The first time I heard about Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine was on this very site three years ago with a little news post and a trailer of the game in its early stages of development. Even then, with the rough pixel graphics and a vague outline of the playable characters and their abilities, I was intrigued by the concept: partake in a heist (with up to three of your friends) where you infiltrate a location, grab the loot, and get out again without getting caught. Since that initial glimpse, quite a few aspects of the game - like the aforementioned graphics and character abilities - have undergone revisions, but the core concept has stayed the same. It’s a concept that’s extremely well executed and Monaco is, without a doubt, the best cooperative game I’ve played this year.
The basic premise appears straightforward at first. You assume the role of one of four felons - the Locksmith, the Lookout, the Pickpocket, or the Cleaner – each of whom has a unique ability, such as picking locks quickly or being able to spot the locations of guards on the map. These thieves have decided that jail really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and it’s time to do what any good bunch of criminals would do: break out. However, their new found freedom leaves them stuck in a hostile country with no money and no way out. In order to solve these problems, they go deeper into the criminal underworld and find new associates (with new abilities), and more problems. The simple plan of break out and get out gets more complicated as, in parallel, the levels themselves get more complex.
The overall goal of each level is essentially the same: get in, steal something (whether it is an actual object or a person), and get out. Each level is laid out in a set way with a set number of guards/bystanders, traps, and coins to steal, which increase the number of times you can use special items and also unlock a second, more challenging campaign. While each level varies greatly in these and other aspects, the levels themselves will stay the same no matter which criminal you select or how many other players join you in your extralegal activities.
In a typical level you’ll select one of the thieves, get a little bit of the overarching story, and then tackle the mission. Most levels will start with a special item nearby with a limited number of uses. These items range from shotguns that can kill guards to EMP pulses to knock out electronic devices. Your first time through the level you may find it easy enough bypassing some of the obstacles you encounter. Then you come across an area with a lot of electronic traps, for instance. These can be disarmed by using a computer – perhaps inconveniently located all the way on the other side of the area – to generate a virus and disable them. Unfortunately, that means having to navigate through an area with a lot of bystanders that will alert nearby guards the second they decide they don’t like the way you look. You could also just run the risk of tripping the alarms and trying to hide in one of the nearby bushes until the heat dies down. So what do you do?
If you're playing the game single-player, prepare to spend a lot of time in bushes (top left of the screen)
There’s no right answer to this situation; the choice is entirely yours to make. If you should die and decide to keep going rather than start the level over, you will be able to select a new thief. Your new character’s skills may solve the immediate problem of the traps, but he or she may lack the necessary ability to handle challenges further along. No matter how many times you play a level (and if you’re playing solo, you likely will be replaying them quite a bit), it will feel different each time you play it based on the one factor that matters most: how you play it. This is Monaco’s brilliance. Keep everything about a level the same and let the player (or players) decide how best to interact with it. Maybe you play through a level once as the Mole and knock through a bunch of walls, causing a huge ruckus but efficiently getting at the loot. The next time, you play with a friend and you team up as the Locksmith and Hacker, making short work of any doors and traps that attempt to block your path. There is no one solution, there is just a group of thieves out to loot as much as possible.
As a result of this clever design, Monaco is not your typical stealth game. While your goal is to infiltrate a place, grab the loot, and get back out again, you don’t exactly have to be stealthy the whole time. In fact, depending on which thief you select, you may intentionally get discovered in order to lure enemies to a certain location. To put it another way: you will be seen at some point so put the whole notion of a “stealth run” out of your head. Stealth is just one tool you have in your arsenal and it - just like the thieves’ abilities and the special items - has its strategic uses and, unfortunately, inconveniences.
