“No wonder we started the game in prison.” – inspirational words from BeefJack’s Heist Squad hacker.
BeefJack’s home-grown Heist Squad, hastily assembled in our defence, is not made up entirely of mastermind criminals. Nor is it made up even slightly of mastermind criminals. We take our cues from Charlie Chaplin, not Dillinger, so when it comes to talking about Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine, our greatest stories are those of complete failure. And if that’s not the hallmark of greatness I don’t know what is.
First impressions might well peg Monaco as a stealth game but by my judgement that’s not the case. Not, at least, to the uninitiated. It is indisputably a top-down, four-player cooperative game about thieving, sneaking, silently dispatching, hacking and cheesing it with plunder stuffed into pockets. But for me it shares more with a slapstick comedy than any stealth game I know of, with the slightest mishap leading to scenes not unlike those of an old cartoon – bad guys chasing good guys round and round and through endless doors. And that’s part of why I like it so.
In terms of raw info it controls like a twin-stick shooter, is effortless to pick up but tough to master. For those looking to stake a claim on the leaderboards, it demands the patience and foresight you might haul with you into a high-stakes chess match (though it supplies enough briefcase bombs, shotguns and smoke grenades to ensure things are never at risk of getting dull).
You’re cast as one of an entourage of wily wrongdoers who begin the game hightailing it from prison before setting about pillaging Monaco of all its worth. Levels pan out via a stylish top-down view, with almost everything obfuscated bar whatever you can see through a natty line-of-sight mechanic. It’s all rather lovely to behold, but things descend into chaos with such haste that it’s easy to overlook just how snazzy everything is, from the delightful score to the droll voice-acting and a wagon-load of cute touches dotted about the levels, it’s certainly not starved of personality.
Each of Monaco’s crooks boasts a party-trick that makes the basic A-B gauntlets through its banks, docks and stately homes a less ruthless affair. The Cleaner, certain to be a favourite, is able to incapacitate unsuspecting guards with his fists while The Gentlemen can don disguises at will and The Lookout can paint the location of enemies on-screen for everyone’s gain. Utilised independently they’re all reasonably valuable assets, yet clearly hampered by their specialist nature. Used cannily in tandem though, their indomitable.
The interplay between the characters has obviously been poured over for more hours than I care to imagine and it shows not only in the multiplayer – where valiant tales of derring-do and stupidity leading to hilarity are rife – but also in the single-player. Played alone Monaco feels like a different game altogether and as a solo gig it’s tougher to recommend. It’s bastard-hard played lone wolf, for starters, with no concessions made for the lack of allies. Without buddies to share in the comedy, the slapstick shenanigans spur more sighs than belly laughs, too. Add to that the prolific AI and the merciless security measures and it’s clear the single-player functions better as a challenge mode for those who’ve exhausted the multiplayer.
Not that exhausting the multiplayer is a simple task. Satisfying the core goal in each level is arguably only half the game. Environments are inundated with cash – tucked away in safes, cash machines, in the pockets of civilians, and the booths of dancers on a crowded nightclub dance floor. Cleaning out each level is where the real challenge lies, and means pickpocketing, hacking and lockpicking everything and everyone. Any Dillinger-knockoff can blitz through a bank in a mad sprint leaving behind a trail of doom and gloom. Fleecing your foes of their funds without them knowing anything was ever amiss is the calling card of a true thieving legend. There’s also the high-score chase to contend with, although I’m not sure it’s particularly compelling. The levels are too long for Monaco to sink its claws in like a Hotline Miami or a Super Meat Boy, and chaos too quick to rear its head making the restart process less appealing than in those games.
But in place of that Monaco comes bursting with tales of gallantry and true grit, camaraderie and abject, humiliating, unmitigated and relentless failure. And that’s brilliant. It gives itself over to the same multiplayer anecdotes that games like Left 4 Dead thrive on and while BeefJack’s Heist Squad may have boasted the collective bank-robbing nous of a beached Humpback whale in a heatwave, at least we’ll have a fistful of tales to tell in the slammer.
This review was originally published on BeefJack.