Candied, crushed sago't gulaman

Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine Review

This thing of ours

Welcome to Monaco. Heaven to some– God’s blind spot to others. It’s a place of endless opportunity and perpetual danger, where survival is a gamble and the stakes raised with every hitch of breath. In the land of milk and money, fortune favors those who don’t just take risks, but breaks them into tiny little pieces, into minute shards of calculation and laser guided instinct.

Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine is Pocketwatch Games’ top-down heist-em-up. The story: four convicts escape the walls of a minimum security prison. After the prologue, the plot fractures into several overlapping, self-contradicting storylines. Taking cues from The Usual Suspects, Monaco sketches out a post-mod Rashomon of  thieves and liars. The Locksmith’s is a cautionary tale of greed and obsession. The Pickpocket’s confession reveals a truth masquerading as a lie masquerading as the truth.

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Try to pay attention to the story. It’s quite good. Don’t get distracted by the neon visuals, by the impeccably designed aesthetic. Try not to be charmed by the clever use of architectural blueprints in place of the fog of war. Monaco is your stylish and sharp interior design school friend who never quite went for the neo-bohemian hipster Kool-Aid. Monaco‘s world features polygons in the classical definition–clean lines forming perfect shapes. The characters are oversized pixels that scuttle and skitter with ripe tension and devil-may-care confidence. This is why pixel art direction exists–because of games like Monaco that use it as a means, not as an excuse.

Sound plays a huge part in games where stealth is key. Monaco‘s contextually tuned audio bytes are so spare and distinguished that hearing them becomes a Pavlovian exercise. Plug in earphones and let its perfectly formed soundwaves wrap around you. Pick a lock and be rewarded by genuinely satisfying clicks and rattles. Tamper with a generator to hear the appreciative metal groan heralding a temporary blackout. French expletives ring through hallways as the gendarme give chase. Learn to love and fear these sounds. When  you’re running blind for a good chunk of the game, hearing footsteps as you scrabble at a keyhole becomes more frightening than crack of gunshots.

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Made men

Each character exercises a hold on their own patch of pixels. The Cleaner leaves a trail of sleeping bodies, the scent of formaldehyde wafting in the air. The Pickpocket and his monkey are smooth operators, able to rob the place blind. For the Locksmith, a locked door is nothing but a half-second wasted. In the safety of the dark, the Lookout sees all. Additionally, each character can equip one usable item. Grab anything from guns and wrenches to EMP grenades and cartoon dynamite. Ammo is limited, dictated by how much cash you’ve collected. You’re forced to think smart. But if you keep your cool and pay attention, the city is yours for the taking.

But the city is not an easy mark. It kicks and suspects and screams. Enemy guards see you skulking for a few seconds and they turn from unassuming to unrelenting. Trip a perimeter laser and double locks trap you inside an arena with few avenues for escape. Open the wrong door and prepare to dance to the tune of alarm klaxons. You do have a choice. You can choose not to step into the laser-festooned room. The guards in that post are sporting machine guns. You’d be insane to test their patience! But… damn. They’re guarding a safe.  You want that safe. You feel the need in your crime bones. As a debonair thief, you’re directed by this Pac-man obsession to leave no coin unpilfered and no threat disregarded.

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Hit the mattresses

When things go right, your heist becomes a thing of art and beauty. Move behind corners and pillars to evade roving guards and marvel at the gambit’s thrill and ridiculous simplicity. Surrounded? Pop a smoke bomb and swandive into nearby topiary. Needlessly helpful civilian about to call the cops? Pacify him with a tranq dart. Hack into several outlets and computer terminals in one go, blackouts and surveillance malfunctions syncing with your steps.

But this is a heist after all. Like in any good crime flick, things rarely go right. In Monaco, expect them to turn sour. A lot. But keep your heart, three stacks. In fact, I advise that you enjoy it. After a long campaign of darting in and out of night guards’ cone of sight, hitting that “oh shi–” moment becomes oddly cathartic. You’re rewarded, in a way, by the ensuing chase. In the fever pitch of Austin Wintory’s rowdy piano chords, Monaco’s penalty for discovery is an almost completely different game. From Metal Gear to Hotline Miami. It’s still fun. Still engaging. Sprint out of your would-be captors’ line of sight. But before you do that, steal everything that isn’t nailed down. Dodge the law while tickling purses and cash registers. Shoot from the hip and improvise. When the music turns from meditative to madcap, that’s your signal to start living out your Lupin III dreams.

When things get lonely, take your talents at home invasion over on the Internet. Stay true to the heist movie trope and conspire with people of varying talents and ethnicities. Thing is, several extra people running around increase the liability of getting caught and bludgeoned with nightsticks. But man is it fun. Get used to teammates booking past you with a horde of security guards in tow, to almost flawless jobs botched at the last second. In this game, good plans rarely come together but you’ll love the mayhem all the same.

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Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine is the best kind of thief–the one that steals narrative conventions and game mechanics from the finest sources. Nick a bit of Metal Gear here. Purloin a smidge of Oceans 11 there. The Coen Brothers’ Crimewave? Don’t mind if I do. Like a greased conman, it twists your arm to make you believe  everything works well together.  And it does. For some bizarre reason, it manages to run a scam that keeps you on the tips of your toes, at the edge of your seat. So get in on this action, friendo. You can’t pass this up. For the measly buy-in of $15, Monaco promises you the world.


About Job Duanan

Job believes that pixels are building blocks of love and understanding.

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This entry was posted on 6 May 2013 by in Reviews and tagged , , , .
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