The Amazing & Astonishing RPS Advent Calendar: Day 16

By RPS on December 16th, 2013 at 1:00 pm.

You scope the joint, I’ll distract the pooches and my hulking great friend here will break a hole in the wall. We’re going in.

It’s Monaco!

Adam: I was predisposed to fall for Monaco. The jazzy soundtrack. Pop pourri of happy influences and central fact of cooperative stealth could have been designed to attract me like a lungful of carefully engineered pheromones. Throughout its long development, I’d followed news and video releases, but hadn’t really understood what it would be like to play. I expected studied analysis of the glowing blueprints of each heist, and methodical avoidance and takedown of guards and security systems. I expected to plan and perform the perfect heist.

When the game finally infiltrated my hard drive, it knocked me sideways, and not in a good way. Rather than being a slow and calculated stealth game, I found myself playing a weird multiplayer variant of Super Turbo Pacman 2013 Edition, with a colour scheme so loud that it would have clashed with a sensible pair of slate grey trousers. Half of the time I didn’t know exactly what was happening, as dogs chased me and guards mumbled and roamed. Each character’s ability seemed to overturn the structure of the maps in a way that disrupted the flow too severely, making me feel as I was cheating rather than succeeding on the game’s own terms.

Half an hour into my first proper multiplayer session, I cast the weight of expectations off my back and managed to approach Monaco on its own terms. It wasn’t that those expectations had been too great, it’s that they’d been almost entirely false. Monaco is chic and elegant, channelling the cool of several decades to create an absurdist neon noir that exists in a timeless place, but it’s also a stage for improvised farce. The beauty of the characters and their game-changing abilities isn’t simply that they are able to circumnavigate obstacles, but that they can create fresh dilemmas for one another as they blunder along. A well-drilled team can clear even the most complex map with clinical efficiency, but to learn the ropes, they’ll have to hang themselves a few times first.

I only appreciated the intricacy of the design when I learned to love those experimental first forays onto a new map, or with new companions or skillsets. But I couldn’t enjoy the madcap chaos until I’d found a way to unpick some of the earlier levels, discovering that the perfect heist is possible. Once I understood that – and had learned to decode the systems communicated by the busy screen – I was content to laugh as I learned, and to replay again and again, experimenting and living (or dying) with the consequences.

Of all the games on this year’s calendar, Monaco is the one that I initially bounced off the hardest, but when I did fall for it, I went head over heels.

Jim: Having played a bit of Monaco with a range of friends, it seems that there are two broad personalities types identified by this game. The first is the kind of person who wants to approach it as a stealth game, with the caution and planning that such games afford, and often demand. The other is someone who wishes to play it as a slapstick heist, probably featuring Peter Sellars, and for whom the game is nothing for a toppling series of disasters, each of which might lead to disaster. When these two types play together there is a necessary friction. The first type is necessarily going to be annoyed by the second type, until the finally give in and accept that free-wheeling crisis-juggling is also an entertaining way to approach the game.

What this says about the game itself, though, is that it is varied and flexible enough to be played in a manner of ways. Indeed, with the combinations of characters and situations resulting in drastically different outcomes, I don’t believe I’ve ever had the same experience on a map twice. Or at least not the same experience of success. Each win is different, though there are many similar failures. Monaco is as masterpiece of design. A masterpiece of two dimensional design, too, which despite having a resurgence in recent years, seldom happens quite like this. Monaco isn’t simply inventive and polished, it’s also deeply original. Nothing looks, sounds, or plays quite like this. If you haven’t had a crack at it yet, then you should. Not just because it’s a great game, but because it’s crucial that you get a sense of the variety that games offer. If we’re talking about design diversity, then this is an essential experience.

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43 Comments »

  1. Harlander says:

    I never finished this, but I would agree that the farcical, desperate multiplayer is much more entertaining than the single-player mode.

    • Syra says:

      I bought it similarly excited on the hype, bounced off it so hard after about an hour that I haven’t picked it up again since. I don’t know anyone else who has it so multiplayer isn’t even an option… I wish I could learn to like it but meh.

      • Aerothorn says:

        Organize something on the RPS forums! That’s what they’re there for.

  2. Oozo says:

    For me, it very much was “Got In. Got Out. Didn’t Get It.”

