Personalities are the real riches of any heist movie. Mr White, Daniel Ocean, Charlie Croker: you keep watching to see what happens to the rogues with a plan and a disrespect for the law. How fitting that personalities are also a key part of long-in-gestation 2010 IGF winner Monaco, a heist game that’s far from shy about its cinematic reference points.
It starts with the characters, each one an archetype distilled into a power. The Locksmith can spring safes and doors in seconds, for instance; the Redhead is a femme fatale who can reduce a guard to a stupor. The story’s told from more than one viewpoint, too, with radically different takes unlocked by clearing out levels.
Stealth and subterfuge are tools in your roll bag, but Monaco’s gameplay is bipolar, swinging from creeping to chaos. In singleplayer, or with a well-oiled team of up to four, you can orchestrate meticulous infiltrations. But as befits the genre, something will invariably go wrong – you open a door right into a tracking laser tripwire, say – and things descend into a tense scramble for a space to regroup. Making it even this far undetected relies on understanding the stylish but initially opaque top-down visuals, with what you can see drawn in blocks of colour, and what you can’t in blueprint form.
The other side of Monaco is carnage, a thrilling game of Pac-Man-meets-Hotline Miami played with the dumb guards as ghosts and coins as power pellets against a backdrop of gunshots. But there’s an incentive to not rely solely on smash-and-grab tactics: in singleplayer, you get but a few short lives; in multiplayer, you’ll need to rescue downed teammates before you can progress, which is brilliantly thematic but can grow tiresome.
It doesn’t help that there are some legibility issues. Your health and ammo are hidden by default, revealed with a press of A as a ring around your thief. But both are needed often and A also brings up information that can obscure players in the top corners of the screen – about as useful as your mobile phone going off during a bank job. The characters aren’t visually distinct enough to always tell apart, either. Nor can you move the map to scan a floor, robbing you of the ability to preplan.
It’s a testament to this nervy, tactical game that such flaws can’t spoil it. We kept on coming back to try new approaches, especially in the latter missions, which test you to your limits. There’s a breadth of tools for the job – smoke bombs, shotguns, EMPs – and lots of freedom; Pocketwatch isn’t afraid for you to crumble its levels to dust and carve your own path. It may not be the game of stealth the blueprints and lingo of red exclamation marks suggest, but Monaco’s loot and scoot play has a winning personality that’s all its own.
Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine is available on PC and Xbox 360. Xbox 360 version tested.