By Luke Shaw
There are few things as satisfying as planning and executing something that can afterwards be relished as “faultless” in its delivery. Pre-planning a bold and elegant display of awareness, intuition, and raw smarts rewards the schemers ten-fold, when all the disparate elements converge over the course of a few seconds. Trip wires are short-circuited, guards are subdued, guests are pickpocketed, and a safe full of jewels is opened by agile fingers. Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine has enshrined this principle in its advertising:
“Get in, get out, get rich.”
Eventually, with friends or strangers, you learn to work your team of uniquely skilled thieves with almost subconscious unity, untangling the knotted security systems of guards, guests, electronics, and mechanical locks, equipping a disguise to sneak by undetected, dropping a smoke bomb to become invisible, a discreet wrench to the back of a skull to knock out that one lookout.
As with all brilliant cooperative games, the unique nature of each character is a huge draw.
Every class has a primary and secondary ability. The Pickpocket’s monkey grabs cash in the area without ever alerting a sentry, whilst the scruffy haired felon is also adept at jumping in bushes and trees making him the ideal person to clean up the more elaborate levels. The Lookout can sneak to reveal guard locations as they maneuver around the areas of the blueprint-style maps that reveal themselves to your line of sight in psychedelic bursts of colors, but she is also the quickest to access ladders and staircases, allowing for a quick getaway if the guards turn their eyes to prying hands.
There is no need for in-depth tutorials or a codex of skills; these heist movie characters are lovingly drawn self-evident caricatures, the likes of which we’ve seen for years. The Hacker hacks to disable security, The Locksmith is adept at opening safes and doors, The Gentleman is able to blend in with a temporary disguise (who’d ever expect such a charming old chap to be stealing their watch whilst he saunters around in a dapper tux?). The Cleaner knocks out guards, The Redhead seduces them, and The Mole digs.
The devilish, top-down mazes of Monaco’s prestigious buildings are intricately designed gauntlets that invite you to pore over them and scrutinize their systems, to identify their mechanisms, and dismantle them without ever attracting attention. Every object is obvious: a lock looks like a lock, a harder lock has two icons, a hand symbol means a palm reader that will set off alarms, a terminal is for hacking. These dazzlingly balanced machines masking as buildings are beautiful puzzle boxes of almost infinite joy . . . but The Mole digs . . . and suddenly every puzzle has a thousand more solutions, and you wonder how Pocketwatch Games has managed to build such devilish systems that are as fun to solve as they are to smash into pieces.
But the true joy of Monaco doesn’t always lie in the perfect heist. Whilst traveling through a level like a team of shadows is a wonderful hit, the sustained high comes from the complete opposite. Truly, the only thing better than perfection is chaos. As a perfect plan fragments into four players skittering through Mansions teeming with guards and Art Galleries full of snobbish guests, you can’t help but be swept away by the thrill of the chase that from the top-down view evokes feelings of Pac-Man, if Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde had toted pistols and machine guns.
As each planned execution turns into a blunder that cannot be contained as it spreads across the entire floor, the physical comedy of Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy are brought to mind, as each hurried action alerts more guards and more guns to the scene, and hiding places become harder to come by as everyone scatters like cockroaches from the light of the security men’s torches.
You laugh, sigh, tut, and curse at your allies as you try and herd yourselves to a transition between floors: your only guaranteed safe haven. A wounded ally gets no sympathy, just calls for them to die somewhere convenient. Oh, definitely not in plain view of that guard, thanks. Not under that camera, please. Oh no, you went and died in front of them both, brilliant. With everything suddenly quiet as your comrade lies dead in a precarious position, you formulate another plan, a better plan. If we could just hack that terminal . . . distract that guard . . . knock down that wall . . . if we pull that off we can rescue him, we have the goods, we can get out, we can get rich.
So you take a breath, you pull off the plan. It goes wrong; it always goes wrong. A perfect heist is exhilarating, a breathtaking rescue is a compelling experience, but in the end Monaco isn’t a game of grand plans, or of seeking perfection; this is a game of capers and all of the hilarity and misadventure that they encapsulate. Seize the chaos, Caper Diem.
Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine was released for the PC by Pocketwatch Games through Majesco Entertainment on April 24. An Xbox 360 version is also scheduled for release in 2013.