Review

Monaco

Hail To The Thief

Heist movies meet Pac-Man in Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine.

By Ryan Smith • May 1, 2013

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and many heist films are constructed as elaborately staged morality plays that illustrate literal examples of this axiom. The calculating crooks first recruit a diverse team of experts skilled in demolition, disguise, and the gentle art of knocking unsuspecting guards silly. Together they examine the blueprints of the bank and pore over security systems while we marvel at the clockwork precision of all of this preparation porn. Foolproof, right?

Not exactly. Sometime during the execution of the Big Caper, the unexpected happens. Someone accidentally leaves a walkie-talkie behind while climbing out of a vent, or the hacker discovers that a computer terminal has been updated with the Totally Unbreakable Firewall software. Or worse—one of the crew is involved in a double cross. After all of that meticulous research and design, spontaneity trumps procedure.

“Blind accidents, what can you do against blind accidents?” mutters Doc, the mastermind behind the clan of crooks foiled in the classic 1950 heist flick The Asphalt Jungle. It’s a question that comes up frequently while playing Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine. This heist game draws on that familiar tension between meticulous planning and on-the-spot improvisation, recontextualizing it and stripping it down into a simple Pac-Man-like video game universe. Security guards and attack dogs may roam the corridors instead of color-coded ghosts, but the hero must still use his wits to carefully navigate a maze, driven by an all-consuming greed for loot that may inevitably lead to his demise.

Monaco

Or their demise, as is the case with Monaco. In this multiplayer game—it’s possible to play by yourself but not terribly effective—you’re one crook in a not-so-merry band of criminals, each identified by a familiar archetype instead of a name. There’s The Locksmith, naturally. The slick, George Clooney-like leader? Call him The Gentleman. The one who can dig under walls? You guessed it: The Mole.

The game starts with four ex-cons on the lam, but you track down and employ a quartet of others. (The femme fatale, merely a distraction or a love interest in typical heist films, here acts as a useful companion with the power to seduce would-be interlopers.) They accompany you on a quest to burgle a series of increasingly treacherous treasure-laden locales. As the title of the game suggests, these big time break-ins take place in the mansions and museums of Monaco, the city-state on the French Riviera that’s legendary for its opulence—and for an underbelly of white-collar crime masked by that opulence.

Instead of mimicking its namesake, Monaco the game opts for understated minimalism. The creators’ embrace of primitive ’80s-era graphics means that their version of the tiny country looks even less like the real thing than the exotic lands depicted in the original Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego? The ragtime score, meanwhile, conjures a time period that predates Steven Soderbergh’s star-studded Ocean’s trilogy—the movies most obviously associated with Monaco—and waxes nostalgic for the silent-film era.

Monaco

Monaco’s sense of place is grounded primarily in its evocative voice acting. The cops, guards and other civilians who roam the world speak only en Francais. As a non-Francophile, my main point of reference was the effete and incompetent police force depicted in The Pink Panther movies—reinforced by the fact that Monaco’s cops can be stupidly slow to catch on to my not-so sneaky trick of hiding in potted plants.

It takes some time to learn the game’s visual language—full of austere symbols that represent the tools of your trade. Unlike most modern games, where you’re meant to be immersed in an accurate representation of a physical space, Monaco’s levels are laid out like multistoried Clue game boards. As your roughly hewn character tiptoes through rooms labeled “Balcony” or “Study,” the action seems to be taking place on the same map that the shysters involved might be using to plan the job. That lack of literalism doesn’t distract much from the task at hand, especially when you’re grouped with up to three fellow players. (Advancing through Monaco’s later levels alone is the equivalent of trying to defeat a wall in tennis. It’s probably not going to happen.)

Monaco wants you to take a thoughtful approach to the robberies. It’s certainly possible to employ a chaotic approach—sprinting down halls while shooting guards with shotguns and crossbows and running right through lasers that announce your arrival—but to unlock later levels, you’ll have to make a clean getaway without leaving any bauble behind. Trying to completely clear a level with the guns-blazing approach usually ends in failure.

