Too much hype can be bad for any game. The higher the expectation of fans before a title has even been released, the more crushing and bitter their disappointment can be. Pity designer Andy Schatz of Pocketwatch Games then, who was winning awards for Monaco: What's Yours Is Mine some three years before the game was even released. The indie scene may not command the mass attention that comes with the triple-A titles, but it's still fair to say the full release of Monaco was hotly anticipated.
Let's cut to the chase: the game meets those expectations. Its charming and colourful low-fi presentation, character, and gameplay make Monaco great fun to play. Set in the titular city-state, it follows the exploits of a criminal gang who are initially out to simply make a clean getaway from their shady pasts, but who keep finding the temptation of that last big score too hard to ignore.
The overall flavour is that of a classic heist film, complete with the cast of character archetypes that implies: players start with control of the Locksmith, and as they progress enlist the Pickpocket (and his trained monkey), the Cleaner, the Lookout, the Mole, the Gentleman, the Hacker, and the Redhead. All characters can perform basic actions such as unlocking a door, climbing through a window, or disabling a security camera, but each possesses a certain skill that makes them a unique asset on a job.
The Locksmith can get doors open in a hurry, for example, but if a patrolling guard needs to be knocked out for a while, it's up to the Cleaner. The Mole can simply tunnel noisily through most walls, the Hacker is able to create a virus using wall outlets that will flit through the building disabling alarm systems, and so on.
A simple top-down perspective (with a fog of war line of sight effect) shows the layout of the stately home, embassy, museum, or bank that the gang need to infiltrate, and this gives the player a rough idea of where guards are likely to patrol and easily-alarmed civilians go about their work. Somewhere inside, a story objective or two await: an asset to rescue, or simply the filthy lucre the gang so desperately crave. A chosen criminal specialist is moved around with simple directional controls, while interacting with an object is as easy as pressing up against it for a certain duration. The mouse is used to aim should the player find a weapon, and they may also may sneak to reduce visibility, or use an item from their single inventory slot such as a smoke bomb.
Out of simplicity comes complexity, though: later levels are postively laden with possibilities. A stealthy approach seems often the best option, but alternate methods of level traversal are provided by unlocked characters’ special abilities, and if all else fails the Rambo attitude can often be equally effective. A heist plays differently each time, and the only real frustration playing solo is getting into situations where one wishes they had the skills of another team member to call on – there's no switching at will during a level. These situations can lead to inventiveness, though – or alternatively, the mad, Pac-Man-like chaos of a “Geronimo!” moment where one simply bolts through the security beams, grabs the loot, and runs like mad for the getaway car.
This longing for skilled team mates in singleplayer only serves to highlight the game's real strength in multiplayer, where up to four can cooperate with their chosen criminals to coordinate the perfect heist. Again, no mission ever plays the same, with different combinations of characters and approaches opening up a huge range of thieving scenarios. There's a massive amount of satisfaction both in all four players sweeping clinically through a floor and cleaning out the loot without the guards ever knowing they were there, and also in the often amusing tension of a surviving Locksmith trying to dodge around the angry guards to revive his fallen colleagues after a firefight that went pear-shaped.