    So it basically was Alec’s experience, without the Hereuka moment… part of it was that I found it it extremely difficult to “decode the systems communicated by the busy screen”. A bit like Space Giraffe, come to think of it.

    But Alec’s text above comes close to convincing me to rethink my position. If I find some friends who haven’t moved on already, I’ll try to approach it again with the Pacman-mindset. After all it’s somewhat irksome to bounce off that hard from a game that so many people whose judgement I trust think highly of.

    PS While I do admit that the fault of finding difficult to understand what is going on is on me, can we still agree on two things? That the UI in the menus is weird? And that the Lookout is a very strange character, in that he is pretty much essential for the team, but, by design, best when he just stays out of the action?

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      Adam

      • Oozo says:

        By Horace, you’re right. Seems like my brain automatically attributes all somewhat critical entries in the calendar to Alec since he passionately opposed Far Cry 3‘s victory last year.

        I’m sorry, Adam, it’s you who showed me the (neon) light.

    • burth says:

      I really like playing the Lookout in multiplayer, since it allows me to stay in hiding and help with the general planning for most of the time, until I have to make a desperate dash to the exit at the end of the level. Or, much more frequently, I am the last one standing after the rest of our team was ambushed by guards and I have to figure out the most efficient way to revive them.

    • Synesthesia says:

      i’m sorry. Isn’t it eureka? I am sorry. I really am. I just couldnt help myself.

      • Oozo says:

        Correct! “Heureka” is the German spelling, actually. The English and the German word seem to be equally inadequate transcriptions of the original Greek word, though, so I’ll just leave it there.

        (YOU BRITISCHES STROLCH! TOO CHEAP TO PUT AN “H” THERE, ARE YOU?! is what I’m trying to say.)

    • Vinraith says:

      Similar to my experience. This is my “got talked into it by hype despite knowing better” purchase for the year. My initial reaction to it had been that it was too MP-focused and looked busy to the point of incomprehensible, but I allowed myself to be talked into it by enthusiastic article after enthusiastic article. At least I bought it on sale, but still, there’s just nothing appealing or engaging about it IMO.

      • mlaskus says:

        A shame, Monaco should appeal to you, it is a very smart game. There are some unofficial tutorials on Workshop that do a lot better job of explaining the mechanics better than the first few missions.
        My friend didn’t like for the first few missions we did together, but then it just clicked for him. We breezed through the campaign collecting every last bit of loot , experimenting with different pairings of characters and generally having a blast. Then we realized there are other campaigns to finish, and we’ve yet to try to the zombie mode, whatever it is.

        I don’t like it in single player at all though.

        • Vinraith says:

          It was a stupid impulse purchase, so failure was inevitable. I bought it thinking I’d talk a couple of friends into getting it to. Then, having bought it, I played a bit, completely lost interest, and consequently didn’t even particularly want to talk said friends into a purchase that I myself regretted. So that’s kind of that.

          • Vinraith says:

            So I owe Monaco a bit of an apology here. A friend of mine picked up a $3 copy from the Humble Store yesterday and talked me into giving it a shot, and good grief it is vastly more fun in multiplayer and in the later levels. I’m glad that ended up working out, and I’m entirely pleased to say that with some other folks to play with, it’s a pretty good game once you get past the intro.

  3. airtekh says:

    I played a ton of Monaco earlier in the year, and really enjoyed it.

    I’m very much in the first camp that Jim describes, being a huge stealth fan.

    I couldn’t help getting a teensy bit annoyed when my teammates screwed up, but since it’s in the nature of the game to allow you to recover from mistakes, you can concentrate on having fun instead; which is great.

  4. TheIronSky says:

    I’m surprised this didn’t get mentioned higher on the list. Certainly my personal game of the year by far. Jim is right calling it a “masterpiece of design,” and you can tell that the entire team over at Pocketwatch put some serious love and effort into the creation of this game. Plus their continued support even months after release with free content patches is only a testament to that fact.

    • airtekh says:

      The list isn’t in any particular order, only the 24th game is RPS’ game of the year.

  5. mukuste says:

    So Adam says you can’t play it as a methodical stealth game, Jim says you can.

    Whom should I believe now?!

    • Adam Smith says:

      Not quite what I said!

      “A well-drilled team can clear even the most complex map with clinical efficiency, but to learn the ropes, they’ll have to hang themselves a few times first.”

  6. daphne says:

    Where is KRZ, guys?