Monaco

A better option then, is to devise a semblance of a battle plan. You likely won’t have the luxury of talking out every single detail beforehand in some dimly lit office or broken-down warehouse, so you’re able to communicate with your team while on the job. (It’s a good thing that the enemy can’t hear you talking on your headsets—or chatting on the couch if you’re using the same-room multiplayer mode, available only on the Xbox 360). For my team, The Lookout created distractions with smoke bombs, allowing The Hacker to hijack nearby security systems so he could stroll past laser sensors. In turn, I’d use my disguise to sneak past guards and into the vault holding our prize. Then we’d head back to the getaway car and flee the scene.

At least in theory. We were often thwarted by small unforeseen things—a dog that smelled trouble or a computer terminal that randomly generated in the wrong place. Then we’d be on the run or hiding breathlessly in bathroom stalls, forced to recalculate a scheme in a hurry. Sometimes we’d acquire our ill-gotten gains in the end, but more often we’d lose and all of us would die ingloriously. In Monaco, just as in the movies, the mousetrap often beats the mice chasing the cheese—perfect plan be damned. Right, Doc?

Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine
Creator: Pocketwatch Games
Platforms: PC, Xbox 360 [Note: The Xbox release of Monaco has been delayed while the developer fixes a critical bug.]
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Price: $15

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42 Responses to “Hail To The Thief”

  1. The_Helmaroc_King says:

    I think you can play local co-op on the PC. It says as much on the Steam page, and the second screenshot on this review shows one player on a gamepad and one on the keyboard. Maybe you can only have one player on the keyboard, and the rest need gamepads?

    One thing I really should pick up before they disappear is a wireless adapter to use Xbox 360 controllers on the PC. I already have the controllers, and if I don’t plan on picking up a new console this generation it’ll be the easiest way for me to set up local games. Now only if I could find games that my friends wanted to play…

    • DrFlimFlam says:

       I bought a wired 360 controller with some Dell promotional money so I can do that now, but yeah, it’d be nice if you could just plug in with the wireless controllers that are always shoved in our faces.

      This game seems fun, but I’d need at least one talented partner in crime. Flim, Jr. is a talented young man, but more of the LEGO oeuvre than “quick-thinking heister.”

  2. Bakken Hood says:

    *sigh* what with my thesis and all, I suppose the XBLA delay is a good thing.  Yeah, not being able to play the first game I’ve wanted to buy new in a long time is a good thing.  Just gotta keep reminding myself, I keep forgetting.

  3. Effigy_Power says:

    Why won’t you die, eighties…
    Why won’t you di-i-i-i-i-i-iiiieeeee?
    -breaks down crying-

    • Captain Internet says:

      Here, let me cheer you up with this video of someone playing the theme from Super Mario Brothers on a quirky instrument…

    • Girard says:

      I think that somehow “I love the 80s” stuff is actually older and more tired than the actual 80s at this point.

      In this game’s defense, though, it seems less overtly ‘retro/80s’ and more just intentionally stylized in a way that lends itself to the mechanics and also draws upon earlier eras like classic films, etc.

      Contrast this with, say, Blood Dragon, which seems to be using its 80s aesthetic (pasted over bog-standard Far Cry gameplay) to spend 10 or so hours telling you a single winking joke that is over a decade old at this point.

      • Yeah, I feel like a lot of people rip on “retro graphics” because they are unable to divorce that style in their heads from the time period in which it was created.

        The same problem comes up a lot in music, “Oh that is just such a 60s-Garage-rock song”  Why can’t it just be awesome Garage Rock bro?

        In this information age, where anyone can be influenced by anything, do we really need to attach all of our artistic endeavors to the time period from which they came?

    • As Girard implies below, it’s gotten to the point where 80s nostalgia has become recycled. The under-25s are feeling nostalgic for VH1 specials and “GTA: Vice City” which they loved in their teens. 

