Back in 2010 at the Independent Games Festival, there was some pretty stiff competition for the Seumas McNally Grand Prize. Super Meat Boy, Limbo, and Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine! all made a run at the award. Those first two games have since been released, and have received enormous amounts of praise from critics and fans alike. You've probably heard of them.
And yet, neither of them won the Grand Prize that year. Rather, Pocketwatch Games took home the honors — and the $30,000 — for its top down co-op heist / stealth / action game. Three years later, Monaco: What’s Your Is Mine! has finally been released, and gamers on both PC and Xbox 360 alike can get their hands on it.
Monaco places players in the shoes of several different criminals during their escape from prison and their subsequent escapades. As each level begins, you get to choose which character you’d like to be. Each one has their own special abilities: lockpicking, knocking unaware enemies unconscious, or tunneling through walls. This provides surprising strategic depth, alone or with friends.
Obviously, not every character will fit every play-style, and I found myself attached to the three in particular. In single player, you’re given four lives, and switch characters every time you die. When first entering a level, I’d often use The Gentleman — an expert of the art of disguise. If I ran into trouble with numerous amounts of guards in one particular area, I’d then switch to The Cleaner, who’s adept with chloroform. But once all hell inevitably breaks loose, The Locksmith was a reliable option for a quick escape.
You're not completely vulnerable when the action hits, though. Scattered around each level are items such as shotguns, machine guns, and crossbows for the offensive among us. But don't worry. There are also defensive items: bandages, EMP’s, and smoke grenades. Don’t go using them with reckless abandon, however. Each item has a limited amount of uses, and the only way to replenish them is by picking up coins spread out across the level. Tools add an extra dynamic to the strategy, but remain limited enough so that you don’t become overpowered.
Despite being heavily praised for its co-op, playing Monaco alone is still a hell of a lot of fun. Just fun in a different way. With nobody to back you up or supplement your skills, you’ll have to rely on your own cunning to safely navigate each level. One false move will send you spiraling into a world of chaos, as guards chase you down without a shred of mercy. These frantic moments of attempting to elude pursuers while Grammy-nominated composer Austin Wintory expertly wails away on the piano creates a scene straight out of your favorite heist films.
My only gripe with the single player is that some of the later
missions can be challenging to the point where there’s a lack of
balance. Merely collecting all the collectibles will take numerous attempts
at a single mission. I found myself just waiting for the help of others, rather than going it alone. Perhaps that's the not-so-subliminal intent.
As I alluded to earlier, the heart and soul of Monaco is in the 2-4 player co-op. Playing by your lonesome is great fun, but the hours will fly by when you're with a few buddies. The added support allows for a little more lenient difficulty, which actually works in the game’s favor, in that it diversifies the gameplay. Due to the slightly more forgiving nature of co-op, you can afford to take a few chances from time to time.
A strategic attack plan is obviously still the way to go, because picking a class that will compliment your partner’s is the key to success. Of course, there is equal chance your partners-in-crime will bring the house down on you, thanks to a careless move. These sort of freeform missions are what makes Monaco so great. You can play each of the 33 levels alone or with friends, but everytime it’s going to be different.
While multiplayer games are anything but rare these days, Monaco handles the ever so popular mode in a way few games do: by encouraging teamwork and cooperation. This is something the bigger online experiences could afford more of. Teammates are consistently forming strategies and supporting each other. Even when I would screw up and get us all killed, no one really seemed to care. We were all just having so much fun that talking trash or resorting to any sort of rude behavior was the furthest thing from our minds.
Monaco is easily the best multiplayer experience I’ve had since Journey. It encourages cooperation, rather than seeing who can be the biggest ass — or comparing your e-penises. There are no individual scores, just one cumulative number. And you're constantly trying to work together to improve that score, in hopes of topping the leader boards.
When all is said and done, Monaco: What's Yours Is Mine! is an excellent game with wide appeal. It’s challenging, but doesn’t have steep learning curve to deter the more casual gamers. There’s an enormous amount of fun to be had whether you play alone or with friends. Mature themes and content are present, but not in any explicit manner. The tone is handled superbly and boasts Austin Wintory's excellent soundtrack. Levels are short but addictive, so whether you just need a quick fix or a day burner, Monaco is your game.
To be quite honest, Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine! is the game that everyone should be playing.