I like to think that stealth games have been going through somewhat of a renaissance in the past few years. If anything, they’re getting smarter. The act of sleuthing through an environment has never been more accessible, brought about mostly by new and interesting ways to convey information in the world to the player. But there’s always a common thread with stealth games of today—their emphasis on action. Games like Dishonored or Mark of the Ninja obviously place a focus on stealth, but both games and plenty others also place emphasis on killing when things get hairy, and give you plenty of satisfying tools to do so.
Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine never wants you to murder. It’s a stealth game in which murder is possible, but it never pretends to be about moment-to-moment action. Rather, it focuses on a scarcely visited contrast to the “murder as you go” stealth genre. Monaco is about the heist. Get in, get the loot, get out–that is the constant beat by which Monaco operates.
Monaco tells a classic heist story of four freshly escaped thieves, eager to get out of the country to early retirement. This proves to be a much more complicated affair, as what is originally a simple escape of the country branches out into a much messier affair. Throughout the story players will be sent on missions to rescue additional characters, each of whom has it’s own unique ability for sleuthing.
Monaco is played from a 2D top-down view, presenting environments in the form of building floor plans. Line of sight plays a large role in navigation, meaning that anything that your character cannot see is blocked from view. This leads to peeking through doorways, windows, and air vents to gather an understand of your surroundings. Monaco also uses sound to great effect, from subtle conversations between characters, to satisfying footsteps that help reveal guard locations when you can’t see them. Every playable character in Monaco presents its own unique ability, each of which make a certain aspect of stealthy navigation easier. The Lockpick, for example, can conquer a locked door in a fraction of the time of other characters, while the Pickpocket wields a faithful pet monkey that will automatically seek out coins.
Everything in Monaco is done by pressing against objects. You want to unlock a door? Press against it. See a hackable terminal? Push away. It sounds so simple, because it is. It’s such a rudimentary concept that makes all the difference in practice. There are a multitude of tools introduced to the player over the course of the story to mix up the gameplay. Some early examples include the gun, which allows for a quick kill in a hairy situation, at the expense of noise. Smoke bombs are useful for making a hasty escape from multiple pursuers, and the EMP takes out all electronics in the vicinity, including alarms and security sensors. In earlier stages, you’ll only be supplied with one kind of item, often for the sake of teaching you how to use it. In later stages, you’ll be presented with plenty of choice, which provides plenty of opportunity for playing different ways.
Each floor of every stage randomly places coins throughout the area. These are mostly there to evoke a feeling of Pac-Man, but also serve to encourage exploration of stages. Every ten coins collected also scores extra supply of your item, be it a gun or EMP, though unfortunately that is the only way to acquire additional supplies. The game seems really bent on trying to make these coins matter–a feeling further brought about by the game’s alternate storyline. Apart from the first story told from the perspective of the Lockpick, there is a separate parallel story told from the perspective of the Pickpocket. This extended story does a good job of further fleshing out the overall narrative, which is good, because the normal storyline does not stand alone very well. Though with how necessary it is to experience the Pickpocket story, it’s a bummer that they place a sizable gate in front of players to access those missions. To unlock each Pickpocket mission, you must “Clean Out” (collect every coin) two other missions. Cleaning out missions is not always an easy task, especially when you just want to focus on the main objective. It feels like yet another way to make the coins feel important, but it just ends up the act experiencing the full story a hassle.
And while Monaco works very well as a solo experience, you won’t see the best of what it has to offer until jumping into co-op. Co-op grants the ability to have multiple thieves at the same time, significantly increasing your effectiveness in the field. A great example is having someone play as the Lockpick to easily navigate through doors, someone as the Hacker to bring any security to its knees, someone as the Pickpocket to collect every coin along the way, and someone as the Cleaner to knock out any suspicious guards. This is an amount of power that would be plainly impossible playing alone. Levels also don’t scale in difficulty with the addition of players, so there’s never a disadvantage to playing co-op. When you can gather a few friends and effectively coordinate with each other, there’s nothing more satisfying than pulling off the perfect heist.
One of Monaco’s greatest strengths is its distinct visual style. But the style is not just there to be aesthetically pleasing, as it can also contribute directly to gameplay. AI guards have mannerisms that reveal their behavior, and the line-of-sight mechanic challenges the player to learn their surroundings without being able to see them.
Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine perfectly represents what sets stealth games apart from the pack. There’s not always a need for a game inherently about violence. You’re there to get the loot, and get out. And even though a round of Monaco isn’t one of constant moment-to-moment action, it find different and more interesting ways of delivering the same satisfying experience. Monaco achieves magic when a group of friends and I can ghost into a complex, dismantle every obstacle in our way, grab what we’re after, and make like we were never there. And while the unnecessary coin quota can hamper what is otherwise an enjoyable story, it doesn’t do much to make we want to play Monaco any less. Monaco is a simultaneous triumph in stealth, style, and game design, and one that should not be missed.