E3 has been and gone and the console war has started a fresh. Yet, with all the focus on the next generation, there is a real chance that a few good games may slip the net between old and new, which is why Monaco is highlighted for your gaming pleasure; its quirky appearance, original idea and wry sense of humour presents a tight and polished package which contains a few minor hiccups here and there preventing it from greatness.
A co-op heist game with zany graphics, its own personality and a sense of teamwork is perhaps the best way to describe Monaco. Single player and multiplayer are the flavours on offer; with the former allowing you to go through several campaigns as one of the motley crew of criminals that you meet along the way, whilst multiplayer ups the ante, and difficulty, in the same environments. You are dropped in the shallow end with armbands as the game gracefully leads you through the ins and outs of the gameplay, focusing on unlocking doors, evading guards, taking your stash and legging it out of there. As each mission progresses, another layer is introduced, bringing in the likes of dogs, tripwires and a vast array of guards and alarms that makes a poor thief’s life so much more difficult than it ever needs to be.
The story isn’t anything particularly to write home about (in the Austin Powers movies all you remember is the gags and atmosphere, not the story) and the single player experience tends to feel a bit deflated at times. Whilst exploring areas and finding out your own routes, whether it is a diamond heist or breaking into an embassy, is interesting, it doesn’t have the same nuance as it does when multiplayer goes right. Well if it goes right. Although the multiplayer experience is a complete joy to play when all four players are on the same page, it devolves into bedlam when some moron decides leading every guard on the map to your position is the best use of his or her Xbox Live subscription. The different heists across the areas tend to unfold by themselves, which is both a good and a bad thing. Whilst trying to promote organic team play ,it also tends to full in the trap of everyone running in different directions, despite the fact that you are all supposed to be heading for the same goal; working together with a group of friends with all the mechanics working shows the pros and cons of the main multiplayer mechanic that is the corner stone of Monaco.
The most interesting facet of the game play is that you can tailor the way you play by choosing a particular character, each with their own particular quirks. The Locksmith is the fastest to unlock doors, the Cleaner puts the huge amount of enemies you encounter to ‘bed’, the Gentleman is a master of disguise and the Redhead charms her way through the level, one guard at a time. Pocketwatch Games also adds in the element of having to make do with a bad situation; you default to another member of the gang if you die ,meaning you have to adapt to the surroundings and the rather large mess that you have created. Despite having cut scenes that barely count as such, the graphics and injection of humour give the game charm in spades as you try and produce the greatest heist that has ever been seen.
Polished doesn’t necessarily equate to total fun. It never really feels like you are in any particular danger, nor are you overly punished for making mistakes other than the mandatory character swap that was touched upon before. The AI has the same type of memory as the guards from Assassins Creed and it never seems to be clear how Monaco wants you to play; there is a good enough mechanic to sneak around and utilise stealth but almost every level is littered with weaponry. Focusing on one or the other, and rewarding/penalising depending on the situation would have worked better in terms of moulding game play; being stealthy in multiplayer when the other three on your team think recreating the shootout in Heat is a bigger priority kind of defeats the purpose of some of the methods you can use in the single player.
Monaco is an enjoyable experience that thrusts a huge amount of original ideas into a neat and tidy package. Both single player and multiplayer are an eclectic mix of hit and miss areas that can turn a fun time into a frustrating ride; worth a pick up as a very polished XBLA game