    Guys? :(

    Not to rain on Monaco’s parade, however — an immaculate game and certainly one of my highlights as well.

    • The Random One says:

      They might be waiting for it to be done, pushing it into the 2014 calendar.

    • Aerothorn says:

      Plenty of days to go, and I suspect it is being teased for a late entry in the calendar. Possibly GOTY!

      As for it being featured in my 2014: per Jim, games are put in the calendar during what RPS determines is “the year of that game,” and I’d argue that its IGF win and the influence of its two released episodes means this will be a bigger year for it than the one where the resulting episodes trickle out.

  7. Heliocentric says:

    Monaco is not my favourite hide-n-seek-em-up but it is the best simulation of neural over sensitivity (such as autism). I am a mole and I live in a hole.

  8. The First Door says:

    I adore Monaco to bits, but I’ve found it isn’t a game for everyone. I get the feeling it might be a game which is best for people who’ve been gaming longer. I don’t say that to be high and mighty, but simply because in my usual couch gaming group, there are a couple who don’t game as much and they just cannot parse the game at all and get incredibly annoyed at it.

  9. The Random One says:

    This calendar entry doesn’t make me want to play Monaco as much as it makes me want to play the freeform PnP RPG Fiasco.

  10. Turkey says:

    Another good year for stealth games. I only really played Gunpoint, though, cause I don’t have any friends who’d play Monaco with me.

    Hopefully Tangiers and Incognita will continue this trend next year.

  11. almostDead says:

    Fuck me, I’ve only played one fucking game on this whole fucking list so fucking far.

  12. Revolving Ocelot says:

    Killing redheads? Damn, I should have bought this. Nothing enrages me more than seeing my own reflection.

  13. Trelow says:

    The more games that appear on the list, the more I realize my tastes have little in common with the writers and commentors on this site. Oh well. Bring on Marlow Briggs!

  14. Mctittles says:

    Played through all the way to the last level on the same PC with my brother when it first came out. Very fond memories of this game.

  15. CMaster says:

    I’m going to join in on the “didn’t ever really get it” group.

    I knew it wasn’t going to be a careful game of planning and stealth, because I’d seen a couple of trailers.

    But me and my friends got through the whole campaign and most of the bonus levels, without ever really getting beyond Super Turbo Pacman 2013 Edition. Normally we find ourselves learning how to become more disciplined and respond to threats, but not here, we learned really very little throughout play.

    I love “Ze Mole” however.

  16. joshg says:

    I bounced off of it, although stuck with it for a while first.

    My impression was that it would be an awesome game to play local co-op or LAN party (does anyone actually say “LAN party” anymore?), or maybe remote multiplayer with a regular group.

    I tried playing methodical single-player stealth, enjoyed it somewhat, but when you screw up and then escape madcap-heist-style and still survive, maybe succeeding better than you were before, it sort of wrecks that approach.

    Also the fact that you’re rewarded more for speed runs than for slow stealth. Yeah. I need more local RL gaming friends for this one to work.

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  18. hotmaildidntwork says:

    The multiplayer really seems to make or break this one for me. Whenever I try to solo a level I end up just looking at all the things that will screw me for a minute or two and then shutting it back down.
    But when I’m the Finest Doctor in all Serbia, punching holes through walls to hide in bushes while “jelloing” our suicidal lookout back to life while the cleaner pursues his life’s dream of knocking every single NPC unconscious at the same time (he’s required to say “Sleeeeeep” over voice) the inherent ridiculousness of the game never fails to make me laugh.

  19. Jakkar says:

    I won access to the beta by creating an utterly filthy limerick here on RPS for the contest, and ended up quite deeply involved. Lovely folks, and a delicious game, despite being there for the bumpy ride of initial testing.

    The game can be a methodical puzzle or an insane race, depending entirely upon your inclinations and those of any you choose to play with. I largely tested in singleplayer and still rather enjoyed myself – a good crew for multiplayer and it could be wonderful.

    Give it a chance, knowing it’s different, was made largely by two likeable and intelligent people with a keen mind for design and fun, and can be approached however you like, if you’re smart enough to find out how to apply yourself to it.

  20. alms says:

    I hate to be that guy, but Peter SellArs? I’ll lull myself to sleep with this mantra “it was just a pun, so elaborate you didn’t get it, just a pun…”