      And it’s a very specific aspect of the 80s that gets latched onto; it’s stuff that’s quaint, straightforward, and earnest. 

      • Girard says:

        I wonder if there are other instances of this kind of ‘oruboros nostalgia’ in other pop culture eras. Like did many kids who grew up with 70s-80s pastiches of late-50s-early-60s Cold War culture (mainly through camp appropriation like PeeWee, the B-52s, and kinda-sorta John Waters and DEVO) actually wind up developing a nostalgia for a 50s they never actually lived through?

        (Maybe that explains why the electorate voted in so many conservatives during the 00s? A romanticizing of conservative 50s culture? I’m going kind of far afield here…)

        • I think so. My mother was a big fan of 50s rock and roll, even though she’s too young to have been there. Of course, her reference point for that was sincere sources of nostalgia like “Happy Days” and Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll” rather than the camp icons you’ve cited.

          But 80s nostalgia seems abnormally persistent. Nostalgia for the 50s, 60s, 70s, and even 90s came and went within a year or so, as fads do. 80s nostalgia has been around in some form for 15+ years now. We had “the Wedding Singer”, then “GTA: Vice City”, then Rick-rolling, then Michael Bay’s “Transformers”, then “Don’t Stop Believin'” became a hit again… You could write a book on why this is and what it says about humanity (and someone probaby has).

          And I have no doubt that nostalgia influences politics. Many people who vote conservative are voting for the ideologies of Eisenhower rather than the religious right.  

        • Girard says:

          How could I overlook Happy Days in my armchair analysis?!

          70s nostalgia seemed fairly persistent in the 90s – That 70s Show was on the air for quite a while, and 70s-inspired musical acts like The Strokes seemed big for a longish time. Star Wars also came back in a major way over the course of the 90s (the Special Editions, the huge Kenner and Micro Machines toy lines, etc.), years before the prequels started coming out.

          It wasn’t as pervasive or long-lived as the 80s nostalgia boom, but it was certainly longer than a year or so fad, I think.

          We’ve probably encountered the first murmurs of 90s nostalgia in things like the Beavis & Butthead reboot and the 3D rereleases of Jurassic Park and Titanic. I’ll be curious to see if it ever ramps up to anything like the 80s nostalgia boom in terms of cultural ubiquity and longevity.

        • Destroy Him My Robots says:

          We were too cool to get swept up in actual fake nostalgia, but yeah, me and my friends spent a good chunk of the 2000s at funk parties because during the ’90s, practically all we listened to was Impeach the President, Funky Drummer and Amen Brother in some form or another.

        • Girard says:

          I wonder if the relative prevalence and longevity of nostalgia for 60s culture and 80s culture comes from those (pop-)cultures having more overt visual signifiers that are easier to reference. Compared to the overt psychedelia and neon electric Zubaz nonsense of the 60s and 80s, the relatively grungy, austere earthiness of the 70s and 90s are a little harder to reference in a facile way, and consequently have a less sticking power?

          For me it’s much easier to conjure a caricatured image of the 60s or 80s than the 70s or 90s (but this may also be that, spending my late childhood and adolescence in the 90s, I’ve been acculturated to that stuff as ‘normal’).

    • SamPlays says:

      Having been born in 1980, I had little awareness for the atrocity around me. With no real point of reference to the past, except The Wonder Years and M*A*S*H, the Eighties seemed “normal”. I don’t love the 80s wholesale – I have very little nostalgia for most things – but I find myself drawn to the musical influences of that era (e.g., synthesizers, dance beats, golden age hip-hop, Peter Gabriel). I know these things are always relative but I’m generally not looking forward to reliving the musical graveyard that was the Nineties.

      This is the way (to the Eighties), step inside…

      • Citric says:

        Was the ’90s a musical graveyard? We got Radiohead out of the bargain, and Nirvana, and the good Smashing Pumpkins. And the early ’90s had shoegaze, my favorite thing.

