Monaco is a game about what happens when stealth goes wrong. When the alarm goes off, all the hovering question marks transform into angry red exclamation points, and everybody starts coming at you with guns. It’s the point at which we’d reload in any other stealth game, the mission length, moralising and perhaps Achievements implying that we’d strayed from the ‘perfect’ route. But in Pocketwatch Games’ overhead heist ’em up, it’s the point at which things come alive.
Not that it’s a bad stealth title – anything but. Tonally, Monaco recalls the playful heists of the Sly Cooper series, but with the cold, hard sneaking of Metal Gear Solid or Splinter Cell. Entering a guard’s field of vision, tripping an alarm, or trampling on a cat will trigger an investigation, so you’ll need to find somewhere to hide, rewire a security panel, or stop trampling cats, respectively. You won’t reload because missions are just short enough, stages are just small enough, and you’re unable to save during play.
So instead you’ll go with it. Panicking, you’ll shoot the startled guard, vowing to take the rest down with him as you wait in plain sight and wave your shotgun towards the open door. In another playthrough, you’ll toss a smoke bomb instead, fleeing in a period of intense blind panic as the game’s silent-movie-style soundtrack escalates to hysterical levels. A perfect run would rob you of these heist-movie moments where the plan inevitably falls apart, leaving the team to somehow piece it back together again.
And Monaco is a team game, although it’s almost as enjoyable tackling its many merry heists on your own. There are a number of character types, each with a unique ability that both empowers and enfeebles
you. The Locksmith can pick locks more quickly, the Lookout has better eyesight, while the Mole scoffs at stealth by demolishing most walls that stand in his way. Our favourite, however, is the Pickpocket, who travels with a pet monkey that picks the environment clean on his behalf.
Alone you’re both outnumbered and outmatched, much like in Thief, but together you’re a force to be reckoned with, the equivalent of one Batman or a Corvo Attano. Achieving this empowering synchronicity
requires no small amount of teamwork, so you’re going to want to play the game with friends – or at least like-minded enemies.
With up to four bodies courting detection rather than just one, co-op certainly ups the stakes for a stealth title. One weak link can drag everyone down, but when you’re acting in perfect tandem, Monaco is nothing short of electrifying. The various abilities complement each other fairly well; the Lookout provides a useful tally of nearby guards, so the Mole can bust down walls unheeded. Eventually, when the tension peaks and everything goes to hell, this becomes a wonderfully silly game with a few chums. You’ll kill guards and civilians and run around in circles, and you’ll have earned every second of that release.
When playing Monaco on a single machine, the top-down perspective helpfully expands to accommodate additional players. There’s no need to interrupt the action to check your map or objectives either, since
this information has been cannily integrated into the world. Unoccupied areas are presented in basic map form, with handy giant text bellowing the function of each room, and with arrows leading the way.
It can take a little while to adjust to this pseudo-boardgame aesthetic, particularly during Monaco’s more hectic moments, but it quickly becomes one of the game’s defining strengths. Stealth games involve much more than simple sneaking; in your role as intruder, you’re tasked with analysing and processing a wide range of information before making snap decisions on the fly. Do you hide in this bush, rewire this computer, or make a break for the now-exposed safe? All the necessary information is here at a glance, and that’s no small accomplishment.
In the finished game, we look forward to trying out other character classes, seeing how the missions progress and, importantly, providing the monkey with more things to steal. But what we’ve played of Monaco suggests a stealth game that can hold its head high among its illustrious peers – even if that is the perfect way to get itself caught.