The Redhead avoids the guard's gaze just barely thanks to that pillar. Oh, and that cat? That cat will ruin your day
While Monaco is not the usual stealth game, it still relies upon some of the same tropes that define that genre. The key one being enemies will only be interested in you and pursue you as long as they can see you and know where you are. Monaco uses what can best be described as a “radial” line of sight effect. Essentially, if you’re walking down a corridor to a large room, you’ll only be able to see the part of the room that’s directly in front of you in a small cone. As you walk down the hall and get closer to the room, this view expands out and you’re able to see more. This reveal switches the formerly gray/black outline of the room into a full color depiction complete with the room’s occupants and furnishings.
It's a very slick and artistic effect (in one level I found myself running past a line of windows over and over again just to watch the slivers of room appear and disappear) but it isn’t always practical. While the color versus grayscale contrast can make it clear what you can see, it can be tough to tell exactly what the guards can see. You may be hiding behind a pillar or around a corner, unable to see a guard, but suddenly they’re shouting “alarm!” and coming after you. Once the panic sets in and you’re running around looking for a place to lie low, the shifting colors once more can make it difficult to find the nearest hiding spot in order to escape your pursuers. While this particular problem doesn’t get any better with co-op, everything else does.
Monaco was meant to be played cooperatively. The situations that are equal parts challenging and frustrating when playing solo become far easier (and more fun) when playing with a friend, or two, or three. That’s mainly due to the expanded array of abilities you have at your disposal when you add more thieves to the mix, but also because the very core of the game is about a group of thieves making it out of Monaco, not just one. This isn’t a one-man mission, it’s a team operation. Simply put: if you’re not playing Monaco with someone else, you’re missing out on the vast majority of what this game has to offer.
Whereas solo play is more focused on being able to get through a level with what limited resources you have at your disposal, cooperative play is all about executing a skillful heist while getting the most out of each thief’s ability. Whatever group of thieves you and your friends decide to go with, there will most assuredly be a use for them. If it’s your first time playing the level, you’ll likely spend some time “casing the joint;” planning out the best routes for your group to take, learning the routes of the guards, and figuring out how to steal everything that’s not nailed down. You may even decide to restart the level and restructure your crew. That is, of course, one method.
Whenever you bring the Mole with you, walls are merely doors that have yet to be opened
The other approach resembles Vinnie and Sol’s attempt to knock over the bookies in “Snatch” rather than the professional maneuvering of Danny Ocean and his crew. Everything starts off calm and controlled: telling the Locksmith to come over to your location to open a door, or asking the Cleaner to knock out that guard. Eventually, though, someone’s going to set off an alarm or cause a guard to get too curious, and that’s when the fun begins. The chaos that can ensue from being discovered by the guards while playing Monaco cooperatively is, quite frankly, highly entertaining. The calm and moody piano music suddenly changes to a more frantic and hurried pace. Shouts of “what are you doing?! Don’t go over there!” are quickly followed by a stream of expletives and laughter. If any sort of gun is added to this mix, then your group will likely go on a killing spree that would put 1920s gangsters to shame.
The best advice I have for situations like these: embrace it. Have fun with it. Quote all your favorite heist movies all at the same time. Don’t worry about a teammate dying (you can always revive them), or trying to make it a perfect crime. Just enjoy the moment for what it is and be prepared for the next one. I honestly have never enjoyed things going so horribly wrong as much as I have when playing Monaco with a group of friends.
Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine is one of the finest executions of cooperative gameplay I’ve seen this year, and perhaps even within the past year of co-op games. The lack of combo co-op is a slight damper on the fun, but that does not stop it from being a complete and utter fantastic co-op experience. Each level will provide you and your teammates with new and creative ways to appropriate, burglarize, lift, loot, make off with, misappropriate, and otherwise ransack the country of Monaco in whatever way you see fit. Whether it’s cool and calculated, or an all-out free-for-all of pillaging, the world of Monaco is yours to do with as you see fit. There is no greater treasure in a game than to simply have the freedom to play and have fun with your friends.
The Co-Optimus review of Monaco is based on the PC version of the game. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.