        I mean, there was a whole pile of crap, but that’s true for every decade. I still like a lot of ’90s stuff.

        • Ryan Smith says:

          There’s so much good 90’s music, but it popular music-wise, not much past like 1995. But the whole decade was amazing for indie rock.

        • SamPlays says:

          Yes, it was. Radiohead has completely (and smartly) abandoned any semblance of their earlier incarnation. The quality of Smashing Pumpkins dropped rapidly midway through the decade. Shoegaze sort of stopped being a thing until recently. And Nirvana literally went to the grave. Consider that every decade is a graveyard of cultural artifacts – very few things last beyond a couple of years (at best). I hope the worst of the 90s legacy (i.e., Nickelback, Creed, 3 Doors Down, Daughtry, Puddle of Mudd, Three Days Grace, ohmygodthishurts) is over and the next retro-thing emerges victorious-but-not-annoying. At best it will revive and update those catchy Britpop singles; at worst it will be a sludge factory of self-loathing.

        • SamPlays says:

          @twitter-71287667:disqus The emergence of indie rock in the 90s can thank the 80s (REM, Pixies, Joy Division, Sonic Youth and others) for that. I know we keep grazing the concept of personal taste here but I was more impressed by the indie revival that happened in the early-to-mid 00s (White Stripes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Black Keys, Modest Mouse, Interpol, Arcade Fire, Hotchip, etc. but not much more). It’s probably more of age-related thing but my disdain for the 90s is pretty similar to others’ disdain for the 80s. Unless we’re talking about The X-Files or Twin Peaks, of course.

          EDIT: To clarify, I have no disdain whatsoever for The X-Files and Twin Peaks.This edit is probably pointless but I’m okay with that. After all, I grew up on the outskirts of Generation X.

        • Citric says:

          @SamPlays:disqus  Good Radiohead started with The Bends and OK Computer, so that was about ’95 and ’97. Also, hell yeah britpop, that came on strong in the latter part of the decade.

          Lumping Nickleback into the ’90s is also rather unfair since their big breakthrough was in 2001, and that whole hunger dunger dang genre didn’t really gain traction until the early 2000s (though I guess we did have Creed).

          I mean, there was a lot of crap, but that applies to every decade.

        • SamPlays says:

          I meant that Nickelback and their brethren represented the worst kind of continuity (legacy) moving from the 90s to the 00s. It was like labels were consciously trying to recreate the early 90s through genetic engineering. They made huge $$$ but unfortunately they ended up with the ugliest, downtrodden baby mutant ever. I hate to say it but The Stokes were to late-90s/early-00s rock what Nirvana was to late-80s/early-90s glam metal. 

      • The_Misanthrope says:

         I generally despise nostalgia as a principle, but as someone who lived through the 80s, I really  have a problem with most 80s nostalgia.  Sure, there’s a kick to revisiting some of the stranger bits–fashion trends, Saturday morning cartoons–but if that is all that you see of that time period, you get the distorted picture wherein the stranger bits are the entirety of the decade.  I did know guys that wore painter’s caps and feathered the back of their hair, but that doesn’t mean we were all living in a Flock of Seagulls (or for the blacks, a Run DMC video).  

        I’m just waiting until the ’00s nostalgia wave hits  and we’re inundated with sitcoms and other media where all the guys are wearing V-neck tees, trucker hats, and drinking PBR.

        • SamPlays says:

          It’s funny how aging goes. When I was in high school, a lot of people were “nostalgic” for music from the 60s and 70s (particularly Led Zeppelin). Now I’m at a point where the 80s and 90s are becoming the new 70s! Whenever I’ve listened to our local classic rock station, it’s Pearl Jam, Collective Soul, Blind Melon and Nirvana (but no Alice in Chains????). It’s a weird experience.

