong (and things do go wrong), the result is a lot less elegant and a little harder to define, but no less fun. My good buddy Adam and I eventually settled on “Ms. Pac-Man by way of Benny Hill,” and that’s about right: the Pachinko machine psychedelia of Pac-Man Championship Edition DX set to the honky-tonk equivalent of Yakety Sax. The game oscillates between those two utterly different tones and paces, seamlessly and without breaking stride.
The game’s characters are specialists, drawn from heist movie archetypes. The Locksmith can pick locks and crack safes with uncommon speed. The Lookout can detect guards even when they’re well out of eye- and earshot. The Pickpocket has a pet monkey who steals stray valuables on his behalf. The Gentleman, a kindly-looking fellow, can be seen for a few seconds without being suspected. And then there’s The Mole, who can tunnel through walls, and The Redhead, who can beguile and distract.
I prefer The Hacker, who can spread viruses through computers and power outlets, disabling security measures and spreading consistently advantageous chaos. Adam usually ends up being The Cleaner, who can perform non-lethal takedowns on guards and innocent bystanders alike, accompanied by a marginally disquieting sound effect that suggests a brief, fruitless struggle, possibly involving chloroform.
Those two guys work damn well together, with The Hacker disabling the machines while The Cleaner disables the people. They can cut a clear path through rooms as long as they can stay in sync with one another.
If my hack runs out, or if one of Adam’s victims wakes up, then there could be trouble. But often the guard will woozily come to, or the security camera will blink back to life, just was we’re making our escape to the next floor, and that feels like million bucks.
But there’s more than that. The Hacker and The Cleaner inspire crisp, snappy, pulpy role-play, Adam calling out to Hack that camera, hack that camera! and me saying I’ve got it, but quick, clean that guy! and Adam responding OK, we’re good, that guy’s cleaned! in an earthy growl. I don’t even think the game itself uses the word “clean” in quite that way. Adam and I were just getting into the spirit.
Monaco makes it pretty easy to get into the spirit, is what I’m saying.
There are these snippets of story in between the levels, you see, with the game’s various thieves disagreeing on the specifics of the capers—and these sequences do more than add flavor. They echo the tenuous trust and emergent narrative chaos that comes across in every in-game heist: What are you talking about? I didn’t get us killed on the ship. You did.
Like the rest of the game, Monaco’s player relationships have two speeds, well-oiled machine and runaway train, and it’s impossible to say which mode is more compelling. It’s the combination of the two that makes the game such an engrossing creation.