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Monaco Review (PC) – Sublime Criminality

"Monaco: What's Yours Is Mine" is one of the most interesting games I've ever played.  It's a game that revolves around 8 classes cooperating to pull the perfect heist.  It seems an obvious concept to bank (pun intended) on, but few games have tried this concept and even fewer have succeeded.  Payday: The Heist, which is perhaps the most successful, appealed to modern shooter sensibilities and recent movie fame to acquire popularity. (A good game nontheless) Monaco on the other hand is very austere in it's overall design.  The fanbase has morphed the game into what is is today through feedback, but the game never lost its heart or core in the process.  This proves to be in favor of the game as Monaco shines through in excellence of its design, uncompromising level design, and "instant-classic" gameplay.       

Monaco is split into 33 levels into two seperate stories, with narrative exposition accompanying the beginning of each level through text dialogue spoken by the 8 characters.  The dialogue is short and snappy and demonstrates each character's personality enough so that they don't encapsulate genre cliche characters in a way that seems painful.  The narrative is very "Seven Samurai" or "Ocean's 11" in the way that a group of individuals collaborate in on a plot that is much greater than themselves.  It's a story that always works even when a movie or game as a whole isn't very good.  Monaco manages to take the cliches and morph them in favor of the game's narrative, while providing a few twists along the way to keep the player engaged throughout the experience.  The game has an underlying theme of greed that is much more evocative than one might see merely on the surface.  Is the last coin worth it so you can buy passports out of the country?  Is it worth your life?  The last level perhaps provides the most intelligible version of this theme. 

Monaco's presentation is really unlike anything else I have ever seen.  Perhaps the most impressive thing about the presentation is just how well it coincides with the game's overall premise.  Every level features a blueprint background isolating individual rooms, doorways, traps, and even coins that splashes with color in unison with the player's character's vision.  This gives off a sense of espionage and noir style antics that fits the game like a glove.  Character models and environments are crisp and well detailed.  The characters themselves are contact sensitive so that when a player pushes against a wall, the character will react by places himself in a sidle position to avoid vision.  It's a very subtle way of drawing immersion to the overall experience.  Likewise the sound is also excellent and accompanies the game's delirious attitude towards stealing and is also where it is today by the game's fans.  The french dialogue performed for the guards and bystanders are all performed by French fans of the game.  The music is very Mission Impossible-esque and complements the game's tone wonderfully.   

The gameplay featured in Monaco has been summed up by the game's creator, Andy Schatz, with the phrase, "Pac-Man crossed with Hitman".  It's a four-player, isometric, heist game designed with the intent of mimicing an "Ocean's 11" moment. When Monaco has these moments, (Which it does often) the game soars.  Each level opens with the player choosing between one of 8 characters (some have to be unlocked) and placed into a high-risk, high reward environment filled with lasers, guards, floor sensors and the works.  Each character feels very adequate put into any situation, but some will falter more than others depending upon the level layout and opposition which requires trial and error.  The controls work effortlessly as your character races around the pristine, clean hallways of the rich folk, and interaction with objects is as simple as moving your thumbstick toward the direction of the object. Rarely do you get a sense of a quiet adrenaline rush similar to that of Monaco and it doesn't help that the game is an absolute blast to play.  When the characters are all acting in unison, portraying their roles flawlessly, it creates a moment of gaming magic. 

There are little details scatterd throughout the game's many levels to interact with that provides the player a more sneaky playthrough.  The toilet for instance, comes off as a joke at first sight, being able to excrete your liquids into it, but then you realize it's more important purpose in the gameplay.  Guards don't check behind bathroom doors when someone is performing their 'business'.  The game wants you to experiment, it wants you to improvise your way through a robbery even if it means hiding bodies in bushes or peeing in a toilet.  Rarely do games not inform the gamer of these gameplay possibilities, not allowing the player to experience it all for him/herself in this age of gaming.  The game doesn't always inform you though of pieces of the UI which can be a bit off-putting at first.  Your disguise meter, and coin meter are both right next to one another, surrounding the character model and they are both fairly small.  It took me just long enough to decipher what exaclty they were measuring.  Experimentation is fine, but actual in game assets is an entirely different thing.  The level design of Monaco is very austere.  The game doesn't go out of its way to compromise a building's realistic architect structure to benefit the game's difficulty.  The in-game environments are modeled after hotels, banks, and yachts that we walk on in our everyday lives.  There was also an obvious sense of a vertical shift of the levels in the game's second story that was very refreshing.

Monaco is exemplary when it comes to game design.  It never tries to be anything else than what it is, and it does so without fear.  It's a labor of love that may or may not prove to be a commercial success.  Monaco doesn't care, and it's uncompromising attitude shows through its game design.  Through a mixture of austere level design, a deceptively deep gameplay system, and intriguing narrative filled with hysterical characters, the game crafts an experience that is pure sublime criminality goodness, and that's something special.



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