      • Ryan Smith says:

        Sam, to cast the 90’s aside with indie rock, you’re missing out on Pavement, Fugazi, Sunny Day Real Estate, Built to Spill, Guided by Voices, Karate, Drive Like Jehu, Jawbox, to name just a few. The stuff I was listening to instead of the radio crap you mentioned.

        • SamPlays says:

          Yes, but you and I know that any sort of retro-90s thing will not include any of those bands in any way whatsoever. Unless it involves a reunion to do a cash-in tour – hi Pavement! MBV gets a pass, though – they’re like the Terrance Malick of music (who knows, maybe they’ll start putting out records more frequently!).

    • i don’t think Monaco embraces the 80s to the degree that something like Blood Dragon does.

      I think, and this is a huge assumption on my part, that primitive 80’s style graphics are just easier to make, which allows small teams like the one that put Monaco together, to focus more on gameplay and code-breaking.

      So Monaco isn’t homag-ing the 80s like an eager lap-dancer, it’s just taking the easy way to graphics-town.

    • Citric says:

      Because neon and pixels are pretty cool, and synthesizers can be badass if deployed correctly.

      I actually find myself enjoying the fractured nostalgia-trip stuff, because it usually brings back what’s fun about an era while keeping the crappy stuff back where it belongs. Like all the ’80s nostalgia now is riffing on ridiculous action movies and the bright colors, and I do kind of miss ridiculous action movies and bright colors (which explains why I liked The Last Stand so much).

      Same with how ’50s nostalgia brings up Elvis, obnoxiously chromed and finned cars and great milkshakes, but leaves behind all the racism.

  4. TheAngryInternet says:

    Heist movies meet Pac-Man

    Somebody thought of this like a year after Pac-Man came out

    Monaco still looks pretty good though

    • Ryan Smith says:

      Oh wow, good call. I totally forgot the game Lock and Chase existed! I don’t think I actually played it, but I do remember seeing it in some random dank arcade at an amusement park.

    • That looks pretty ballin’.  BRB, gonna find a time-machine and go back to the 80s Arcade Renaissance to play Lock and Chase.

  5. *Sigh*

    Another amazing couch co-op game goes by while all my friends get really excited about Injustice: Gods Among Us and Madden whatever year it is.

    I wish I was still just a hipster about music and not video games…

    • The_Misanthrope says:

      I feel your  pain.  Some of my friends are addicted to the CoD  series, which I might possibly gain an appreciation, IF THEY EVER STOPPED PLAYING IT AND TRIED SOMETHING ELSE FOR A CHANGE.  Mind you, I get the appeal of a good wind-down-from-work game that you don’t have to think too much about and the franchise always has a new iteration before last year’s model has a chance to even think of going stale.  But I just can’t think of a greater hell than only playing one type of game ad infinitum

      •  I don’t know how people can unwind to Call of Duty, it’s a 13-year-old twitch fest, with kids running around sniping people from 2 feet away and it’s just too fast!

        • The_Misanthrope says:

          Yeah, it’s funny because sometimes a match will go poorly and it’ll just wind him up even more. Myself, my zone-out game is The Binding of Isaac (which can get pretty frustrating if you get shit treasures); it really taps into the Zen-trance state of twin-stick top-down shooters like Robotron 2084 and Smash TV. I only wish the game were shorter; it starts out that way, but it keeps adding chapters.

      • djsubversive says:

        A friend of mine is a big CoD guy, but he’s said before that if he had a computer capable of playing “real” FPS games, he would in a heartbeat. He’s also got 100 or so hours in Skyrim, and XIII is one of his favorite games (the old comic-book-style shooter with David Duchovny), so he’s not exactly a typical “CoD bro.”

  6. Jason Reich says:

    Is there online matchmaking (or teammaking, I guess) with strangers in this? Or can you only play online if you have the same group of friends ready to go throughout the entire campaign?

    • Ryan Smith says:

      There are public and private matches. I played the multiplayer on XBLA before there was anyone on it, so I didn’t get to try the matchmaking.